University of Alaska: Investigation of Protected Speech

Category: Free Speech
Schools: University of Alaska Fairbanks

In a memorandum to the faculty of all campuses of the University of Alaska, President Mark R. Hamilton came to the rescue of Professor Linda McCarriston, a poet and teacher of creative writing who was subjected to administrative interference and investigation because of the content of her work. FIRE brought the details and issues of the case to the attention of the University and secured the rights of unhindered free expression for McCarriston. McCarriston was investigated for offending students with a poem she wrote titled “Indian Girls,” about the sexual abuse of children. FIRE President Alan Kors wrote President Hamilton that the threat of investigation, whether it existed or appeared to exist, was a first amendment violation because it creating a chilling effect on free speech. President Hamilton sided with Kors and deemed the matter closed.  FIRE’s victory should serve as a reminder to colleges that simply investigating speech creates a chilling effect on it, and is therefore unconstitutional.