This Week in the News: SUCOL, Speech Codes, Speech Heroes, and Speech Bowls

By December 24, 2010

The week leading up to Christmas has been another busy one for FIRE staff.

Unsurprisingly, bloggers and columnists continued to write about the investigation of alleged blogger Len Audaer at Syracuse University College of Law (SUCOL), with Ken of Popehat leading the charge. On Monday, he eviscerated SUCOL and Gregory Germain (whom he referred to as a "censorious thug") for not throwing away this laughable case right away, for sheltering the identity of Audaer’s accuser, and for refusing Audaer proper due process along the way, most recently by asking him to sign a "gag" order. Ken struck again on Wednesday, this time directing his ire at Germain’s snide and condescending e-mail to FIRE supporter David Ross. Showing nothing but contempt for the way Germain has handled Audaer’s investigation, Ken lambasted Germain for pompously touting his 25 years of experience as a lawyer without specifying that his expertise is not in First Amendment law, misleading his audience about the reason behind the long duration of the investigation, not understanding or pretending not to understand the clear distinction between protected speech and harassment, and trying to undermine FIRE’s credibility.

Adam’s column for the New York Post explains once again how the content of SUCOLitis doesn’t come close to constituting harassment, how SUCOL has withheld critical information from Audaer during its two-month investigation, including the names of the accusers and which blog posts were harassing, and how the "gag" order was issued because SUCOL knows that it cannot defend itself in the public sphere. Finally, S.J. Velasquez of syracuse.com quotes Adam in her summary of the case and challenges her readers to decide whether SUCOL is handling the investigation of SUCOLitis well. FIRE already has a pretty good idea about what our readers think, but it will be interesting to see what others have to say.

FIRE’s Spotlight on Speech Codes 2011: The State of Free Speech On Our Nation’s Campuses came out earlier this week. The report contains the percentage of public and private institutions with red-, yellow-, and green-light ratings, some examples of speech-restrictive policies, possible explanations for why administrators enact speech codes, and mentions of prominent free speech court cases. Danielle Wiener-Bronner of The Huffington Post publicized the annual report, noting that 67 percent of public and 65 perntce of private institutions have red-light ratings (down 4 percent and 5 percent, respectively, from last year), while only 3 percent of all institutions earned a green-light rating. Additionally, she reported our findings that institutions violate free speech in two ways: by misinterpreting federal law or enacting speech codes in blatant disregard for the First Amendment.

The Chronicle of Higher Education also wrote a short post about the report, while Thomas Mitchell, in his column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, exposed the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the University of Nevada, Reno as red-light institutions, quoted Samantha Harris’ intention to reduce the number of red-light schools to zero, and posted an interview Greg had with Matt Welch of Reason about the sad state of free speech on America’s college campuses.

In a column edited by Mick Hume for spiked, various authors, including FIRE’s own Greg Lukianoff, were asked who they thought were the best and worst people (hero and zero) in their areas of expertise for 2010. Was Greg’s hero prominent civil libertarian Wendy Kaminer, this year’s CFN Keynote Speaker Jonathan Rauch, or College of William & Mary student Braum Katz? Was his zero SUCOL Faculty "Prosecutor" Gregory Germain, recently resigned Southwestern College President Raj K. Chopra, or former Valdosta State University President Ronald Zaccari? Click here to find out!

Finally, in more frivolous news, Casey Mattox of the Alliance Defense Fund used FIRE’s Spotlight database, as well as other speech-related criteria, to predict the outcomes of nine of 35 college football bowl games based on universities’ respect for their students’ First Amendment rights. For example, Mattox unsurprisingly predicted that Northern Illinois University will lose badly because of its initial refusal to grant recognition to Students for Sensible Drug Policy and for still maintaining its unconstitutional prohibition on funding for "religious" and "political" organizations. Thus far, he’s only gotten two of his five predictions right, so while freedom of speech may be an excellent predictor of overall liberty in a particular country, it may not be the best variable to use for predicting the outcomes of football games. That being said, we at FIRE look forward to his remaining 26 predictions.