Founded in 1999, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is the only organization devoted exclusively to defending the fundamental freedoms of students and faculty members on our nation’s campuses—the very place in our society where these freedoms are most crucial to the development of our future leaders and the preservation of our constitutional character. FIRE carries out this mission through several core programs focused on both awareness and activism.
Individual Rights Defense Program
The Individual Rights Defense Program (IRDP) is FIRE’s signature, core defense program. It provides free assistance to individual students, professors, student media, and campus groups whose fundamental civil liberties have been violated. Kicked out of school for something you posted on social media? Denied recognition for your student group? Facing termination because of your ideology? That’s where FIRE’s IRDP comes in. We review hundreds of potential rights violations each year and seek justice for those we help. How? By using our authority and reputation to directly demand school leaders follow the Constitution or uphold their own commitments to civil liberties. Through targeted media campaigns, correspondence with administrators, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that publicly expose a school’s actions, and other creative advocacy, the IRDP has secured hundreds of critical victories for students and faculty members (both in public and in private) since FIRE’s founding. For more information about recent IRDP cases and past victories, visit FIRE’s case archives. To submit a case of your own, click here.
FIRE strategically litigates in courts nationwide to vindicate the First Amendment and due process rights of students and to force universities to face concrete consequences, both reputational and monetary, for their actions. In addition to reviewing each and every case submission we receive, FIRE’s litigation team proactively seeks out student and faculty plaintiffs to participate in suits that have the potential to set lasting legal precedents. Finally, the Litigation Project works to position FIRE as a thought leader in First Amendment jurisprudence by submitting amicus briefs in strategically chosen cases, teaching Continuing Legal Education courses, recruiting like-minded attorneys for our Legal Network, and publishing legal scholarship.
Faculty Legal Defense Fund
FIRE’s Faculty Legal Defense Fund (FLDF) safeguards and vindicates the expressive and academic freedom rights of faculty at public colleges and universities. FLDF is designed to provide “first responder” legal help at no cost to faculty members whose need is within the program’s mandate. Whether faculty face punishment from their public institutions for their instruction, scholarship, or speech on issues of public concern as private citizens, FIRE’s FLDF staff quickly review concerns and, where necessary and appropriate, connect faculty with experienced attorneys nearby for assistance. Where these referrals are made, FLDF pays the lawyers’ fees for initial legal work like advising on possible courses of action or helping resolve disputes with the institution or administrators. If litigation becomes necessary, FLDF may pay the legal fees for that as well. Inquiries can be made through FLDF’s dedicated 24-hour Hotline – 254-500-FLDF (3533) – or online by clicking here.
Legislative and Policy Project
The Legislative and Policy Project supports FIRE’s mission on both a state and federal level by advocating on behalf of rights-protective legislation and against proposed laws that threaten student and faculty rights. The project has numerous priorities, including the defense of the due process protections afforded by the current Title IX regulations governing procedures for campus sexual misconduct. It is also focused on passing legislation that defines a national standard for student-on-student harassment, bans “free speech zones” from public campuses, protects academic freedom, and more.
Policy Reform Project
FIRE’s Policy Reform Project works to proactively and systematically challenge campus policies that violate students’ and faculty members’ free speech rights. The project maintains FIRE’s Spotlight database, which catalogs the speech codes of over 475 colleges and universities nationwide. That data fuels FIRE’s policy awareness and advocacy efforts, giving us the ability to directly work with administrators to offer analysis and advice, coordinate targeted publicity efforts like FIRE’s Speech Code of the Month series, and publish our annual Spotlight on Speech Codes report reviewing the state of free speech at America’s colleges and universities. Our Policy Reform team also advocates for procedural safeguards in disciplinary proceedings, rating the procedures at 53 of America’s top schools in our Spotlight on Due Process report, and promoting our Model Code of Student Conduct, which provides a “gold standard” of administrative policies and procedures. The project also provides schools with resources to improve the climate for free speech on campus, including the “Chicago Statement,” a policy statement affirming free speech and academic freedom rights on campus. Through this comprehensive approach, the project has reformed hundreds of restrictive policies and achieved a more than 50-point decline in the percentage of institutions maintaining clearly restrictive “red light” speech codes.
FIRE Student Network
The FIRE Student Network (FSN) educates and empowers college students to exercise their rights on campus and advocate for reform. The FSN engages students in a number of ways, through our resources like our Guides to Student Rights on Campus, conferences throughout the year, and our signature summer internship program. The FSN also coordinates two student groups: the Student Defenders Program, which empowers students around the country to become peer advocates who can advise fellow students as they navigate their school’s disciplinary system, and Let’s Talk, campus civil discourse societies that provide space for students to engage in and promote free, fruitful, and civil discussions.
High School Outreach Project
FIRE’s High School Outreach program seeks to advance FIRE’s mission at the K-12 level. This involves educating students, parents, teachers, and the general public about the origins and importance of their constitutional rights and promoting respect for free speech and open discourse. In addition to FIRE’s high school curriculum package, which we promote to educators nationwide, the project distributes a number of additional resources including a free speech comic book, a short guide on selecting a college that respects civil liberties, an activity kit for high school debate societies, and an online quiz designed to test users on their knowledge of First Amendment rights. FIRE also provides resources to parents, educators, and citizens concerned about anti-speech trends at the K-12 level. Lastly, the project coordinates our annual essay contest, which solicits entries from juniors and seniors on the importance of free speech and awards $20,0000 in college scholarships.
FIRE Faculty Network
FIRE’s Faculty Network provides those “in the trenches” with the support and resources they need to take action against threats to academic freedom and free expression on campus. The centerpiece of this project is our annual Faculty Network Conference on academic freedom issues, bringing together several dozen scholars in a variety of disciplines for a series of presentations selected through an open call for proposals. The network also provides a plethora of resources to keep faculty engaged throughout the year, including an online free speech syllabus database, member newsletter, and regular webinars.
Targeted Advocacy Project
The Targeted Advocacy Project seeks to bring new audiences to FIRE’s work through outreach and special projects.The project coordinates FIRE’s Home and Abroad Initiative, which focuses on exposing threats international censorship poses to American higher education, our First Amendment Library, an online database of free speech jurisprudence, timelines, and special exhibits, FIRE’s Freshman Orientation Program, which provides schools with materials to host free speech-focused orientation programming, and Ron Collins’ “First Amendment News.” It also produces timely research reports on threats to free expression as they pertain to certain current events, and provides unique resources such as an undergraduate casebook on the First Amendment and our Free Speech Out Loud podcasts.
Research and Special Projects
FIRE’s Research and Special Projects is a dedicated initiative within FIRE that coordinates our research efforts and engages in cutting-edge analysis of campus issues and free speech questions. The initiative oversees FIRE’s College Free Speech Rankings, an annual survey aimed at uncovering campus-specific student attitudes toward free speech and an invaluable resource for students, parents, and alumni seeking to understand the state of free expression at specific schools. Ultimately, this research and more is allowing us to better leverage FIRE’s resources to convince the public to treat freedom of expression as an essential part of our American heritage.
Public Awareness Project
FIRE’s Public Awareness Project is the engine that sets all of these programs up for success by sharing their work with the public and generating greater understanding among everyday Americans of the issues on campus. FIRE consistently attracts over 3,000 media mentions and approximately 50 radio and television pieces every year in the nation’s leading publications and outlets, breaks news on our award-winning Newsdesk, and produces digital content through short videos, feature-length documentaries, and our popular bi-weekly podcast series So to Speak.