Today, FIRE sent an open letter, reprinted below, to Bucknell University President John Bravman, asking him to vindicate student rights on Bucknell’s campus. FIRE is nonpartisan, and we take no position on the issues that Bucknell University students wanted to freely discuss on campus, including President Obama’s economic stimulus initiatives and affirmative action. We do, however, passionately and aggressively defend students’ rights to engage in free expression on campus—especially regarding contentious national issues, and especially at schools that, like Bucknell, explicitly promise free speech to their students. Now that Bucknell is ceremonially inaugurating its new university president this weekend, we hope that Bucknell will take this opportunity to recommit itself to its mission as a "marketplace of ideas"—and reform its policies.
FIRE would be very pleased to remove Bucknell from our Red Alert list. All that Bucknell needs to do to get off that list is reform the two policies that have been applied against the Bucknell students’ speech. Bucknell should consider our recent response to the University of Virginia, which has been the subject of effusive national praise from FIRE and others for eliminating all four of its speech codes. We would be enthusiastic about giving President Bravman and Bucknell our praise, too.
November 11, 2010
President John C. Bravman
220 Marts Hall
Lewisburg, Pennsylvania 17837
Sent via U.S. Mail and Facsimile (570-577-3369)
Dear President Bravman:
I am reaching out to you because tonight, Bucknell University again will be featured on national television due to its violations of its own promises of free expression. While I know that Bucknell does not agree with our characterization of past events, and we assert that the factual record is plainly on our side, I hope we can take this opportunity to put our disagreements over those events behind us.
As FIRE’s June 18 and September 1 letters to you explained, Bucknell maintains two policies that must be revised in order for FIRE to remove Bucknell from our Red Alert list. One, a campus-wide Sales and Promotions policy, requires preregistration and preapproval of "promotions" of "causes." The other, an unwritten policy promulgated by General Counsel Wayne A. Bromfield, prohibits expressive, political bake sales such as "affirmative action" and "gender wage gap" bake sales, even when the pricing is optional and satirical.
Despite our sharp disagreements about the incidents that occurred under the previous Bucknell president, I would like nothing more than to remove Bucknell from our Red Alert list. Yet, I cannot do this unless the university revises these policies. If Bucknell were to do so, we would be thrilled to acknowledge the change and give great credit to your new administration. Whether you like "affirmative action" and "gender wage gap" bake sales or not, you might not know that they have been held at dozens of universities across the country without serious incident and have resulted in engaged, thought-provoking discussions on contentious national issues. At some colleges, students have held their own counter-protest bake sales, demonstrating the principle that speech one dislikes should be countered with more speech, not censorship. I believe you will find that if you honor Bucknell’s free speech promises and trust Bucknell students to exercise their right to engage in meaningful debate on contentious issues, the debate will benefit, not harm, the intellectual rigor and discourse on your campus.
With my best wishes during the celebration of your inauguration this week,
Kenneth W. Freeman, Chair, Board of Trustees
John E. Bachman, Vice Chair, Board of Trustees
J. Randall MacDonald, Vice Chair, Board of Trustees
Wayne A. Bromfield, General Counsel and Parliamentarian, Board of Trustees
Michael A. Smyer, Provost
Linda Locher, Interim Dean of Students
Lewis A. Marrara II, Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs
Kari M. Conrad, Associate Dean of Students and Director of Campus Activities and Programs
Judith L. Mickanis, Executive Director, Events Management Office
Jeanne K. Hafer, Director of Non-University Events
Tom Evelyn, Senior Director of News and Media Relations
Professor Thomas Shawe, BUCC Advisor