Freedom Not Celebrated this Fourth of July at ‘Red Alert’ Schools

By July 3, 2008

As our nation enjoys the holiday weekend and celebrates Independence Day, FIRE is reminded that many colleges and universities continue to disregard the fundamental rights immortalized by the First Amendment and promised in their own materials. These rightsincluding freedom of speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscienceare the very essence of American liberty and dignity and are a central reason we celebrate this Fourth of July. But the following schools, placed on FIRE’s Red Alert list for being the worst of the worst when it comes to individual rights on campus, still have not relented from the unconstitutional policies or practices that landed them on this list.

Colorado College: Although given numerous opportunities to reverse the finding that student Chris Robinson and another student violated the school’s "violence" policy for posting a flyer parodying a Feminist and Gender Studies flyer, Colorado College has refused to remove the guilty finding from the students’ records and reaffirm its commitments to free speech for all viewpoints on campus. The school has shown a blatant disregard for protected speech, an obvious display of double standards, and a lack of a fair judicial process. Colorado College remains on FIRE’s Red Alert list until it removes the punishment letters from the students’ files. In addition, the school’s unjust disciplinary procedures are in dire need of reform.

Brandeis University: In spite of widespread condemnation from faculty, the media, and the public, Brandeis University remains unrepentant about its mistreatment of Professor Donald Hindley, a nearly 50-year veteran of teaching who was found guilty of racial harassment after criticizing the use of the word "wetbacks" in his Latin American studies class. Until Brandeis lives up to its stated commitments to free speech and due process, its students’ and faculty members’ rights are not secure. See also Robert Shibley’s noteworthy article on the wider implications of the faculty and student revolt against Brandeis’ overzealous administrators.

Valdosta State University: VSU President Ronald M. Zaccari personally ordered that student Hayden Barnes be expelled after Barnes engaged in peaceful protest against the proposed construction of a $30 million parking facility. This brazen and callous disregard for Barnes’ constitutional rights has earned Zaccari an early retirement, widespread negative publicity, and the distinction of being placed on FIRE’s Red Alert list. Meanwhile, VSU continues to fight Barnes’ federal lawsuit.

Tufts University: Showing profound disregard for free speech and freedom of the press, Tufts declared that The Primary Source (TPS), a conservative student newspaper, violated the school’s harassment policy by publishing two satirical articles during the academic year. By punishing political expressionthe type of expression at the very core of the right to free speechTufts has shown that, in spite of its promises, it has no regard for its students’ fundamental rights. Tufts remains on the Red Alert list while the finding against TPS remains.

Johns Hopkins University: Student Justin Park was suspended for posting an "offensive" Halloween party invitation on Facebook.com and was charged with and found guilty of "harassment," "intimidation," and "failing to respect the rights of others." Although later reduced in the face of public pressure, Park’s original punishment included suspension from the university until January 2008, completion of 300 hours of community service, an assignment to read 12 books and to write a reflection paper on each, and mandatory attendance at a workshop on diversity and race relations. Johns Hopkins President William Brody made matters worse shortly after Park’s suspension by introducing a new and chillingly broad "civility" code prohibiting "rude, disrespectful behavior" at the university.

To learn more about these schools’ violations of student and faculty rights, click the links above. Let us remember our freedoms this Fourth of July!