The Pipe Dream, an independent student newspaper at Binghamton University in New York, writes this week on Binghamton’s inclusion on FIRE’s “12 Worst Schools for Free Speech,” as featured in The Huffington Post. Azhar has already done quite a nice job for FIRE in explaining what Binghamton has done to earn its place on the list—namely, the near-expulsion of social work student Andre Massena and the successful expulsion of social work student Michael Gutsell—so I suggest you read his post if you haven’t.
Binghamton Senior Director of Media and Public Relations Gail Glover offered brief comments for the article, however, which merit response.
“Binghamton University shares FIRE’s commitment to free speech on college campuses and we welcome their advocacy efforts,” Glover said.
But she also addressed the rating directly.
“With respect to the specific article, we do not believe it is a meaningful evaluation of what campuses as a whole are or are not doing relative to speech on campus, but rather serves mostly to promote FIRE as an organization by spotlighting those matters in which the organization is or has been involved,” Glover said. “The specific incidents that place Binghamton on the list occurred almost two years ago and involved one program within one of six schools. Any inference about Binghamton’s commitment to free speech is misleading.”
We did primarily consider FIRE’s encounters with universities in formulating our list. Sharing our commitment to free speech, as Glover says Binghamton does, is terrific, but one will find few campuses in this country that come without such lofty promises and appeals to free inquiry and expression. What matters is living up to those statements—making principled decisions in difficult situations, no matter how unpopular or highly charged the expression is that deserves protection. By that measure, Binghamton has too often failed, as the matters involving Massena and Gutsell demonstrate. On the strength of those two cases—we’re talking about expelling students for their protected expression—Binghamton’s place on our list is well deserved. If the university has done anything to get the Department of Social Work back on board with free speech, we haven’t seen it.
Don’t mistake this for me saying that efforts to promote free speech and signal its importance to the community aren’t crucially important—witness Arizona State University’s newly minted “green light” rating, for which the school rightfully deserves praise. Is Binghamton willing to make a similar effort to reform its own speech codes? If so, FIRE stands ready to help.