This Week in the News: OCR Letter’s Ramification Already Felt, Greg’s ‘Huffington Post’ Article Makes a Big Splash, and Viewpoint Discrimination at UCSB

By May 27, 2011

Three eventful weeks ago, FIRE sent an open letter to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) about its April 4 "Dear Colleague" letter which, among other things, mandates that colleges and universities lower the standard of proof to a "preponderance of the evidence" standard when adjudicating student disciplinary matters concerning sexually related offenses.

Torch readers will not be surprised to learn that FIRE’s opposition to several aspects of the OCR letter continues to garner significant attention in the press, with two of FIRE’s own publishing articles about the negative ramifications of the letter this week. First, Greg wrote an article in The Daily Caller arguing that the 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. He cited the recent issuing of sanctions against the Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity at Yale University for shouting crude chants on campus as a perfect example of this threat. Peter echoed Greg’s sentiments about the pernicious combination of OCR pressure and unconstitutional speech codes in his most recent piece for PolicyMic.

Caroline May of The Daily Caller also reported on the connection between the letter (as well as its proposed legislative counterpart, the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act) and DKE’s sanctions, quoting Robert’s belief that national politics, namely the OCR letter, led to this free speech travesty. (If you’re interested in reading about how Yale President Richard Levin should properly have responded to OCR, check out FIRE Co-founder and Board of Directors Chairman Harvey Silverglate and Program Associate Kyle Smeallie’s piece on Minding the Campus.) Elsewhere, Mona Charen’s nationally syndicated column last week in National Review Online quoted Greg’s concept of "unlearning liberty" to warn that efforts to classify offensive speech as harassment and to abandon due process protections are not only a recipe for disaster, but also a lesson in illiberal education.

In the other major story of this week (and a much happier one at that), Greg commended the nation’s seven best colleges and universities for freedom of speech in a feature for The Huffington Post on Tuesday (reposted in eCampus News and The Moral Liberal). The list has already sparked discussion among Huffington Post readers and other commenters.

Further, the article has produced ripples through several news sources across the nation. The Jackson Sun (Jackson, Tenn.) praised nearby University of Tennessee-Knoxville (UTK) for making the highly selective list. Law professor Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit  was also pleased to see UTK included on Greg’s list, while the staff of the Richmond Times-Dispatch noted the inclusion of two of Virginia’s public universities on the list, the University of Virginia (UVa) and The College of William & Mary. The Daily Progress (Charlottesville, VA) also reported UVa’s inclusion on the list. John Hinderaker, writing for Power Line, was pleased to see that Dartmouth College was among the lucky seven. Finally, Arizona State University (ASU) publicized its honorable distinction on its own news page, and we’re gratified to see ASU take pride in its deserving inclusion on this list.

In other news, FIRE has written extensively this week about  a clear case of viewpoint discrimination by the student government at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), which twice denied funding for a lecture by conservative writer and speaker David Horowitz due to Horowitz’s controversial viewpoints. The College Republicans, who hosted the event, eventually settled for approximately $1,000 less in funding than they had requested. FIRE has already sent one letter to UCSB Chancellor Henry T. Yang, urging him to rectify this violation of the College Republicans’ rights, and will soon follow up with a second letter. David Horowitz and Nichole Hungerford both noted FIRE’s involvement in the case on FrontPageMag.com.

In an article for Reason magazine (appearing in Reason‘s June 2011 print issue), Campus Freedom Network (CFN) member Michael Tracey described FIRE’s free speech concerns with the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act (which has been reintroduced for consideration in Congress) to help illustrate the problems with well-intentioned knee-jerk legislation.

Finally, Nick Gillespie, editor in chief of Reason.com and Reason.tv, advertised FIRE’s upcoming CFN Conference, at which he’ll be the opening night keynote speaker, taking place July 14-16. Thankfully, it’s not too late to sign up for your chance to hear from eminent First Amendment scholars and meet fellow free speech advocates from across the country.