PHILADELPHIA, June 9, 2009—The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is pleased to announce the release of a new video on DVD and online called “Threats, Coercion, and Bullying at Missouri State.” The short documentary covers FIRE’s case at Missouri State University (MSU), where social work student Emily Brooker was threatened with expulsion after she refused (as a matter of personal belief) to send a signed letter to the Missouri state legislature in favor of homosexual foster parenting and adoption.
FIRE also is pleased to announce the winners of its “Freedom on Campus” student video contest. American college and university students were invited to submit short videos documenting school policies or practices that stifle their freedoms on campus, with the opportunity to win scholarships and other prizes. A grand prize of $5,000 and an invitation to the Campus Freedom Network’s summer conference went to a group of students from Ohio University (OU) for their video, “That’s What She Said.” Robert Nyerges, Dan Ray, Evan Mitchell, and Aaron Karp produced and filmed a documentary on OU’s sexual harassment policy, describing how the policy likely violates the First Amendment.
Two $1,000 scholarships also were awarded to Timothy Hawco of SUNY Fredonia for his video, “Day of Protest,” and to the Student Media Association of Westchester Community College for their entry, “Autonomy.” FIRE awarded an honorable mention of $250 to Chad Ainsworth of Southeastern University for his video, “Campus Freedom.”
“FIRE is thrilled that the winners of our video contest displayed a clear understanding of student rights on campus and portrayed both sides of the issue by interviewing campus administrators and FIRE representatives,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “Congratulations to all the students who participated in the contest and helped shine some light on abuses of basic rights on campus.”
FIRE’s own newest video features Missouri State’s violation of Brooker’s freedom of conscience. This violation resulted not only in a federal lawsuit (which the school settled) but also in an official report that found that a culture of intimidation was rife in the university’s School of Social Work. For instance, “many students and faculty stated a fear of voicing differing opinions from the instructor or colleague,” and “‘bullying’ was used by both students and faculty to characterize specific faculty.” The 12-minute documentary features interviews with Brooker, faculty at MSU who were involved in the case, and Missouri State Senator Jane Cunningham.
“Emily Brooker’s case is an object lesson in what can happen when a department places its own political views in front of the basic rights, autonomy, and freedom of conscience of its students,” said FIRE’s Lukianoff. “We hope that this documentary will serve as a reminder that our universities should value the free speech and free minds of their students, rather than try to stifle a healthy diversity of opinion.”
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.