Johns Hopkins Student Asks School to Restore Its Reputation for Free Expression

September 18, 2013

Johns Hopkins University (JHU) student Andrew Guernsey took to The Johns Hopkins News-Letter Sunday to discuss the state of free speech at his school. Guernsey points out that although JHU is moving up the national university rankings, its rating on free speech is abysmal.

FIRE has been involved in multiple cases at JHU over the years, and we currently give the university a “red light” rating for multiple policies that clearly violate students’ freedom of speech. This past April, FIRE wrote to JHU’s student judiciary in defense of Voice for Life, a pro-life group that was denied recognition because of worries that it might make students “uncomfortable.”

In his article, Guernsey discusses this free speech debacle, as well as other examples of censorship on his school’s campus. For instance, last spring, Dr. Ben Carson withdrew as JHU’s commencement speaker after students filed a petition against him because of his views on gay marriage. And recently, the dean of JHU’s engineering school asked a professor to take down a blog post because of its criticism of the NSA. (Public pressure soon forced the dean to retract the order.)

Although it is a private university, Guernsey correctly points out that JHU’s stated commitment to education and academic freedom requires it to honor free speech: “That Hopkins repeatedly defaults to censorship in dealing with ‘controversial’ expression violates the very principles of academic freedom which the University exists to promote.” Guernsey writes that censorship does not protect students or improve JHU’s standing. Instead, “censorship tarnishes our name far worse than even the most offensive speech, because it contradicts the very reason for the University’s existence.”

Guernsey suggests that JHU restore its reputation by committing itself to freedom of expression. JHU’s mission is to provide “[k]nowledge for the world,” and this “cannot be fulfilled without robust discourse fueled by the free exchange of ideas.”

Student op-eds like Guernsey’s can be one of the most powerful weapons in the fight against censorship on college campuses. If you are a college student, follow Guernsey’s lead and write an op-ed for your school newspaper! If you need a good place to start, check out FIRE’s list of helpful writing tips. You can also join FIRE’s Campus Freedom Network and check out 11 other ways to promote free speech on campus!

Schools:  Johns Hopkins University