Former FIRE Intern Informs Johns Hopkins of ‘Red Alert’ Status

By February 29, 2008

In the aftermath of Johns Hopkins University being named FIRE’s 2006 "Censor of the Year" and maintaining a spot on our Red Alert list, Christine McCurdy, a former FIRE summer intern, has written an enlightening editorial for the Johns Hopkins News-Letter, calling for her university to end its troubling "civility code." Enacted by JHU President William Brody after a student was severely punished for posting an "offensive" party invitation on Facebook.com, the speech code declares that "rude, disrespectful behavior is unwelcome and will not be tolerated" and "every member of our community will be held accountable for creating a welcoming workplace for all."

Obviously, this speech code did not sit well with FIRE, and JHU was promptly elevated to Red Alert status and has remained there. McCurdy questions the civility code in her article, asking:

[W]hat exactly is considered "rude and disrespectful" behavior? This lack of clarity not only leaves students hesitant to express any form of opinion or joke that may fall under this broad category of disrespect, but also allows the administration to apply the code selectively in order to silence any speech with which they disagree.

She then wisely declares that "Hopkins shouldn’t be a school where free speech takes a back seat to paternalistic ideals of ‘civility.’"

It is imperative that the administration make a concerted effort to assure students that their right to free expression is cherished on campus. But before it can do this, the administration must publicly reaffirm its dedication to the ideals of free speech and discovery – the values upon which Hopkins was established in 1876.

The civility code must be repealed. It is not conducive to the very nature and mission of a research institution.

Hopefully, with continuing pressure from members of Student Council and public attention drawn by the efforts of organizations like FIRE, Hopkins will renew its commitment to free speech.