While FIRE works on cases from hundreds of schools in a given year, we have a special list for those schools that have shown unique intransigence in the face of criticism from FIRE for abusing student and faculty rights. We call that special list our Red Alert list, and right now five schools have earned a spot among the "worst of the worst." This summer, we decided to step up our campaign for reform at Red Alert schools by running a full-page ad in the 2009 edition of U.S. News & World Report's all-important America's Best Colleges issue, right next to the college rankings.
Here is the ad as it appeared back in August:
This year we featured the shocking case of former Valdosta State University student Hayden Barnes, who was found guilty of being a "clear and present danger" for an allegedly threatening collage. By the time we ran the ad, the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia had already backed down from its punishment of Hayden, but it still maintained what were probably the most ridiculous free-speech zone policies we have ever seen (and given Texas Tech's infamous "free speech gazebo," that is saying something). You can see the speech zone at Valdosta State for yourself in our video FIRE in Action: Valdosta State University. Thankfully, our public scolding sent a message: a few weeks later, the new president of VSU revoked the speech zone policy. In return, we happily took them off the Red Alert list.
Unfortunately, another school has risen to take VSU's place. Earlier this month, Michigan State University earned a spot on our Red Alert list when it found a student guilty of "spamming" for sending an e-mail to a list of professors encouraging them to speak out in protest against the administration's decision to shorten the semester.
The other schools on FIRE's Red Alert list are:
- Johns Hopkins University, for passing a rule banning disrespectful speech on campus after punishing a student for a Halloween invitation it deemed to be offensive;
- Colorado College, for finding two students guilty of "violence" after they posted a parody of another group of students' flyer;
- Tufts University, for refusing to overturn a harassment finding against a conservative magazine after it published true but unflattering facts about radical Islam;
- Brandeis University, for finding a professor with nearly 50 years' experience guilty of racial harassment for using the term "wetback" in his Latin American studies class to both explain and criticize its usage (a decision for which Brandeis also would deserve the Philip Roth Award, if there were such a thing). This miscarriage of justice also earned Brandeis a "Muzzle" award from the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression this year.
Earlier this year, we outlined the relatively easy steps these colleges can take to get off the Red Alert list. We would be very happy to remove them if any of them would repudiate or undo their illiberal actions. However, if they remain stubborn about correcting their mistakes, they can count on being featured in a national ad campaign every year. The U.S. News & World Report ad was just the first in what we plan to make an annual practice, and we plan to bring these ads to a wider and wider audience each year.
My sincere hope is that in 2009 we can see the Red Alert list shrink rather than grow, but given how schools like Lone Star College, Tarrant County College, and Binghamton University have been behaving, I fear the list may only get longer.