PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 28, 2016—Advocates for campus civil liberties confronted new challenges this year. They also secured many important victories. As 2016 comes to a close, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) looks back on a year in which more students and faculty members than ever before came to FIRE for help and FIRE responded with many new programs and resources to protect their rights.
“Last year, the issue of student and faculty rights was more prominent than ever, as student protests captured the nation’s attention,” said FIRE Executive Director Robert Shibley. “This year, FIRE worked hard to meet the demand of increased campus activism by investigating an unprecedented number of cases, coordinating cutting-edge lawsuits to tackle some of campuses’ biggest civil liberties violations, and expanding our educational resources to introduce a wider audience to First Amendment principles.”
FIRE’s top stories from 2016 include:
- FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program received approximately 900 requests for help from students and faculty members across the country in 2016—more requests than any other year in FIRE’s history. FIRE’s defense of student and faculty rights took us to Harvard University, Northern Michigan University, Georgetown University Law Center, Winthrop University, and many more schools this year.
- FIRE’s unprecedented Stand Up for Speech Litigation Project continued its undefeated streak with victories at Iowa State University and Blinn College. Two new lawsuits were also filed against the University of South Carolina and Louisiana State University. The project’s 12 total lawsuits have so far restored the free speech rights of nearly 250,000 students.
- In June, FIRE sponsored a groundbreaking lawsuit challenging the Department of Education’s unlawful mandate that colleges abandon critical due process protections and try sexual misconduct cases using the lowest standard of evidence. The lawsuit remains in active litigation.
- In the spring, FIRE launched So to Speak: The Free Speech Podcast. The bi-weekly show takes an uncensored look at the world of free expression through personal stories and candid conversations.
- In August, after nearly a year on the film festival circuit and screenings on more than 240 campuses in the spring, the FIRE-supported documentary Can We Take a Joke? became available for viewing by audiences nationwide. The documentary explores what happens when comedy and censorship collide on and off campus.
- In September, FIRE Executive Director Robert Shibley released Twisting Title IX. The short book tells the story of how a federal law called Title IX has been abused by the federal government and many college administrators to treat students in a way that the U.S. Constitution forbids.
- In October, FIRE announced the launch of its new Speech, Outreach, Advocacy, and Research (SOAR) project, made possible by a $2.5 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation.
- In November, FIRE launched its First Amendment Library, a one-of-a-kind resource designed to be the premier knowledge hub for information about First Amendment freedoms.
- FIRE’s annual Spotlight on Speech Codes report found an unprecedented 10 percentage point decline in universities maintaining written policies that severely restrict students’ free speech rights. This year is the ninth year in a row that the percentage dropped. Five schools also earned FIRE’s highest, “green light” rating for free speech since last year’s report.
“FIRE is encouraged that more schools than ever decided to abandon their severely restrictive speech codes,” said FIRE’s Shibley. “This development gives campus civil liberties advocates momentum heading into 2017. And with the expansion of FIRE’s staff, programs, and educational resources, we are poised to capitalize on 2016’s successes. But we can’t rest on our laurels. Many challenges remain, like fighting the rise in the use of security fees and bias response teams to censor speech. The work continues.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending liberty, freedom of speech, due process, academic freedom, legal equality, and freedom of conscience on America’s college campuses.
Nico Perrino, Director of Communications, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org
Click here for more First Amendment educational resources.