‘Washington Post’ Writer Concurs With FIRE on Clemson Case

By on June 2, 2010

Washington Post education writer Valerie Strauss writes approvingly of FIRE’s recent victory for free speech at Clemson University at her Post blog The Answer Sheet, describing the incident sparking FIRE’s involvement as "another in a long list of overreactions by school officials to young people saying things in a way others would rather they didn’t."

Strauss, who brought national attention to Isaac Rosenbloom’s case at Hinds Community College on her blog, now neatly sums up the facts of Clemson student Wil Kirwan’s case, which arose from an e-mail exchange with an administrator over whether or not his student group would participate in an upcoming student group fair:

Kirwan did not want to, saying that past participation had not helped the organization recruit members. In a May 13 e-mail to [administrator Laura] McMaster with a copy to administrator Marty Kern, he wrote: "I’m not going to let you bully the organization into doing the things you want us to do or perceive as important."

He also stated that he trusted six previous Central Spirit presidents "over yours any day of the week and twice on Sunday," and wrote that McMaster must have been "smoking crack" before trying to get him to participate in the fair.

Kern responded, saying that Kirwan’s language was "unacceptable" and, in a letter, ordered him to appear at a hearing and listed the charges mentioned above.

Kirwan refused to attend a hearing and asked FIRE for help. FIRE sent a letter to Clemson University President Jim Barker, saying that the charges violated Kirwan’s First Amendment rights of free speech. General Counsel Clay Steadman responded in his own letter that charges were being dropped and agreeing that the First Amendment "protects speech even when it is rude or offensive."

Of this last development Strauss writes, "It’s good that someone involved in this case understands the First Amendment." FIRE appreciates Strauss’s attention to our recent efforts.

Schools: Clemson University Cases: Clemson University: Student Charged with Harassment and Disorderly Conduct for Single Email