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Deceit at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale as Chancellor Tries to Cover Up Free Speech Crisis

To cover up a free speech crisis on his campus, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale's chancellor has resorted to deceit.

SIUC Chancellor Samuel Goldman called documented claims about SIUC's unconstitutional policies "baseless," attacked FIRE in false and misleading public statements, and strongly defended SIUC's Protest Policy despite actually changing the policy in response to a detailed letter from FIRE, the Southern Illinois Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU-S.Ill.), and the Illinois Association of Scholars (IAS) challenging SIUC's manifestly unconstitutional free speech zone.

As we have reported before, SIUC has also been facing campus outrage and at least two lawsuits after it prosecuted two professors under its unconstitutional sexual harassment policy in violation of their rights—one of whom died reportedly due in part to stress relating to the investigation and punishment. SIUC has proposed a new, unconstitutional sexual harassment policy, which has received scathing reviews from a fearful and angry faculty.

Our press release today quotes Greg:

SIUC railed against FIRE in public while failing to mention that it changed one of its absurdly unconstitutional policies in the face of our criticism. . . . Goldman is trying to bluster away the facts that SIUC's policies are flatly unconstitutional, that a professor reportedly died due in part to the stress of a punishment based on SIUC's unlawful sexual harassment policy, that the faculty is outraged, and that Goldman's poor judgment has earned the wrath not only of FIRE, but also of the Southern Illinois ACLU and the Illinois Association of Scholars. Deceitfulness and obfuscation do not work for long in the face of facts, and SIUC faculty and students should be asking themselves why they tolerate their chancellor acting so shamefully.

On December 22, 2008, FIRE, the Southern Illinois ACLU, and the IAS wrote Goldman a letter explaining that SIUC's Registered Student Organization Handbook unconstitutionally named just one area, between two parking lots, as an "open {free} forum" for "all members of the university." The policy stated that other than this free speech zone, "[o]ther campus areas will not be used as open forums." The three groups called upon SIUC to dismantle the free speech zone and restore the First Amendment rights of the university community.

In response, SIUC quietly abandoned its free speech zone, but Goldman both publicly and privately denied that there had been anything wrong with it. In a letter to FIRE on January 7, 2009, he wrote, "Your baseless claim that this University fails to uphold the First Amendment rights of students and faculty is totally erroneous." In addition, in an interview for The Southern Illinoisan published yesterday, Goldman claimed that FIRE "does not do their homework whatsoever. It's very embarrassing what they do, but they force us to respond."

Unfortunately for Goldman and SIUC, FIRE has documented SIUC's several unconstitutional policies online. In fact, in a letter to SIUC on December 17, FIRE had pointed Goldman to these policies in FIRE's speech code database, Spotlight: The Campus Freedom Resource. In his Southern Illinoisan interview, Goldman stated falsely that FIRE had given SIUC its "red light" rating because of its proposed sexual harassment policy rather than for its many existing policies, which violate the First Amendment.

As we quote Will in the press release on this topic, "Goldman's belligerent response to FIRE fails to answer legitimate and documented concerns about SIUC's unconstitutional policies. . . . SIUC's proposed sexual harassment policy is unconstitutional as well, but its now-abandoned free speech zone was only one of the many existing policies that violate individual rights on campus."

SIUC's current policies unconstitutionally ban revealing facts that lead to "ridicule" by others, outlawing satire, jokes, and parodies. The policies also prohibit words that could be taken as "demeaning" and words which merely "annoy," including "gestures, facial expressions, [or any] speech . . . understood to be sexual in nature."

The latter ban is part of SIUC's existing sexual harassment policy, under which the late Professor John Y. Simon and Professor Cal Meyers were prosecuted in violation of their due process rights. The charges against renowned scientist Cal Meyers were cobbled together months after Meyers had been banned from campus with no hearing, no chance to respond to the evidence, no statement of evidence, no chance to respond to the accuser, and no notification of a right to appeal. Simon had been treated similarly; he was locked out of his office and subsequently passed away—reportedly due in part to the stress of the investigation—before he could respond appropriately to his termination as a faculty member. Each case has led to a lawsuit against the university. SIUC even lost the historic President Ulysses S. Grant papers to Mississippi State University thanks to U.S. Grant Association President (and Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court) Frank J. Williams' outrage over the university's treatment of Simon.

I agree with Will that these events constitute a serious crisis for free speech and due process at SIUC and that, as Will puts it, "It is deeply shameful—and frankly outrageous—that Goldman would continue to pretend that all is well on campus. We are sorry that Goldman has resorted to dishonorable tactics and baseless attacks. Rest assured, FIRE and its allies will keep fighting this until SIUC respects the rights of professors and students both in practice and on paper."

Stay tuned for more from FIRE on SIUC’s shameful choices in these matters.

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