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FIRE Year in Review: 2018 victories directly benefit 1.7 million college students

PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 27, 2018 — In 2018, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education secured 66 campus civil liberties victories, directly impacting 1.7 million students across America. As the year winds to a close, FIRE is taking the opportunity to reflect on 2018’s challenges and successes.

“Without FIRE’s incredible supporters, our achievements this year in protecting the free speech and due process rights of students and faculty members wouldn’t have been possible,” said FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff. “More than 2,500 individual donors spanning the political and ideological spectrum gave to FIRE in 2018. We are honored and inspired that so many have joined us in our fight.”

As FIRE gears up for 2019, we’re preparing for our landmark 20th anniversary. Stay tuned all year for more information about how we’re celebrating two decades of defending student and faculty individual rights.

In 2018, FIRE …

… successfully intervened on behalf of individual students, student groups, and faculty members 26 times to secure free speech and and due process rights.

  • The University of Rhode Island’s student government abandoned a discriminatory funding policy that left campus chapters of the College Republicans, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and BridgeUSA without funding because they were deemed “political.”
  • Rutgers University reversed a racial discrimination finding against a professor who posted about resigning from the white race on Facebook.
  • Fresno State University backtracked after launching an investigation into a professor’s fiery — but constitutional — tweets about former First Lady Barbara Bush.
  • The University of Southern California backed down and apologized after administrators told student journalists they couldn’t write down what was said during a public discussion about the university’s search for a new president.

… secured three new litigation victories.

  • FIRE restored the free speech rights of 150,000 students at the nation’s largest community college district. The Los Angeles Community College District settled a lawsuit brought by a FIRE-represented student who was told he couldn’t freely hand out copies of the U.S. Constitution on his public college campus.
  • A New Jersey college fired a professor after claiming it was “immediately inundated” with complaints for her appearance on Fox News supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. Essex County College ignored FIRE’s open records request about that claim for six months. FIRE sued, and the college capitulated. When the college handed over the requested records, FIRE discovered that Essex had been “inundated” by a grand total of three emails — one in support of the professor — in the first two weeks after her TV appearance.
  • Joliet Junior College in Illinois settled a lawsuit and agreed to change its unconstitutional speech codes after a student was detained by police for passing out political flyers on campus.

… was directly involved in 33 policy changes at 28 schools around the country.

  • Nine colleges earned FIRE’s highest, “green light” rating for policies that don't infringe on First Amendment rights or conflict with institutional promises of free speech. Only 46 institutions across the country earn this rating.
  • FIRE’s “Spotlight on Speech Codes” report found that 9 in 10 top colleges restrict free speech.
  • College administrators received more than 1,200 emails from students, alumni, and others asking for policy changes using FIRE’s new Phone2Action system.
  • FIRE issued a state “report card” with North Carolina’s James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, which found the Tar Heel State to be among the best in the country for protecting campus free speech.
  • Nearly 20 universities or faculty bodies adopted the Chicago Statement in 2018, the gold standard for university policy statements regarding freedom of expression. Today, 54 institutions have signed on.

… welcomed three new states to the list banning restrictive free speech zones.

  • In 2018, Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana passed legislation to ban free speech zones, which banish student and faculty expression to small or out-of-the-way areas of campus. To date, 11 states have banned free speech zones.

… made progress to protect student due process rights.

  • FIRE praised the Department of Education’s new, proposed Title IX regulations, calling them “a marked improvement over the previous guidance.”
  • FIRE’s second annual “Spotlight on Due Process” report was issued earlier this month. The report found that 3 in 4 top universities haven’t even bothered to explicitly guarantee the presumption of innocence in campus proceedings.

… saw great results from our Speech, Outreach, Advocacy, and Research project, funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

  • FIRE released its second in-house survey of student attitudes on campus, which found that the vast majority of college students want due process rights that colleges refuse to provide.
  • FIRE held its second annual faculty conference, gathering more than 60 faculty members from institutions around the country for two days of academic discussions and paper presentations on a wide range of issues concerning free speech and academic freedom.
  • FIRE released our new First Amendment-centered curriculum oriented specifically to high school students and teachers, offering lessons on the history, philosophy, and law of free speech.

…. celebrated the release of Greg’s book, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” co-written with New York University professor Jonathan Haidt. The book was on the New York Times’ bestsellers list for four weeks and was the most popular book on Bloomberg’s annual list of “what some of the most powerful people in finance were reading this year.”

… shaped public opinion by appearing in top media outlets.

  • FIRE appeared on TV and radio over 70 times, including CNN’s Amanpour & Company, NBC Nightly News, CBS This Morning, The Story with Martha MacCallum, CNN Newsroom Live, NPR, Tucker Carlson Tonight, and more.
  • FIRE appeared in over 4,800 articles, including in top news outlets like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, and others.
  • FIRE’s Newsdesk produced more than 400 blog entries on important and breaking news related to FIRE’s work.
  • FIRE’s social media channels kept supporters and the public plugged in to the latest campus rights developments. Join us on Facebook, Twitter, and with our brand new Instagram account.

We at FIRE have a lot to be thankful for in 2018 — and a lot of work ahead. We appreciate your support of our work and your willingness to stand up for student and faculty individual rights. As we head into our 20th year with your support, FIRE will continue defending civil liberties on campus — in 2019 and beyond.

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