This Week in the News: OCR Letter Generates Still More Coverage; Student Barred from Graduation Receives Attention

By June 3, 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 weeks. This week, Jeffrey Hadden of The Detroit News wrote about how the guidance requires colleges to violate their students’ fundamental rights. Glenn Ricketts of the National Association of Scholars discussed how the OCR letter’s insistence that institutions lower the standard of proof to a "preponderance of evidence" for cases of sexual harassment and sexual assault, when combined with many colleges’ "mischievously imprecise definitions of sexual harassment," will result in further rights violations on campus.

On a similar note, Greg wrote an article last week in The Daily Caller arguing that the OCR letter’s failure to reaffirm that OCR’s enforcement of civil rights laws respects the First Amendment compounds the threat to student speech already presented by many universities’ overbroad and vague sexual harassment policies. This week, Todd Zywicki of The Volokh Conspiracy pointed to Greg’s piece, while over on Cato@Liberty, Cato Institute Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies Ilya Shapiro agreed with Greg’s contention that the combination of OCR’s recent guidance and the speech-chilling policies in place at many schools would create "a perfect storm for rights violations."

In other news, Torch readers will recall that Saint Augustine’s College (SAC) in North Carolina refused to allow student Roman Caple to participate in its graduation ceremonies this year due to an innocuous Facebook post about how the college was handling its recovery from tornado damage. Fortunately, the story of Caple’s ordeal and FIRE’s defense of his individual rights has been picked up by many news venues. Marc Parry of The Chronicle of Higher Education, Caroline May of The Daily Caller, James Sprague of The News Record (the independent student newspaper at the University of Cincinnati), and All Facebook exposed SAC’s ludicrous actions while noting FIRE’s intention to keep the pressure on SAC until it provides justice to Roman Caple. (May’s article was reprinted by Yahoo! News.)

In response to Greg’s article on The Huffington Post naming the nation’s seven best colleges and universities for freedom of speech, the Richmond Times-Dispatch offered glowing praise for the two Virginia schools that made the list (the University of Virginia  and The College of William & Mary) and for FIRE’s efforts in combating censorship on campuses nationwide. Meanwhile, Grace Ortelere of The Daily Pennsylvanian (the University of Pennsylvania’s independent student newspaper) noted Penn’s inclusion among the seven most speech-friendly schools, while nationally syndicated columnist Mona Charen mentioned all seven institutions on Greg’s list for a syndicated article that appeared in The Washington Examiner, National Review Online, and Creators.com.

Finally, Jay Schalin of the John William Pope Center for Higher Education wrote a column about how recent threats to majority campus culture has caused some professors to strongly condemn students who hold opposing viewpoints, most notably at the University of Iowa and Davidson College. Robert was quoted in the column arguing that no administrative action should be taken against a professor at Davidson College who wrote a scathing letter to the editor about a conservative columnist because he was merely responding to speech with more speech.