This Week in the News: Spotlight Report Stays Hot and Arizona Tragedy Sparks More Debate

By January 21, 2011

The legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one inspiration for FIRE to continue fighting for free speech this week.

FIRE’s latest annual speech code report, Spotlight on Speech Codes 2011: The State of Free Speech On Our Nation’s Campuses, made the news for the fifth consecutive week. Marsha Sutton summarized the report and FIRE’s Spotlight ratings in a column for the Del Mar Times (CA), mentioning University of Massachusetts Amherst’s policy regarding "controversial rallies" as an example of a restrictive policy. Maria Mauriello noted in The Chicago Maroon, the University of Chicago’s student newspaper, that despite U of C President Robert Zimmer’s repeated defenses of free speech, as well as language in support of free speech found in U of C’s protest policy, the university remains a red-light institution.

Marshall University was designated FIRE’s January Speech Code of the Month because, as Sam explains, five of its speech codes punish so much protected speech that there is very little students can say without fear of retribution. What’s more, these policies also contradict Marshall’s own Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities. This week, Kelley Bugler of The Parthenon, Marshall’s student newspaper, highlighted the opinions of Dean of Student Affairs Steve Hensley and Chief of Staff Matt Turner, the latter of whom seemed to think that it was useful to have unconstitutional speech codes because they grant students the ability to drag those whose opinions they don’t like before a disciplinary board. (What could go wrong?) Unsurprisingly, Turner also mentioned that the administration is in no rush to reform these speech-chilling codes.

The recent shooting in Tucson, Arizona, has continued to spark debate. Jenna Ross of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis-St. Paul wrote a column (much like Mary Beth Marklein’s article in USA TODAY last week) about the benefits and drawbacks of college and university threat assessment teams, quoting Adam’s fear that too often, these teams abuse their power and report students for clearly protected speech. In related international news, Leon Hadar of the Cato Institute reviewed several FIRE cases and lamented in the Business Times of Singapore about how easily college administrators can expel students for questioning their authority, but how difficult it is for them to get rid of dangerous, mentally ill students like Jared Loughner apparently was. 

In other news, Greg was the featured guest on Inside Academia this week, an online show that examines the biggest issues in higher education. In the interview, Greg reflects on FIRE’s inception, our decade-plus of work on campus (including some of our more outrageous cases), and the road ahead for liberty in academia.

Finally, the praise continues to roll in for the University of Virginia’s recent transformation from a red-light to a green-light institution. Loyal FIRE supporter Mike Adams of Townhall.com praised President Teresa Sullivan and Dean Allen Groves for spurring this transformation, while placing some pressure on other public Virginia institutions to follow suit (or else, one should add, risk personal liability for violating students’ rights). He also listed the 12 other green-light institutions in our Spotlight database.