PHILADELPHIA, December 28, 2007—In 2007, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) continued its fight against restrictive policies and practices on college and university campuses across the country. FIRE combated disturbing trends in censorship and thought reform while securing essential victories for freedom of speech and expanding programs to defend liberty on campus.
“2007 saw significant victories for student rights, both in courts of law and in the court of public opinion,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “FIRE fought hard against campus repression wherever it arose, and many students this year are freer as a result.”
FIRE won many victories for free speech, religious liberty, freedom of association, and freedom of conscience throughout 2007. These successes included:
- Dismantling thought reform programs at the University of Delaware and Michigan State University, which imposed mandatory ideological reeducation on students whose speech or behavior was deemed unacceptable by university standards;
- Ending Brown University’s semester-long suspension of an evangelical student group, which was imposed on dubious grounds and without any explanation from Brown;
- Defeating the University of Rhode Island’s attempt to force the College Republicans to apologize for a satirical white, heterosexual, American male “scholarship” or face derecognition by the university;
- Working with student activists to persuade Colorado State University to completely revise three formerly unconstitutional speech codes;
- Pressuring Gettysburg College to amend a draconian sexual misconduct policy that failed to distinguish between an innocent, spontaneous hug and forcible rape;
- Vindicating the right to free expression of the College Republicans at San Francisco State University, who faced discipline for stepping on makeshift Hamas and Hezbollah flags at an anti-terrorism rally.
2007 also brought several key legal victories for student rights on campus. FIRE’s Speech Codes Litigation Project achieved the latest in a string of successes when a federal judge ordered San Francisco State University to stop enforcing several unconstitutional speech codes. Speech codes suffered yet another blow when a federal judge in Philadelphia struck down Temple University’s sexual harassment policy as unconstitutional. And FIRE announced the settlement of the lawsuit between Occidental College and former student shock jock Jason Antebi, who sued the school for maliciously violating his freedom of speech and due process rights when it fired him and found him guilty of “harassment” for jokes both on and off the air.
“Speech codes have met with defeat whenever they have been challenged in court, and 2007 was no exception,” FIRE Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Samantha Harris said. “Courts continued to hold the line when it comes to protecting the First Amendment rights of college students, despite the attempts of university administrators to apply the speech standards of public high schools to adult college and university students.”
FIRE also continued its education programs to inform the public about violations of students’ and faculty members’ individual rights on campus by:
- Launching FIRE’s Red Alert List, a list of campuses that pose an ongoing and serious threat to the rights of current and future students and faculty and represent the ‘worst of the worst’ when it comes to liberty on campus;
- Expanding the Campus Freedom Network, including a completely redesigned website set to launch in January 2008 with updated multimedia and interactive content;
- Issuing our second report on speech codes, Spotlight on Speech Codes 2007: The State of Free Speech on Our Nation’s Campuses, which revealed that 75 percent of universities surveyed maintain policies prohibiting protected speech.
“In 2007, FIRE worked diligently to improve the state of liberty at our nation’s institutions of higher education,” Harris said. “Thanks to our generous supporters, our committed allies, and our exceptional staff, we will be vigilantly monitoring America’s campuses to make sure we are able to bring about further campus reform in 2008.”
Samantha Harris, Director of Legal and Public Advocacy, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org