by Bruce Walsh
Metro.us New York
Last week, the Foundation For Individual Rights in Education released its second-annual “Worst Colleges for Free Speech” list. The Philadelphia-based nonprofit named 12 U.S. colleges and universities that, in its view, continue to impose limits on student speech — even after intense pressure from FIRE and others.
FIRE president Greg Lukianoff released the list on his Huffington Post blog.
Topping the dozen was the University of Cincinnati, due to a pending civil rights lawsuit filed against them by Young Americans for Liberty, a Ron Paul-inspired activist group. In February, the officially sanctioned student organization was limited to a small “free speech zone” in which to gather signatures for a law that would disallow required union membership in any Ohio workplace. The group was also instructed to file an official request for the zone two-weeks in advance.
“Free speech zones are basically quarantining speech to an area where maybe the police can watch them or they can’t really be seen,” says Robert Shibley, senior vice president of FIRE. “It’s understandable that people in power wouldn’t want to have protesters all over the place, but sometimes that’s the nature of living in a free society. And universities should be the beacons of freedom in a free society.”
Greg Hand, UC’s associate vice president for public relations, says the zone was established to strike a delicate balance between the rights of outside evangelizing ministers and students that felt harassed by them. Hand also says it has not been imposed on other groups, such as the Occupy movement and anti-abortion protesters.
He did not provide an explanation as to why YAL was limited to that space.
“There’s a lawsuit going on. There’s a lot of ‘who shot John’ about this particular case. In practice, you either ask for the space or you describe a situation that can only be accommodated in that space,” says Hand. “There are certain criteria you have to meet to be assigned to that zone, and I don’t know which button was pushed.”
These are the “12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech in 2012,” according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
1. University of Cincinnati
2. Syracuse University
3. Widener University
4. Harvard University
5. Yale University
6. St. Augustine’s College
7. Michigan State University
8. Colorado College
9. Johns Hopkins University
10. Tufts University
11. Bucknell University
12. Brandeis University