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FIRE Announces Winners of $15,000 'Freedom in Academia' Essay Contest

PHILADELPHIA, December 15, 2009—Today, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) announces the winners of its 2009 "Freedom in Academia" high school essay contest. More than 2,700 students submitted essays for the contest. Home school student Nathaniel Cornelius of Paynesville, Minnesota, wrote the winning essay, Andrew David King of Moreau Catholic High School in Hayward, California, and Eric Podolsky of Sylvania Southview High School in Sylvania, Ohio, took the two second-place slots, and five other students were runners-up. Cornelius will receive a $5,000 college scholarship, King and Podolsky will each receive $2,500 college scholarships, and each runner-up will receive a $1,000 college scholarship.

"We are proud to help these promising students begin their college careers," FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. "We are also very happy that 2,700 more students will attend college next year with a greater awareness of issues of free speech on campus and how FIRE can help them protect their freedoms." 

FIRE announced the 2009 "Freedom in Academia" essay contest in August and sent invitations for entries to nearly 11,000 high schools across the country. Students were asked to watch two documentaries on FIRE cases, FIRE in Action: Valdosta State University and Think What We Think... Or Else: Thought Control on the American Campus, and write essays of 700-1,200 words explaining how the universities in the videos abrogated the constitutional rights of their students and betrayed the true purpose of a university.

Nathaniel Cornelius' winning essay, "Educational Institutions or Reeducation Camps?" explains how the actions of Valdosta State University and the University of Delaware were antithetical to the purpose of a university by prescribing ideological educational outcomes for students. Andrew David King's second-place essay, "In Clear and Present Danger: The State of Personal Liberty in America," investigates the threat to free thought and human dignity posed by universities' censorship. Eric Podolsky's tying second-place essay, "Losing the Marketplace of Ideas," explores the importance of competing ideas for the advancement of learning in a university setting. 

The runners-up were Danielle Wogulis of Davis Senior High School (CA), Rachel Ochoa of Evangel Classical Christian School (AL), Rachel Helmstetter of Pinnacle High School (AZ), Erin Kahn of Sprague High School (OR), and Morgan Turner of Twin Oaks Academy (MN). All of the winning essays are published on FIRE's website.

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, freedom of expression, academic freedom, due process, and rights of conscience at our nation's colleges and universities. FIRE's efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at


Luke Sheahan, Director, Campus Freedom Network, FIRE: 215-717-3473

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