PHILADELPHIA, August 25, 2008—The 2009 edition of U.S. News and World Report‘s America’s Best Colleges issue, released today, includes a full-page advertisement from FIRE highlighting the five colleges and universities that have earned FIRE’s Red Alert distinction for being the “worst of the worst” when it comes to liberty on campus. Students should think twice before choosing to attend Red Alert schools, which include Brandeis University, Colorado College, Johns Hopkins University, Tufts University, and Valdosta State University.
“Every year, millions of students and parents turn to U.S. News and World Report to see the latest college rankings,” said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. “They deserve to know if their school of choice ignores fundamental rights. Schools on FIRE’s Red Alert list must understand that we will not stop exposing their illiberal behavior until they honor their obligations under the First Amendment and their own promises of freedom of expression.”
The advertisement features Hayden Barnes, a former student at Valdosta State University in Georgia, who was expelled by the university’s then-president for protesting the building of two parking garages on campus. Barnes’ “offense” was posting a collage on Facebook.com that mocked the university president and expressed opposition to the building project. With FIRE’s help, the Georgia Board of Regents eventually overturned Barnes’ punishment, but a federal lawsuit against Valdosta State for its treatment of Barnes continues.
Other schools on FIRE’s Red Alert list have refused to remedy similarly egregious offenses against fundamental rights. Brandeis University found a professor of nearly 50 years guilty of racial harassment for using the word “wetbacks” in his Latin American Politics class—in the context of criticizing the term. Colorado College found two students guilty of “violence” simply for posting a flyer that satirized another flyer circulated by another student group. Johns Hopkins suspended a student for what it deemed to be an “offensive” Halloween party invitation posted on Facebook.com, and then passed a repressive “civility” code despite the protests of student leaders. And Tufts University found an entire student newspaper guilty of “harassment” for publishing two pieces satirizing affirmative action and Islamic Awareness Week. The latter of these two pieces included factually verifiable information about Islam, as well as quotes from the Koran-the first time in FIRE’s experience that purely factual assertions have been found to be unprotected harassment.
“Readers need to understand that these five Red Alert schools represent only a handful of the hundreds of serious abuses of free speech and basic liberties that FIRE has seen over the years. What sets Red Alert schools apart is their refusal to reverse their intrusions on the rights of students and faculty members,” said Lukianoff. “FIRE hopes that by the time we publicize our Red Alert list next year, all of these schools will have redeemed themselves and their commitment to campus rights. Given their stubborn refusal to do so thus far, however, we are not holding our breath.”
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.
Greg Lukianoff, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org
Jehuda Reinharz, President, Brandeis University: 781-736-3001; email@example.com
Marty Wyngaarden Krauss, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, Brandeis University: 781-736-2101; firstname.lastname@example.org
Richard F. Celeste, President, Colorado College: 719-389-6700; email@example.com
Mike Edmonds, Vice President for Student Life/Dean of Students, Colorado College: 719-389-6684; firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Patrick J. Schloss, President, Valdosta State University: 229-333-5952; email@example.com
Louis Levy, Vice President for Academic Affairs, Valdosta State University: 229-333-5950; firstname.lastname@example.org