This year, I’ve decided to address FIRE’s supporters myself, rather than rely on our staff—growing in both size and ingenuity—to be the sole face of our organization.
Ever since Professor Alan Charles Kors and I co-founded FIRE more than a decade ago, I have watched with wonderment how the professionals whom we have placed on the front lines have fought the battle for liberty, decency, and true academic values, which are so endangered in the distressing culture on most college campuses. Every year, they communicate with you, and indeed with the whole country, to recount the victories along with the remaining problems and challenges in this battle.
But as 2010 draws to a close, it’s about time that I say something from the vantage point of co-founder as well as current Chairman of the Board of Directors. After all, there are some things that our staffers simply cannot say about themselves that I am in a better position to communicate to you.
Every one of you who has given FIRE any financial support, in any amount, has helped enable the work of the single most talented, hard-working, and ingenious group of full-time academic civil libertarians ever assembled. Since FIRE’s founding in 1999, they and their predecessors have won 191 public victories, with many more cases resolved privately, at 139 colleges and universities with a total enrollment of nearly three million students. That’s a lot of students whose college education was at least a little unburdened from the stultifying oppressiveness of politically correct, tendentious, unfair administrative (and sometimes even professorial) outrages.
FIRE’s supporters have funded the rewriting of 94 unconstitutional or otherwise repressive policies affecting more than 1.9 million students at 81 of these universities, as well as across the entire California and Wisconsin state university systems. Our staff, along with the volunteer lawyers around the country who have taken up our cases, has a 100% success rate in lawsuits against unconstitutional speech codes that seek to enforce orthodoxy in what is fit (and what is unfit) to come out of the minds and mouths of college students—and even, not so incidentally, in what sense of the world may reside in their hearts and consciences.
FIRE has been a hugely successful vehicle for educating the news media and the American public about what is wrong with college administrations that seek to dictate students’ attitudes rather than educate their minds. Our organization has, for good reason, become the leading authority on civil liberties in higher education, and we are recognized across the political and ideological spectrum as a serious voice in the battle for rights on campus. FIRE has earned a reputation as a legitimate broker and a major player when it comes to campus liberty, and we are increasingly leveraging this authority to quicken the pace of change. Indeed, we recently won a monumental ruling in federal court that stripped college administrators of the qualified immunity that, until now, has protected them and their institutions from having to pay for their arrogant and authoritarian ways.
All of this, and more, is made possible through the efforts of our superb staff and the countless citizens, on and off the campuses, who have rallied behind the banner of campus liberty—not to mention human decency—when the need has arisen. FIRE’s major quest for its second decade is to change the culture on campuses of higher education so that leaders of colleges and universities do the right thing—not because FIRE is watching, but because they come to realize that higher education can work only when it is infused by the spirit of academic freedom, free thought, and liberal education.
This work, and these results, would not have been possible without the financial support of the increasing number of foundations and—importantly—individuals who see fit, each year, to part with hard-earned dollars in the campaign to make our colleges and universities educational institutions of higher learning, rather than ideological training camps.
On behalf of our Board of Directors, I thank you and look forward to many more years of collaboration—for as long as it takes to restore decency on our campuses.
Harvey A. Silverglate