In a shocking incident which has garnered international attention, campus police officers at the University of California at Davis used pepper spray on at least a dozen seated students participating in protests against economic inequality this past Friday. Video of the incident quickly went viral, and reaction to this remarkably harsh and, by all appearances, disproportionate action by campus police has been equally swift: The officers involved have been placed on administrative leave, as has the chief of campus police.
FIRE President Greg Lukianoff is quoted in InsideHigherEd‘s coverage of the incident today:
Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, called the situation at Davis "awful," and said he was also worried about trends in the way campus police officers are responding to various incidents. FIRE was recently successful in a dispute over free speech rights at Sam Houston State University, but is concerned about possible patterns, Lukianoff said. "I cannot verify that there has been an uptick in cases involving excessive overreactions by the campus police recently, but it certainly seems to me as if there has been, even before seeing this case," he said.
As Greg notes, FIRE has indeed been seeing more incidents involving overreactions by campus police. In addition to our recent Sam Houston State University case, where campus police forced down a "free speech wall" organized by student groups from across the political spectrum, in the past few weeks we’ve also successfully fought against the punishment of a student who directed profanity to police officers in responding to a parking ticket. Our recent Firefly case at University of Wisconsin – Stout, which generated international publicity, also involved an overzealous campus police officer, who tore down two satirical posters from Professor Jim Miller’s office door. (To see Professor Miller explain his case in his own words, check him out on last week’s Stossel show here.)
FIRE has been fighting abuses of rights on campus for more than a decade now. Shocking incidents like the one captured on video at UC-Davis are prompting many in this country to focus a newly critical eye on our campuses and the often problematic relationship too many institutions have with the free speech rights of their students and faculty. We hope that this new, much-needed scrutiny will prevent further abuses, and we will continue our work toward that end.