Group scolds CC for free-speech violations

June 28, 2008

By Brian Newsome at The Gazette

A national watchdog group has put Colorado College on its “worst offender” list for free-speech violations after two students were reprimanded for writing a satirical newsletter.

CC joins a “red alert” list with four other U.S. colleges that The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, considers to post the most serious threat to free speech and civil liberties. It urges parents and students to “think twice” before going there.

“While abuses occur on many campuses, Red Alert campuses have policies and/ or practices that pose a particularly dangerous threat to basic freedoms,” FIRE states on its Web site. “They are the ‘worst of the worst’ when it comes to liberty on campus.”

The group’s Web site received 4.5 million hits, about 144,000 a day, in May, when CC was its top news item.

Friday, one Colorado resident had posted a response to the red alert. Cathy Miller, in a letter to CC President Richard Celeste said: “I will insist that my one niece and three nephews who are native Coloradoans and who I will soon be assisting with their college education do not even consider CC as an option. What a disgrace to Colorado. I wish the word Colorado weren’t even in the name of the University you lead.”

In an e-mailed statement to The Gazette, CC responded: “Colorado College has been and continues to be committed to safeguarding the free speech and safety of its students.”

The issue arose this year after two male CC students created a flier called “The Monthly Bag,” written by “a coalition of some dudes.” One of the students said at the time that it was written to parody a feminist flier called “The Monthly Rag” that is regularly displayed in public restrooms on campus.

One edition of “The Monthly Rag” contained excerpts from “The Bitch Manifesto,” an explanation of “packing,” where women create the appearance of a phallus under their clothes, and trivia about cultural references to “toothed vaginas” and fears of male castration.

The satire, by contrast, contained excerpts from Teddy Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech, chainsaw etiquette, information on domestic violence against men, and trivia on the firing range of a sniper rifle.

The satire was immediately removed by CC staff, and President Richard Celeste sent out an e-mail calling the flier threatening and demeaning and urging its writers to come forward. When they did, the students were accused of violating CC’s violence policy by mentioning a sniper rifle. They were not punished, but a letter stating they were guilty of violating CC’s code of conduct was put in their student records. The letters will be removed when they graduate.

FIRE, which learned of the issue from one of the students, Chris Robinson, put the school on the redalert list after it repeatedly turned down requests to remove the letter from the students’ files. A second CC committee reviewed the original decision and upheld it.

FIRE, which is wellknown in academia, steps into issues where it believes basic civil liberties or due process of students, professors or others have been violated. It uses publicity to pressure schools, which often change their course of action in response. In some cases, FIRE provides legal services for people when issues go to court.

Although five schools are on the group’s red-alert list, FIRE finds fault with most schools’ policies when it comes to free speech. Of 346 schools reviewed by FIRE in 2007, 259, or 75 percent, had written policies the organization said substantially or clearly restrict free speech. Just eight schools, or 2 percent, were found to have no written policies restricting free speech.

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Schools: Colorado College Cases: Colorado College: Students Found Guilty for Satirical Flyer