This Week in the News: Greg’s Dirty Dozen Causes Big Vibrations, and Syracuse Drops Investigation of Alleged Blogger

By February 4, 2011

This has been quite the week for FIRE. No less than 21 articles mentioned our involvement in defending free speech on campus!

Greg’s Huffington Post article, "The 12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech," was noted by numerous news sources across the country. Marshall University garnered the most numerous citations by far. Davin White, writing for the Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.), quotes Robert’s and Sam’s opinions on the dangers of Marshall’s speech codes, while mentioning the university’s plans to discuss changing the speech codes. Tony Rutherford of Huntingtonnews.net quotes Greg’s explanation of how schools made the "dirty dozen" list, cites Sam’s blog post designating Marshall’s Standard 3 policy on respect and civility as the January 2011 Speech Code of the Month, and mentions Marshall’s newfound desire to at least review its unconstitutional speech policies. In a column for The Parthenon, Marshall’s student newspaper, Kelly Bugler mentions that Director of Judicial Affairs Lisa Martin is attending the Association for Student Conduct Administration conference in Florida this week to learn about what other institutions are doing to address outdated speech codes. Stephanie Schelkun of WSAZ.com (Huntington, W.Va.) and The Herald Dispatch (Huntington, W.Va.) also mention Marshall’s intentions to reform their policies. Of course, FIRE will be more than happy to help!

Unfortunately, some critics have questioned FIRE for including Marshall on the listincluding the authors of this editorial from The Parthenon, and the authors of this editorial from the Charleston Daily Mailbecause the university has had no specific cases involving First Amendment violations. As I pointed out earlier, however, "just" having unconstitutional speech codes chills speech enough to warrant Marshall’s inclusion on Greg’s list.

Other institutions on Greg’s "dirty dozen" that made the news this week include Michigan State University (MSU), University of Massachusetts – Amherst (UMass), and Syracuse University (Syracuse). Ed Brayton voices his disappointment over seeing MSU on the list at The Michigan Messenger (republished in The American Independent) and again for ScienceBlogs. Nick O’Malley mentions UMass’ dubious distinction in an article for the school’s student newspaper, The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, and Bhumika Ghimire of Global Voices Advocacy discusses how Greg’s article might pressure the UMass administration to finally start defending free speech. Finally, the Editorial Board of The Daily Orange (Syracuse’s student newspaper), while noting the Len Audaer case, disagrees with Greg’s designation of Syracuse on the dirty dozen list.

Speaking of Syracuse, FIRE was very happy to announce that Syracuse University College of Law (SUCOL) dropped its prosecution of law student Len Audaer after more than three months threatening him with severe punishment for "harassment" over his role in a fake-news parody blog about life in law school. Authors mentioning FIRE’s role in bringing this investigation to a just conclusion include Debra Cassens Weiss of ABA JournalJosh Fischman of The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Abram Brown of The Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY). Finally, Jon Harris and Dara McBride of The Daily Orange, quote Adam in an earlier article about the case published before the investigation was dropped.

In other news, a painting by an adjunct art instructor depicting a Klansman and a lynching superimposed on a Confederate battle flag was removed from a faculty art show by Martha T. Nesbitt, president of Gainesville State College in Gainesville, Ga. Sam Petulla, writing for Inside Higher Ed, quotes Adam, who believes that it was inappropriate for Nesbitt to pull the professor’s painting.

Also, FIRE’s role in the reinstatement of Kristofer Petersen-Overton to his instructor position at Brooklyn College was picked up by Salon. Meanwhile, Connor Caudill of Indiana Daily Student, Indiana University’s (IU’s) student newspaper, criticizes IU’s speech policies, including one that requires students to act "civilly" toward one another, and Kate Havard cites Will’s misgivings about The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment in an article for the Student Free Press Association. Finally, an article by Brian Freskos of Star News Online quotes Adam on his fear that threat-assessment teams might be misused to punish peaceful students with unpopular ideas.

Schools: Marshall University Michigan State University Syracuse University