PHILADELPHIA, June 18, 2007—Today, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) announced the launch of its “Red Alert” list, an ignominious distinction awarded to those institutions of higher education that have shown particularly severe and ongoing disregard for their contractual or constitutional commitments to uphold the fundamental rights of students and faculty. FIRE named Johns Hopkins University and Tufts University as the first two schools to be placed on Red Alert.
“FIRE’s Red Alert highlights the ‘worst of the worst’ institutions in terms of respecting the liberty of students and faculty,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “Prospective students and parents deserve to know that these universities have refused to keep their promises of free expression and that students’ academic careers may well be held hostage if they dare to express beliefs that differ from those of campus administrators.”
FIRE’s new Red Alert feature, prominently displayed on its website at www.thefire.org, is dedicated to warning prospective students, parents, and the general public about institutions that are unrepentant offenders against basic rights, and whose policies and practices demonstrate an ongoing threat to present and future students. While FIRE considers any abuse of student and faculty rights a serious problem, the Red Alert list is reserved solely for those institutions that promise free speech, but that have committed particularly egregious violations and refuse to reform even after being repeatedly engaged by FIRE.
Johns Hopkins University earned its Red Alert designation by suspending eighteen-year-old junior Justin Park for posting an “offensive” Halloween party invitation on the popular social networking site Facebook.com. Because some found the invitation racially offensive, Park was charged with and found guilty of “harassment,” “intimidation,” and “failing to respect the rights of others.” Although later reduced in the face of public pressure, Park’s original punishment included suspension from the university until January 2008; completion of 300 hours of community service; an assignment to read 12 books and to write a reflection paper on each; and mandatory attendance at a workshop on diversity and race relations. Johns Hopkins President William Brody made matters worse shortly after Park’s suspension by introducing a new and chillingly broad “civility” code prohibiting “rude, disrespectful behavior” at the university, and by stating in an article in the December 11, 2006 issue of The JHU Gazette that speech that is “tasteless” or that breaches standards of “civility” will not be allowed.
Tufts University earned its Red Alert status by finding in May that The Primary Source (TPS), a conservative student newspaper, violated the school’s harassment policy by publishing two satirical articles during the past academic year. Last December, TPS published a satirical Christmas carol entitled “O Come All Ye Black Folk,” which sparked controversy on campus because it harshly lampooned race-based admissions. Despite a published apology from TPS on December 6, 2006, a Tufts student filed harassment charges against the publication in March. Similarly, other Tufts students filed harassment charges in response to TPS’ April 11, 2007 piece entitled “Islam—Arabic Translation: Submission,” a satirical advertisement ridiculing Tufts’ “Islamic Awareness Week.” The advertisement consisted of factual statements about Islam and Islamic history. The two complaints, consolidated for a hearing before the university’s Committee on Student Life, resulted in a decision holding that TPS had violated university policy.
“Tufts University has redefined harassment to include even factually accurate statements if some students find them unflattering, and Hopkins now has a ‘civility’ code that allows administrators to punish or expel virtually any student they choose. Why should prospective students and their parents spend tens of thousands on dollars on an education that could be taken away from them for simply making the wrong joke or having the wrong political opinion?” Lukianoff asked.
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process rights, freedom of expression, and rights of conscience on our campuses. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty at Johns Hopkins University, Tufts University, and elsewhere can be seen by visiting www.thefire.org.
Greg Lukianoff, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org
William Brody, President, Johns Hopkins University: 410-516-8068; email@example.com
Lawrence S. Bacow, President, Tufts University: 617-627-3300; firstname.lastname@example.org