Thousands of Students Return to Campus with New Tools to Defend Liberty

September 2, 2009

PHILADELPHIA, September 2, 2009Thousands of members of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s (FIRE’s) Campus Freedom Network are returning to campus this fall armed with new resources to fight for liberty on campus. At too many American colleges and universities, illiberal speech codes allow students less free speech than they would have in a public park back home. FIRE is offering abundant resources for students who wish to fight for their rights, including a prize-based incentive program for liberty activists on campus and $15,000 in scholarships for high school students. FIRE’s new online activism tools include a Red Alert widget that individuals can post to alert website visitors to the most dangerous campuses for free expression, while classic resources include FIRE’s Guides to Student Rights on Campus and Spotlight, FIRE’s extensive speech code ratings database.

"This fall, we launched the biggest ad campaign in FIRE’s history to warn students about the state of liberty on campus. We also want students and faculty members to know that FIRE offers more resources than ever to help them protect their rights," FIRE Vice President Robert Shibley said. "Victims of campus censorship and repression have no better friend than FIRE."

The six "worst of the worst" schools on FIRE’s Red Alert list are Brandeis University, Bucknell University, Colorado College, Johns Hopkins University, Michigan State University, and Tufts University. Bucknell, the newest addition to the list, used flimsy excuses to shut down a student group’s satirical "affirmative action bake sale" and a protest against President Obama’s stimulus bill.

$15,000 High School Essay Contest: After the success of FIRE’s 2008 "Freedom in Academia" high school essay competition, FIRE is again inviting high school seniors (graduating in 2010) to submit essays on freedom of speech in higher education. Each competitor will watch two short documentaries about FIRE cases and then write an essay focusing on how college administrators betrayed the purpose of a university as a "marketplace of ideas." The author of the best essay will receive a $5,000 college scholarship, two second place winners will each receive a $2,500 college scholarship, and five runners-up will each receive a $1,000 college scholarship. All winning essays will be featured on FIRE’s website. Essays must be submitted by November 6, 2009. Complete rules are available at thefire.org/contests.

New Web Tools: FIRE’s newest widget links to FIRE’s Red Alert list. All it takes to add the widget is to copy a few lines of HTML from FIRE’s Red Alert webpage or from FIRE’s Campus Freedom Network website at thecfn.org. The Red Alert widget, which alerts visitors to the schools that most abuse individual rights, joins FIRE’s Spotlight and Speech Code of the Month widgets. The Spotlight widget displays the threat level to individual rights at any school in FIRE’s speech code database and links to the school’s Spotlight page. FIRE’s widgets help students, faculty members, and concerned citizens get the word out about censorship on campus.

FIRE also now provides "action alerts" whenever FIRE publicizes an ongoing case, making it easy for the public to contact school administrators directly regarding the threats to freedom on their campuses. This new tool has already been highly effective in bringing public opprobrium to colleges and universities engaged in censorship.

Campus Freedom Network (CFN): The Campus Freedom Network (thecfn.org) is FIRE’s grassroots effort to restore liberty to campus by empowering students with resources and education so that they can reform their own campuses. Throughout the past year, the CFN has more than tripled in size to over 3,000 members and has organized more than twenty lectures by FIRE staff members on campuses across the country. Building on this success, the CFN re-launched an incentive program for the 20092010 school year to reward the students who work hardest to reform their campuses for liberty. Students earn points for recruiting new CFN members, publishing op-eds about free speech, and hosting FIRE speakers. Points are redeemed for prizes including FIRE Nalgene water bottles, gift certificates, and books on liberty. Members who earn the most points throughout the 20092010 school year are also inducted into the CFN’s Prometheus Society, and compete for the grand prize of a generous technology bundle or a $2,500 college scholarship.

"FIRE keeps adding to its growing pool of resources and programs to empower students to restore liberty on their own campuses," Shibley said. "Every student and faculty member concerned about the state of liberty on campus should join the CFN and learn how they can defend their rights."

Students interested in hosting FIRE speakers and engaging in reform efforts on their campuses should inquire at cfn@thefire.org.

FIRE’s classic resources for students and faculty members include FIRE’s acclaimed Guides to Student Rights on Campus, our Spotlight speech code database with information on more than 400 institutions, and breaking news on FIRE’s homepage and blog, The Torch. FIRE’s Guide to First-Year Orientation and Thought Reform on Campus is especially important in the new academic year, as mandatory orientation sessions at some campuses show little respect for the right of private conscience or even force students to agree to a campus "creed."

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty across America can be viewed at thefire.org.

CONTACT:
Robert L. Shibley, Vice President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; robert@thefire.org
Luke Sheahan, Director, Campus Freedom Network, FIRE: 215-717-3473; luke@thefire.org