A message about FIRE’s work during COVID-19

March 23, 2020

As FIRE’s President & CEO, I want to personally provide an update about what we’re working on during the COVID-19 crisis.

First, I hope you, your family, and your community are weathering the current situation well and that we all ultimately come through it as best we possibly can. 

Even though most campuses are physically closed, FIRE is still defending student and faculty rights in the face of ongoing threats. Our first priority was to ensure that our staff was safe and properly supported to work remotely. Thankfully, we’ve done just that, and our team has been hard at work defending students and faculty members while working remotely.

Here is what we’re working on now:

  1. Fighting for student and faculty rights in our ongoing cases. Students being sent home does not mean that cases from before the crisis have been resolved. We still have plenty of work ahead of us to secure just outcomes for those students and faculty members whose rights were violated before they left.
  2. Combating new threats to online speech. A growing number of FIRE cases involve students being punished for online speech, whether on social media, over university email listservs, or in online learning platforms. As the use of these systems increases during this time, we expect that number to rise even more. In the coming weeks, FIRE will release a report on online censorship by universities on Facebook and Twitter, which reveals how serious this threat is.
  3. Continuing our policy reform work. With less happening on campus, now is the perfect time for FIRE to get the attention of faculty and administrators as we continue our successful project of reforming university policies to better protect students’ rights.
  4. Educating the next generation about free speech. We are quickly helping teachers handle the new reality of web-based teaching by offering our high school curriculum, online quiz, and First Amendment Library as resources.
  5. Making the case for free speech to the public. As we all take steps to prevent the spread of the virus by quarantining and social distancing, FIRE has a real opportunity to dig deep into producing content that provides compelling arguments about First Amendment rights, freedom of speech, the philosophy of academic freedom, and the wisdom of due process. To that end, we are working on a feature-length documentary about Ira Glasser, one of the greatest living civil libertarians and the executive director of the ACLU from 1978–2001. For my part, I am launching a personal blog on our website called The Eternally Radical Idea — a reference to freedom of speech, of course. We are convinced that it will increasingly fall to our team to keep alive the “fire” of freedom of speech and to maintain the vibrant habits of mind necessary for a free society. That duty hasn’t changed, and in fact may well be as important as ever, despite the current crisis.

If you’d like to hear more about everything that FIRE has going on right now, I appeared on FIRE’s So to Speak podcast to discuss our response to the coronavirus and our big projects moving forward. You can listen to that episode here. You can also subscribe to So to Speak on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

When I think back to hard times in our past, like the aftermath of 9/11 and the 2008 recession, I’m reminded of just how resilient we all are and I’m reassured that our commitment to core principles will help FIRE and our friends come through stronger and more determined than ever.

Our best wishes are with you as we all work to adjust to these strange days. I hope you know that you are an indispensable part of our team, and in times like these, we feel more grateful for our friends than ever before.