FIRE blames newspaper’s ad refusal on school’s ‘culture of fear’

September 23, 2009

A free speech group blames "a culture of fear" at Bucknell University for the student newspaper’s refusal to run an ad criticizing the university.

Bucknellian Editor-in-Chief Lenore Flower informed the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) in early September that the paper would not be running the organization’s ad because of libel concerns.

Adam Kissel, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program, dismissed the editor-in-chief’s claim that the ad was potentially libelous, saying its claims were clearly the opinion of his organization.

"If third parties cannot even criticize the university in an ad in the student newspaper, free speech is in dire straits at Bucknell," Kissel said.

Flower called FIRE’s assertion "absolutely absurd," and said she thought the advertisement was inappropriate and would reflect poorly on the newspaper. She said she advised FIRE to change the wording or to write a letter to the editor, a format she said was more appropriate for opinionated content.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education submitted the ad as part of a campaign to draw attention to schools on its Red Alert list — schools it says have the least amount of liberty on campus. The Bucknell ad criticized the school’s decision to shut down demonstrations by the Bucknell University Conservatives Club, naming Associate Dean of Students Gerald Commerford as one of the administrators responsible and explaining his actions had caused FIRE to place the school on that list.

The Bucknellian ran an article on the event in the spring, presenting arguments from both Commerford and the students.

"I think if FIRE had read the article themselves, they would have been pleasantly surprised," Flower said, adding that the article shows Bucknellian reporters are not afraid of their administration, as FIRE claims.