FIRE is constantly changing the campus culture to one that respects individual thought and expression, and in turn, we are safeguarding the very future of our nation’s democracy. Our work aims to prevent an entire generation of students from incorrectly learning not only that they have fewer rights than they actually do, but also that silencing “offensive” speech is in fact the good and noble thing to do rather than to respond with more speech.
In our 11 years of combating campus censorship, FIRE has encountered countless cases in which administrators overstep their bounds and implement unconstitutional policies or unjustly suppress the speech of their students or faculty. But what we find increasingly disturbing is the number of cases of peer-on-peer censorship that we’re faced with-whether it’s students stealing campus newspapers by the hundreds, shouting down speakers with whom they disagree, or even stomping on displays that promote views with which they disagree. In fact, this has become such a widespread problem on our campuses that Greg is writing a book on the topic of “Unlearning Liberty,” which we expect to be completed in 2011.
At our nation’s colleges and universities-the very places where a healthy atmosphere of robust debate is most critical-students are being taught by administrators’ bad examples that stifling opinions one dislikes is not just permitted, but it is what good people do. Such behavior poses a serious threat to the long-term survival of our democracy, as students enter “the real world” with the belief that any ideas they do not want to hear simply shouldn’t be heard. As you know, many of the world’s greatest breakthroughs have come from people who weren’t afraid to contradict popular opinion or challenge the status quo. If our nation’s campuses educate a generation of our future leaders to believe that silencing unpopular ideas is not only acceptable but even desirable, we risk a future in which open and robust debate cannot exist, and innovation, inventions, and progress are scarcely possible.
Because so many of our campuses seem oblivious to the dangers inherent in raising a generation that sees little wrong in regulating away “disagreeable” expression, it is up to those of us who care about preserving the basic principles of liberty to band together in this fight. With your support in 2011, FIRE will further expand our programs, defend more students and professors, and generate greater changes on our nation’s campuses. The fight to restore our colleges and universities to open marketplaces where ideas are debated and free thought flourishes is critical to maintaining our free society.
Together, this is a fight we can win. With the support of our donors, FIRE has made great strides in improving the higher education atmosphere: the percentage of leading colleges and universities maintaining unconstitutional speech policies has decreased (from a one-time high of 79% down to 67% this year); the violations of student and faculty rights that FIRE sees have become, as a whole, less brazen than they once were; and nearly 4,300 students and faculty members have been working with FIRE to reclaim their rights on campus as part of our Campus Freedom Network. We are dismantling “free speech zones,” educating students to understand their rights, and making sure that censorship does not go unnoticed–and, as Alisha explained on Wednesday, we are holding administrators accountable. We open the eyes of millions of individuals every year to the abuses of liberty taking place on campus, and we strive on a daily basis to correct the miseducation of our nation’s youth.
With just one day left before the New Year, I hope you will consider donating to FIRE if you haven’t yet donated this year. We need your support to continue to change the campus culture, which has so often taught students to become willing partners in censorship. Together we can ensure the healthy future of our nation’s democracy.