This Week in the News: UNC Revokes Professor Emeritus’ Network Access; FIRE’s Opposition to New OCR Regulations Still Making Headlines

By June 24, 2011

The big story this week concerned the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) revoking Professor Emeritus Elliot Cramer’s network access following outside complaints about a link on his website to an organization that advocates for animal welfare. (This occurred despite UNC General Counsel Leslie C. Strohm telling the complainant, Joseph Villarosa, that the dispute was "not a University matter.") Earlier this week, FIRE issued a press release criticizing UNC for giving in to the "heckler’s veto." (If you’d like to encourage UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp to reinstate Cramer’s network privileges, visit our Take Action page.)

Steve Kolowich of Inside Higher Ed ran a piece on Cramer’s ordeal this week. However, as Peter pointed out on The Torch, the story overemphasized a non-issue: specifically, an earlier dispute concerning Cramer’s involvement with the Friends of Orange County Animal Shelter (FOCAS) that was successfully resolved prior to the current controversy. 

The focus should have been on the current pressing issue, which is the fact that UNC has meekly acquiesced to Villarosa’s demands that the university force Cramer to remove a link to a website that linked to another website that dealt with Cramer and Villarosa’s earlier disputes. Fortunately, FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley was able to shed light on the larger threat to academic freedom that UNC’s actions pose today in a column for the Chapel Hill paper, The Herald-Sun.

FIRE’s criticism of the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights’ (OCR’s) recent policy guidance to colleges and universities is still in the news almost two months after we first publicly criticized OCR for requiring federally funded colleges and universities to use a "preponderance of the evidence" (i.e., more likely than not) evidentiary standard when adjudicating claims of sexual violence and sexual harassment on campus, rather than the more exacting "clear and convincing" or "beyond a reasonable doubt" evidence standards.

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Examiner, voiced his displeasure over OCR’s misguided guidance in his latest column (reprinted by the New York Post and Conservative Outpost, and reprinted in part at The FOX Nation). Barone’s column reaffirms Greg’s point that the new OCR guidance will even further erode student rights on campus by encouraging universities to enforce overbroad harassment codes. Meanwhile, Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies Ilya Shapiro pointed to Barone’s piece on Cato@Liberty, pointing out that the the guidance will result in kangaroo courts that make a mockery of the campus judicial system. Finally, Robert was on Chicago’s WGN Radio 720 yesterday talking about the guidance, as well as Barone’s piece.

In other news, FIRE Co-Founder and Chairman Harvey Silverglate wrote a column for the July 2011 print edition of Reason about the perils of vague federal laws. Among other examples, Harvey points to the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act. While the Act’s stated aim of reducing harassment is admirable, the means by which it seeks to do so are redundant, at odds with the Supreme Court’s carefully crafted definition of harassment, and would dramatically expand the scope of federal peer-on-peer harassment regulations, putting First Amendment rights at serious risk.