FIRE on ‘Watch Dog Watch’

April 19, 2005

Check out this great write up
about FIRE from

FIRE to College Campuses

College administrators and faculty have met the enemy and it is the First
Amendment. Many universities, public and private, have cracked down on
intellectual freedom with a vengeance that would make a dictator proud.
Fortunately, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), an
interventionist watchdog, has taken up the challenge of defending basic human
rights on college campuses.

Neither right-wing nor left-wing, FIRE seeks to “defend and sustain individual
rights at America’s
increasingly repressive and partisan colleges and universities.” FIRE uses an
array of mechanisms including “public exposure of abuses” and, if needed, legal
action to support fundamental freedoms such as “speech, legal equality, due
process, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience—the essential qualities
of individual liberty and dignity.”

One of FIRE’s projects,,
publicizes campus censorship codes and uses a red, yellow, green system to
alert the public to level of freedom permitted on the campus. FIRE’s reports on
each college, easily accessible through their search engine, also provides
detailed information about campus speech restrictions and links to the various
speech codes.

Examples of colleges with restrictive speech codes cited by FIRE include Brown University
which “has banned ‘verbal behavior’ that produces ‘feelings of impotence,
anger, or disenfranchisement,’ whether ‘intentional or unintentional.’“ The University of Connecticut “has outlawed ‘inconsiderate
jokes,’ ‘stereotyping’ and even ‘inappropriately directed laughter.’“ West
Virginia University “would instruct incoming students and new faculty that they
must ‘use language that is not gender specific…Instead of referring to anyone’s
romantic partner as girlfriend or boyfriend, use positive generic terms such as
friend, lover, or partner..’“ Antioch
College “enforces a vague
and expansive sexual harassment policy that prohibits any behavior that ‘emphasizes
the gender or sexual identity of persons in a manner which prevents or impairs
their emotional well-being.’“

FIRE notes that under such rules, “major voices of public criticism, satire,
commentary, and debate would be silenced on American campuses, and some of our
greatest authors, artists, and filmmakers would be banned. More ominously, in
the face of such codes, students intuit a supposed right to be free from
offense, embarrassment, or discomfort.”

Justice William Douglas stated that “Restriction of free thought and free
speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act
that could most easily defeat us.” Unfortunately, many colleges, even the most
prestigious, have become un-American. Just ask Larry Summers.