FIRE to Tufts: Drop the Guilty Finding, Get Off Red Alert List

December 5, 2007

The letter FIRE sent out this morning to Tufts University President Lawrence Bacow and the Tufts Board of Trustees makes absolutely clear what the school must do to end its embarrassing tenure on FIRE’s Red Alert list: Immediately drop the remaining finding of “guilty” against conservative student publication The Primary Source (TPS), which Tufts charged with creating a “hostile environment” and “harassment” for publishing two satirical articles.

Torch readers will no doubt recall the shameful saga that has led FIRE to write Tufts for a third time to issue this request. But if your memory needs refreshing, here’s a quick recap: Last December, TPS published lyrics to a sarcastic Christmas carol of their own invention, designed to mock affirmative action. In April, TPS published a factual yet caustic satire of “Islamic Awareness Week.” Complaints from offended students led TPS to be formally charged with “harassment” and “creating a hostile environment,” and a university panel found TPS guilty of the charges—despite the fact that (a) students were under absolutely no obligation to read the articles and (b) President Bacow himself had noted in an editorial regarding the controversy that he disagreed with punishing TPS, as “[t]he First Amendment protects freedom of speech and that includes most offensive speech.” Even The Pachyderm, Tufts’ student handbook, instructs all incoming students to “anticipate stimulating and sometimes controversial dialogue about issues important to you” and to “cherish the opportunity to be learning in a place where controversial expression is embraced.”

After TPS was found guilty of harassment, punishments were imposed, including a ban on unsigned editorials. However, under pressure from FIRE, outraged alumni, and major media outlets including The Boston Herald, The New York Sun, The New York Post, The Huffington Post and The Phoenix, Tufts rescinded the unsigned editorial prohibitionbut left the formal finding of guilty intact. As we write in our letter:

This finding cannot stand. As we have explained at length in our previous letters (July 31, 2007 letter attached), neither TPS’ December Christmas carol nor its April parody of “Islamic Awareness Week” constitute “hostile environment harassment.” Each article was unquestionably a work of political satire, and students were under no obligation whatsoever to read either piece.

That TPS remains guilty of hostile environment harassment, despite the subsequent amelioration of the sanctions levied against it, is incompatible with your public pronouncements of the value of free expression on campus.

FIRE hopes that President Bacow understands the damage his failure to fully exonerate TPS is doing to his school’s reputation—and acts to stop it. We’ll keep you posted.

Schools:  Tufts University

Cases:  Tufts University: Conservative Student Journal Found Guilty of Harassment