Who’s Violating Students’ Rights?

By January 27, 2009

Political Correctness vs. Freedom of Thought – The Keith John Sampson Story


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The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a non-profit focused on civil liberties in academia in the United States. Its goal is to defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities, including the rights to freedom of speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience—the essential qualities of individual liberty and dignity.

FIRE’s Recent Cases

  • Michigan State University

    Michigan State University (MSU) has been named to FIRE’s Red Alert list after finding student government leader Kara Spencer guilty of "spamming" and misuse of university resources for criticizing the administration’s plan to change the school calendar. Spencer had carefully selected and e-mailed 391 faculty members to encourage them to express their views on the proposed changes. Despite the fact that Spencer merely wished to alert a small percentage of the campus community—roughly 8 percent of MSU’s faculty—to an important administrative decision, MSU found her to be in violation of the university’s Network Acceptable Use Policy and of engaging in an "unauthorized" use of the MSU network.

  • Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

    Administrators at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis have revoked their finding that a student-employee was guilty of racial harassment merely for publicly reading the book Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan. Following pressure from FIRE, IUPUI has declared that Keith John Sampson’s record is clear and said it will reexamine its affirmative action procedures relating to internal complaints.

  • Brandeis University

    In spite of widespread condemnation from faculty, the media, and the public, Brandeis University remains unrepentant about its mistreatment of Professor Donald Hindley, and today Brandeis joins FIRE’s Red Alert list. Brandeis declared Professor Hindley, a nearly 50-year veteran of teaching, guilty of racial harassment and placed a monitor in his classes after he criticized the use of the word "wetbacks" in his Latin American Politics course. Hindley was neither granted a formal hearing by Brandeis nor provided with the substance of the accusations against him in writing. Brandeis’s faculty reacted to Hindley’s mistreatment with outrage, and Brandeis’s actions were roundly condemned by FIRE, the media, and the general public. Brandeis then attempted to sweep the matter under the rug by informing Hindley that it "considers this matter closed," despite the complete lack of due process Hindley was afforded. To make matters worse, Brandeis implied that the reason the matter was closed was because it seemed Hindley—not Brandeis—had learned a lesson. Until Brandeis learns the lesson that it must live up to its stated commitments to free speech and due process, FIRE believes that its students’ and faculty members’ rights are not secure. For this reason, Brandeis joins our Red Alert list.

  • Valdosta State University

    In a welcome reversal, Valdosta State University (VSU) has revoked its unconstitutional free speech zone policy, restoring free expression to the vast majority of VSU’s campus. Newly installed VSU President Patrick J. Schloss announced the new policy in a letter to FIRE. The change comes in response to months of pressure from FIRE and removes VSU from FIRE’s Red Alert list, a distinction reserved for institutions demonstrating a severe and ongoing disregard for the fundamental rights of students or faculty members.

  • University of Delaware

    After an intense campaign led by FIRE, the University of Delaware has dropped an ideological reeducation program that was referred to in the university’s own materials as a “treatment” for students’ incorrect attitudes and beliefs. The program’s stated goal was for the approximately 7,000 students in Delaware’s residence halls to adopt highly specific university-approved views on politics, race, sexuality, sociology, moral philosophy, and environmentalism. Following FIRE’s campaign, which called the attention of the national media and the blogosphere to the Orwellian program, university President Patrick Harker terminated the program, effective immediately.