Victory for Free Speech at Central Michigan University; President Rao Defends and Affirms Free Speech and the Bill of Rights

November 7, 2001

MOUNT PLEASANT, MI-In a case that had achieved widespread national attention, students at Central Michigan University (CMU) secured a major victory for liberty when the University reaffirmed its obligations to the First Amendment. President Michael Rao, in a letter to FIRE today, made clear that any residential staff who asked students to remove materials from their dormitory doors acted without understanding his administration’s commitment to the Bill of Rights and to freedom of expression.

Students had been asked by residential staff to take down displays in support of military action against terrorism. When the facts were brought to his attention and clarified by FIRE, President Rao corrected the situation by explicitly articulating to the University and to the public that any actions weakening constitutional standards of liberty were wholly inconsistent with the policies that he had set for CMU.

“The university’s removal of any items considered offensive by some is not condoned,” President Rao wrote to FIRE. “The university is taking steps to assure students in the residence halls that their right to post materials and express opinion on their room doors is protected.” He added: “The university does not and will not condone any of its employees limiting the free speech rights of its students.”

FIRE applauds President Rao’s heartfelt and eloquent defense of free speech at CMU, and wishes that more administrators across the country would follow his example of leadership. Alan Charles Kors, President of FIRE, said “Michael Rao is a man of rare understanding, and his decisive leadership in this matter is the ideal model of authentic and honest academic administration.”

FIRE is privileged to have successfully defended the rights of students at CMU, and is delighted to have engaged in thoughtful and fruitful dialogue with President Rao, who shared FIRE’s alarm at any weakening of liberty at his University.

FIRE’s president, Alan Charles Kors, remarked that “In times like these, it is crucially important that we affirm our cherished Constitution and the ideals it represents. Indeed, eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process rights, freedom of expression, and rights of conscience on our campuses. FIRE’s work at Central Michigan University and other campuses can be seen by visiting the website, www.thefire.org. FIRE is currently involved in cases at the University of New Mexico, Yale University, Orange Coast College, San Diego State University, University of North Carolina-Wilmington, Duke University, Pennsylvania State University, and Columbia University.

Contact:

Alan Charles Kors, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473 or fire@thefire.org

Michael Rao, President, Central Michigan University: 989-774-3131 or rao1m@cmich.edu

Schools: Central Michigan University Cases: Central Michigan University: Abridgement of Freedom to Display Patriotic Symbols