This Week in the News: OCR Letter Continues to Generate Coverage and Greg’s ‘Best Seven’ Free Speech List Still Making Waves

By June 10, 2011

FIRE’s opposition to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights’ (OCR’s) recent policy guidance to colleges and universities has been big news for over a month. Will was recently quoted in an article (subscription only) by Sara Lipka of The Chronicle of Higher Education describing how OCR’s requirement that schools lower the standard of proof to a "preponderance of the evidence" in sexual harassment and sexual assault cases, particularly when combined with other aspects of campus disciplinary processes, unfairly compromises due process on campus.

Additionally, former government lawyer Hans Bader wrote a blog post for OpenMarket.com about how OCR’s policy guidance will further erode the often tenuous due process rights of college students. Bader cited Greg’s Daily Caller article from two weeks ago, in which Greg argued that the OCR letter’s failure to reaffirm that enforcement of civil rights laws must respect the First Amendment compounds the threat to student speech already presented by many universities’ overbroad and vague sexual harassment policies. Meanwhile, KC Johnson’s column in Minding the Campus about how Duke’s sexual misconduct policy anticipated OCR’s due process woes included a quote from Robert about the policy’s speech-chilling nature.

More than two weeks ago, The Huffington Post ran Greg’s article commending the seven best colleges and universities for free speech in the country. On Sunday, both Katherine Torres and the editorial board of The State Press, "best seven" school Arizona State University’s (ASU’s) student newspaper, explained how ASU recently earned its "green light" status in FIRE’s Spotlight database of speech codes and included some excellent quotes about the importance of free speech at a university.

Last August, Chief Deputy District Attorney for the Nineteenth Judicial District Susan Knox authorized a search warrant for student blogger Thomas Mink’s home because of a satire he created of Junius Peake, a former economics professor at the University of Northern Colorado. This week, Erica blogged about how a federal district court in Colorado recently found Knox liable for violating Mink’s Fourth Amendment rights and denied her qualified immunity. Blogger Ken of Popehat cited Erica’s blog entry in his post about this excellent victory for a student’s individual rights.

Finally, Roger Freberg, writing for CalPolyNews, mentioned eliminating all restrictions on speech and earning a "green light" rating from FIRE as one of many ways to improve Cal Poly. The university would be wise to listen.