FIRE’s full-page ad in the current issue of U.S. News & World Report, right next to the annual college rankings, exposes the colleges and universities that are the "worst of the worst" when it comes to individual rights. These are schools where policies and past practices are so bad that FIRE actively warns students and faculty members to think twice before joining a community that violates its constitutional or contractual obligations to respect freedom of expression and due process.
Schools don’t have to stay on the list forever. Last year, for example, FIRE’s U.S. News ad featured Valdosta State University, which quickly changed its unconstitutional free speech zone policy and got itself off the list. Nevertheless, Brandeis University, Colorado College, Johns Hopkins University, and Tufts University are still on the list, with Bucknell University and Michigan State University as dishonorable additions.
The controversy at Colorado College began when undergraduate student Chris Robinson and another student created a parody of a flyer called "The Monthly Rag," which had been distributed by a group of students calling itself the "Feminist and Gender Studies Interns." "The Monthly Rag" contained, among other things, a reference to "male castration" and an announcement of an upcoming lecture on "feminist porn." In response, Robinson and the second student published their flyer, called "The Monthly Bag," under the pseudonym "The Coalition of Some Dudes." Comparing the two flyers side by side makes entirely clear that "The Monthly Bag"—which features references to "tough guy wisdom" and lessons on "chainsaw etiquette"—was designed to parody "The Monthly Rag."
Despite the satirical intent, President Richard Celeste immediately denounced "The Monthly Rag," calling its content "demeaning" and asking the authors of the flyer to reveal their identities. They immediately did so, and were subsequently subjected to a three-hour show trial. At least one administrator even solicited witnesses against the two students. Finally, the students were found guilty of sexually related "violence" because of their "juxtaposition of weaponry and sexuality" in the flyer (they mentioned the range of a sniper rifle). Disciplinary letters were placed in both students’ files, where the letters were to remain until they graduated. Final responsibility for considering the students’ appeal fell to the same administrator who found them guilty in the first place. Unsurprisingly, they lost their appeal.
Celeste, meanwhile, said falsely that the students were neither sanctioned nor punished, framing the case as a simple instance of protecting students from the "violence" perceived by a few oversensitive souls in the flyer. The truth is that these critics, from the start, actually objected to the content of the flyer. Making matters even worse, Celeste invoked the true tragedies of actual campus shootings in order to justify his administration’s shameful actions.
For the purposes of the Red Alert list only, FIRE is willing to put aside the many injustices committed by Colorado College and the double standard that the college has applied in this case. Last year, we said all that Colorado College needs to do to get off the list is to remove the disciplinary letters from the students’ files. Now that the two students have graduated, presumably the letters have automatically been removed. This doesn’t get Celeste or Colorado off the hook. It was unconscionable that the two parodists should have a finding of responsibility for sexually related violence in their files even for a day.
Last year, it was easy enough to remove the disciplinary letters from the students’ files—it would have cost Colorado College nothing and didn’t even require an apology. It’s too late for that now, however.
At this point, just as Tufts must officially reverse its bogus finding of harassment against a student publication, Colorado College must reverse its bogus finding of sexually-related violence against the two students. Again, this is free, doesn’t require an apology, and doesn’t require a change in policy. After all, Colorado College, a private college, already promises freedom of expression, but this promise is worthless so long as students can be interrogated, found guilty, and sanctioned for a parodic flyer that merely upsets the oversensitive and those who seek to punish views they dislike.
President Celeste, why not follow the path of justice? Or has this matter always been about appeasing the loudest, angriest power brokers on campus instead? The issue is not going to go away. In fact, The Gazette of Colorado Springs (where Colorado College is located) has published yet another story about the issue just today. Here’s an excerpt:
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has rated Colorado College as being among "the worst of the worst" when it comes to liberty on campus. The nonprofit civil rights group took out a full page ad of "Red Alert" schools in the 2010 edition of U.S. News and World Report’s America’s Best Colleges issue, released this week. The organization monitors schools for what it sees as violations of free speech, due process, religious liberty and other civil rights issues.
CC was singled out for finding two students guilty of violence for posting a flier that satirized a racy feminist flier circulated by students in the Feminist and Gender Studies Program and posted in campus bathrooms.
E-mail President Celeste to let him know what you think. Let him know that it’s quite simple to get off the list: reverse the bogus finding. That’s what it would take to let students know that the campus is safe for exercising their freedom of speech on campus and engaging in the free marketplace of ideas.