Bonilla: Campus Security Threatens Free Speech

November 3, 2011

"What does it take to have a ‘threat assessment team’ called on you?" 

FIRE’s Peter Bonilla explains today over at PolicyMic that it takes almost nothing in these days of hyper-alert administrators:

Surely universities have an important task in keeping their campuses safe, but not at the expense of fundamental rights. When a better-safe-than-sorry mentality takes precedence over respecting students’ free speech and due process rights, universities turn themselves into the true threats.

Is this photo featuring actor Nathan Fillion from the television show Firefly, appearing by a professor’s office door, for instance, a safety concern that should trigger the university’s threat assessment team? The University of Wisconsin-Stout said so.

As Peter writes, the university’s police chief removed the poster and warned the professor to be careful: 

[I]f he posted such a message again, he could find himself arrested for "disorderly conduct." [Professor James] Miller responded by posting a satirical anti-fascism cartoon which read in part that "Fascism can cause blunt head trauma and/or violent death. Keep fascism away from children and pets." … The officer informed Miller that she had notified Stout’s "threat assessment team" of his repeat offenses. 

FIRE quickly won this one (it helps to have thousands of Firefly fans on your side), but how many other schools’ violations of free speech go unnoticed? Peter writes: 

Stout is far from alone in name-dropping [the actual shootings at] Northern Illinois and Virginia Tech. Universities frequently seem to act out of the belief that labeling protected speech as "threatening" confers a kind of benediction that allows them to toss basic rights to the wind. 

Peter also tells the story of how a completely tame collage on Facebook was used to expel a student from Valdosta State University and how a student from Western Washington University was put under investigation for "Harassment and/or Threats of Violence" after he merely wrote "Fuck the Police" on his parking ticket and check. 

Read Peter’s whole piece at PolicyMic