In a development that should come as no shock whatsoever to anyone paying attention to FIRE’s ongoing cases at Valdosta State University (VSU) and Brandeis University, the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression announced this morning that VSU President Ronald M. Zaccari and the entire administration of Brandeis University are among the "winners" of the Center’s 2008 Jefferson Muzzles. The Muzzles are awarded to "the country’s most egregious and ridiculous censors"—and this year, VSU’s Zaccari and Brandeis made the cut.
In deeming Zaccari’s outrageous expulsion of former VSU student T. Hayden Barnes worthy of a Muzzle, the Center wrote:
While college administrators properly protect their campuses against genuine threats, posed by students or others, Barnes’ Facebook postings and other forms of protest could hardly be deemed to pose any such risk to campus security or safety. For extreme over-reaction to a student’s disrespectful, even insulting, but clearly protected expression of genuine concern about a major building project, President Zaccari clearly merits a 2008 Jefferson Muzzle.
To provide further context for Zaccari’s illiberal folly, the Center also posted the video about Barnes’ case produced by FIRE earlier this year. (Incidentally, the Center didn’t mention VSU’s blatantly unconstitutional "free speech zone," but they certainly could have.)
In discussing Brandeis’ shocking disregard for the free expression of Professor Donald Hindley, who was somehow found guilty of "racial harassment" for critiquing the use of the term "wetback" in the course of a classroom discussion, the Center highlighted a particularly dispiriting disjunction between the values held by Brandeis’ namesake and those of the university’s current leadership:
There is a special irony to the Hindley case. The eminent jurist whose name the university proudly bears – Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis – was an ardent and eloquent defender of free expression, noting that "it is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears" and insisting that "only an emergency can justify repression." For its flagrant disregard of its patron’s timeless principles of free speech, Brandeis University merits a 2008 Jefferson Muzzle.
Congratulations are certainly in order for VSU and Brandeis—as well as negative national press, a healthy dose of shame, and, hopefully, some much-needed institutional housecleaning at both schools. After all, both VSU and Brandeis are already on FIRE’s Red Alert list for proving themselves to be the worst of the worst when it comes to liberty on campus. Now they’ve earned themselves Jefferson Muzzles from the Thomas Jefferson Center. The receipt of today’s "awards" begs the question: Exactly how long are VSU and Brandeis students, faculty, trustees, and alumni going to let Zaccari and the current Brandeis administration drag the names of their respective schools through the mud before changes are made?