In a new column in our most recent issue of The FIRE Quarterly (available here), Virginia Postrel, a member of our Board of Directors, explored FIRE’s efforts to ensure freedom of association for students at both public and private universities.
Like dorm bull sessions, affiliating with campus groups helps young people define their identities and beliefs. When universities committed to freedom and equality establish procedures for recognizing student groups, they need to be even-handed and respectful of groups’ purposes. To take the most common, and absurd, example, they have to let Christian groups be Christian, defined as those groups see fit. A secular university, especially a secular state university, has no place deciding which religious doctrines are legitimate for restricting group membership.
Private schools don’t have to embrace freedom of speech or association—but they must bear the competitive consequences if they don’t. And they have the responsibility to live up to their stated policies. FIRE recently exposed the bait-and-switch at Hampton University, which refuses to recognize a gay and lesbian student group despite claiming to be an institution that supports “equal rights and opportunities for all regardless of…sexual preference.”
As Virginia points out, our position is that private colleges should to live up to their promises to their students. That’s why we stand here ready to assist students who believe their schools have not lived up to their mission statements and have violated students’ rights. As Virginia wrote, “Thanks to FIRE, such students need not suffer alone. The world is watching.”