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FIRE partners with New Tolerance Campaign to rally support for a pro-free speech president at Emerson College

Emerson truck

Mark Wilson

FIRE launched a series of ads on mobile billboards criss-crossing Boston to call out Emerson College’s attempts to censor and squelch free expression on campus.

UPDATE (Jan. 16, 2022): Emerson College has selected Jay Bernhardt, former dean of the Moody College of Communication at the University of Texas, as the college’s new president. We appreciate the concerned citizens, students, and alumni who sent thousands of messages to Emerson’s Presidential Search Committee to request they appoint a pro-free speech president. FIRE will continue to keep supporters informed about the state of free speech at Emerson, and we look forward to engaging with the college’s incoming president on positive steps the college can take to improve its free speech environment.

Over the past year and a half, Emerson College has been embroiled in substantial controversy for suppressing student expression. Despite receiving multiple letters from FIRE about its censorship of students, Emerson has doubled and tripled down on its actions. 

Now, FIRE is partnering with New Tolerance Campaign to rally students, alumni, and concerned citizens in support of a new pro-free speech president at Emerson. 

Given Emerson’s unfortunate track record of limiting student speech, the future president of the private Boston college will face a significant challenge in re-committing the college to its own community standards promising students free expression.

Emerson’s Community Standards affirm that “[a]s an institution dedicated to Communication and the Arts, the First Amendment of the US Constitution is of high importance.” The college’s actions over the past 18 months, however, call that commitment into question. 

FIRE placed Emerson on its 2022 List of the “10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech” after Emerson administrators suspended and investigated a student group for handing out stickers critical of the Chinese government that read “China Kinda Sus.” It then hid critical Twitter replies from general view. It also de-recognized the group. 

In light of this, it’s a positive sign that Emerson’s presidential search prospectus describes an “[a]ppreciation for diverse ideas and the free expression of them” as a “non-negotiable value” underpinning the college’s search. Using NTC’s email-sending program attached to this article, our supporters will be able to send a message urging members of Emerson’s Presidential Search Committee to fulfill that stated duty.

"It is encouraging that Emerson is making free expression a top priority as it selects a new president," said FIRE Program Officer Graham Piro. "However, the new president will have significant work to do to correct the college's treatment of student groups like Turning Point USA. Emerson makes strong promises of free expression to its students, and NTC and FIRE will be there every step of the way to ensure the college honors the promises it makes."

FIRE is grateful to NTC for the opportunity to partner on this important project and for the great work we have already accomplished together. Their grassroots capabilities will be crucial to our goal of seeing a pro-free speech president appointed at Emerson.

“The New Tolerance Campaign is honored to link arms with FIRE, activating grassroots supporters with a reasonable request: a commitment from Emerson’s next president to uphold the school’s stated values,” New Tolerance Campaign President Gregory T. Angelo added. “By making the voices of alumni and everyday Americans heard by the presidential search committee, we hope to encourage the selection of a chief executive who understands the necessity of freedom of expression at Emerson, and its value in American culture.”

If you would like to have your voice heard by Emerson’s presidential search committee, you can send a pre-written email using the campaign form attached to this article. With just a few clicks, you can do your part to ensure Emerson becomes a safer place for student expression.

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