Speaking of freedom

August 24, 2011

College campuses may have once been considered a haven for various political views and other ideas to be openly discussed and debated.

If not at college, the grounds for higher learning, where else would this be tolerated? Now, campuses across the country have been increasingly restrictive of their students’ freedom – reprimanding both faculty and pupils for presumably offensive speech, whether it is in the classroom or on their Facebook page. Since when did the protection of our First Amendment rights become inactive?

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has been fighting these restrictions one university at a time. FIRE’s website (thefire.org), lists all of the public cases against universities it has taken on and labels the ones that “clearly and substantially restrict freedom of speech” as “red light” universities. On this list are prestigious institutions such as Johns Hopkins University, after a student was suspended a few years ago regarding a racially insensitive event invitation on Facebook.

One of the universities that received FIRE’s attention is Georgia’s own Valdosta State University. A student was expelled in 2007 after making a satirical collage concerning the school’s president and posting it on his own Facebook page. This case is among many others, such as the University of Miami’s refusal to officially acknowledge a right-wing student group on campus; the University of Chicago censoring speech on students’ online profiles; and a student who was accused of racial harassment for reading a book with a racy title at an Indiana college.

As you pack your kids off for college, just keep in mind their right to free speech is not always assured.

Don’t necessarily expect them to be protected by their universities in times of trouble, either. Take Stanford University, for an example. According to FIRE, a male student was determined guilty of sexual assault because the accuser was intoxicated during the encounter. Stanford also lowered its evidentiary standard right in the middle of the proceedings against the male student – all while instructing the student “jurors” that logic and being persuasive are both traits of a guilty man.

Oops! The field of suspected rapists just exploded!

College is becoming more of an overprotective and controlling parental figure, rather than a place for professors and students, alike, to exercise their natural rights and not live in fear of being reprimanded for their opinions.

It is not the responsibility of the school to agree with the views of all who attend, but it is their responsibility to uphold the freedom to voice them.