Bucknell University: University Slams Door on Student Satires of Obama Stimulus Plan and Affirmative Action


Bucknell University

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Case Overview


On March 17, 2009, Bucknell University, citing an inapplicable solicitation policy, shut down a Conservatives Club event protesting President Barack Obama’s stimulus plan. Less than a month later, university officials also shut down the club’s April 7 “affirmative action bake sale” protest. Administrators told the club that it needed a permit to host such an event, but when the club filed a permit for the same event two weeks later, it was told that it would need the Dean of Students’ approval to hold a “controversial” event. FIRE wrote to Bucknell on May 21, informing the university that shutting down these events violates the university’s promises of free expression. Bucknell responded on June 11, claiming that neither event was a “matter of free speech.” The university later revised the  solicitation policy that it had used to cancel the conservative club’s events, renaming it the “Sales and Promotion” policy and making it even more restrictive.

In September, FIRE submitted an ad to Bucknell’s student newspaper, The Bucknellian, which rejected the ad, fearing that it “might be construed as libel.” On January 7, 2010, FIRE wrote to Bucknell to encourage it to live up to its promises of free speech on campus. In response, on January 18,  Bucknell sent a letter to FIRE, accusing it of “abus[ing] the truth” and “invent[ing] not existent controversi[es].” On September 1, FIRE again wrote to Bucknell, contesting its restrictive Sales and Promotions policy, which requires preregistration and preapproval for “promotions” of  “causes.” Later that month, FIRE placed an electronic billboard near Bucknell’s campus, explaining that private universities may not betray their promises of free expression.