I am proud to introduce our newest employee, Luke Sheahan. How Luke came to FIRE and his experiences at Oregon State University are striking stories and I asked him to share a little about himself:
My name is Luke Sheahan and I just finished my political science degree in the Honors College at Oregon State University. My first contact with FIRE came as an intern in the summer of 2005. I began working full time as a program associate on Monday.
As a student at Oregon State University I served as executive editor and publisher of the alternative campus paper, The Liberty. During my tenure I experienced a campus climate chilling to free speech. Our administration may not be as bad as that at UNC Greensboro; but, like too many university administrations, including the one at Johns Hopkins, it simply turns a blind eye to free speech abuses. The result is a campus where select viewpoints are freely expressed and others are functionally silenced by vandals and hecklers while the administration refuses to take any action to protect dissenting points of view.
The Liberty received much abuse at Oregon State. Throughout the three years I served on the paper we had several bins stolen and broken in response to articles critical of the university establishment. In October 2005, a brand new bin purchased with a donation from a local businessman was stolen along with the hundred papers in it. Several other bins were emptied as well. I notified the president and asked for a public condemnation. A year earlier the administration had issued a public condemnation over the vandalism of the Pride Center, the building serving the LGBT community. I received no response other than an e-mail from the dean of students expressing sympathy.
The lack of official response from the university only emboldened the vandals. A few weeks later several hundred copies of The Liberty were stolen and trashed. I e-mailed the dean of students and demanded that action be taken, pointing out that if the administration had reacted to protect our freedom of the press in the first place then this abuse may not have continued. She called a meeting of the bias response team, the same team that had organized the condemnation of the vandalism to the Pride Center. We met and I explained the administration’s obligation as a state institution to extend the same protections to The Liberty that they gave to the Pride Center. They refused.
It would be one thing if this was an isolated event, but unfortunately, the administration has a record of ignoring abuse sustained by the political right at Oregon State. Several years ago a campus organization brought in the Genocide Awareness Project, a pro-life display. Vandals spray painted the pro-life signs and put up sheets to block the display. No condemnation was forthcoming from the administration. Actually, the leaders of the group sponsoring the event were scolded by an administrator for “damaging the campus community.” A year later, two thousand crosses were stolen from the College Republicans the night before they were to be put out on the Memorial Union lawn in commemoration of Roe v. Wade. Again, no condemnation from the administration. Oregon State, like too many universities these days, seems to understand free speech some days and conveniently forget it on others—depending on who is doing the talking. Students deserve better.