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Chronicle of Higher Education profiles ‘Free-Speech Warriors’ at FIRE

By March 20, 2017

The Chronicle of Higher Education, a leading trade publication for college and university faculty and administrators, just published a wide-ranging and well-researched feature on FIRE’s 18 years of groundbreaking work defending civil liberties on America’s college campuses. “In a Polarized Climate, Free-Speech Warriors Seize the Spotlight” (subscription required) is a behind-the-scenes, in-depth, and — naturally — uncensored look at how we’ve maintained our unwavering devotion to our mission while simultaneously evolving as an organization to meet increasing demands.

The piece is slated to run in The Chronicle’s forthcoming print edition, out Friday.

From our early reputation as “SWAT team”-like defenders of student and faculty rights, to our unassailable record as proudly nonpartisan champions of the right to speak out on causes across the political and ideological spectrum, the article notes both FIRE’s achievements and the recent campus controversies that have brought these issues — and FIRE — increased public attention:

[S]peech fights like those at Berkeley and Middlebury — not to mention academe’s recurring debates over trigger warnings, microaggressions, and safe spaces — reinforce the argument that FIRE has been promoting for nearly two decades: Free expression on campuses is under attack. That environment has opened the door for the organization to play a central role in shaping public discourse and standing up for free expression.

The Chronicle is also careful not to sugarcoat the criticisms FIRE has faced and the challenges inherent in doing nuanced work fighting for civil liberties, noting accurately that we routinely find ourselves “in the cross hairs of increasingly fraught campus free-speech disputes.”

But even those with whom FIRE has previously found ideological differences — like American University Professor Jon Gould and Wesleyan University President Michael Roth — had positive things to tell the publication about FIRE.

For example, Roth, with whom FIRE has sparred over press freedom concerns, acknowledged his differences with FIRE but also recognized the importance of our work.

“It’s incredibly important to have an institution like FIRE in the mix of the free-speech conversation,” Roth told The Chronicle. “They have a principled stand that’s worth taking seriously.”

As we have for nearly two decades, FIRE will continue to ensure important conversations are allowed to take place on American campuses.

“[A]s controversies around campus free speech burn ever brighter,” The Chronicle concludes, “it seems that FIRE will do the same.” With ever-growing staff, resources, and experience protecting a range of individual liberties like freedom of speech, legal equality, and due process, we agree.