NOTE: The article excerpted on this page is from an outside publication and is posted on FIRE's website because it references FIRE's work. The viewpoints expressed in this article do not necessarily represent FIRE's positions.
A permanent blemish on a student’s record for a parody, an attempted expulsion for criticism of a "social injustice" and the formal censorship of a political satire: All of these actions have earned American colleges and universities a citation in a full-page ad in U.S. News & World Report’s 2011 edition of its "Best Colleges" issue.
The ad warns parents and students to "think twice" about considering attending the schools.
The ad was taken out by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which highlighted Bucknell University, Brandeis University, Colorado College, Johns Hopkins University, Michigan State and Tufts University – warning parents and students alike about the rights violations to which they could be subjected by attending.
"Every year, college guidebooks fail to inform prospective college students and their parents about atrocious abuses of the freedom of speech and expression," said Greg Lukianoff, president of the nonprofit educational foundation that fights on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression and academic freedom.
"This freedom is the engine behind the marketplace of ideas," he said. "People should share the facts about [Andre] Massena’s case and those at the Red Alert schools with their friends, relatives, colleagues, and classmates, or look up the policies of the schools they want to attend. Americans are staunch believers in liberty, and the more people who hear about how badly student rights are abused on campus, the more they will advocate for schools to protect student and faculty rights. FIRE can only achieve its goals with the help of the public."
Highlighted on the ad, besides the offending schools, is the story of Massena, a graduate student who nearly was expelled from SUNY-Binghamton "for expressing his views about a faculty member he thought was responsible for social injustice."
It is the third year such a report has been released, and Lukianoff, "America’s universities must understand that they can no longer abuse students’ rights outside the light of public scrutiny."
Massena’s case developed when he publicly criticized the executive director of the Binghamton Housing Authority because he believed the executive was responsible for evicting people from public housing.
But the housing executive also was on the faculty at Binghamton and expulsion proceedings were started against Massena. He fought back, with help from FIRE.
In another of the cases highlighted, FIRE reports that officials at Colorado College, "although given numerous opportunities to reverse [their] finding," violated the school’s own speech protections by determining that student Chris Robinson and another student violated the school’s "violence" policy.
The students had posted a flyer parodying a "Feminist and Gender Studies" promotion.
"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 FIRE report said.
The college took the action even though its own policy states, "On a campus that is free and open, no idea can be banned or forbidden. No viewpoint or message may be deemed so hateful that it may not be expressed," FIRE reported.
The organization reported Bucknell "repeatedly used flimsy or patently false excuses to censor a conservative group’s satire of President Obama’s stimulus" and Brandeis "found a professor of nearly 50 years guilty of racial harassment for using the word ‘wetbacks’ in his Latin American Politics class – in the context of criticizing the term."
Johns Hopkins suspended a student "for what it deemed an ‘offensive’ Halloween party invitation posted on Facebook.com" and Michigan State "found a student government leader guilty of ‘spamming’ after she e-mailed eight percent of the faculty to encourage them to express their views on … the school calendar."
Tufts "found an entire student newspaper guilty of ‘harassment’ for publishing two pieces satirizing affirmative action and Islamic Awareness Week. The latter of these two pieces included only factually verifiable information about Islam, as well as quotes from the Quran."
FIRE also is running ads in the first issue of the student newspapers at the six schools, the group said.