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Santa Clara University protects student free speech with one hand, censors with the other

Nagel Photography /

Nagel Photography /

SAN JOSE, Calif., March 7, 2017 — Santa Clara University has an inconsistent track record recently when it comes to students’ rights. Last week the university defended the right of students to form a politically unpopular campus group. But administrators didn’t respect the student newspaper’s freedom of speech, pressuring students to remove a quote critical of a university administrator. Today, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is asking Santa Clara University to consistently respect the individual rights of all students.

FIRE first wrote to Santa Clara last month after the Associated Student Government voted to deny official recognition to a student chapter of Turning Point USA based on the group’s political stances and potential ties to the national organization. FIRE contacted the university, which — in a laudable and unprecedented event — reversed the student government’s decision.

Unfortunately, however, students’ rights are once again in jeopardy at Santa Clara. Today, FIRE’s latest letter calls on the university to reaffirm its commitment to freedom of speech after an administrator and the school’s general counsel asked the student newspaper to remove an article containing a donor’s quote that was critical of a dean.

Students at The Santa Clara reluctantly settled on removing from the article only the sections that mentioned the dean, writing, “We were and will remain strongly, vehemently opposed to removing sections of the original article. We found the request to be in violation of our commitment to journalistic ethics, and did so only to comply with our publisher’s request.”

“Administrative censorship of student reporting cannot be tolerated at a university that claims to value freedom of expression and an independent student press,” said Sarah McLaughlin, a program officer with FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program.

FIRE urges Santa Clara to build on the progress it has recently made and to protect free speech and association uniformly — including student reporting that may make the administration uncomfortable.

While Santa Clara, a private Jesuit university, is not legally bound by the First Amendment, it is contractually required to honor the explicit and repeated promises of freedom of expression it has made to students.

“The principle of freedom of speech does not exist to protect only non-controversial expression; it exists precisely to protect speech that some members of a community may find controversial or offensive,” said McLaughlin.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending liberty, freedom of speech, due process, academic freedom, legal equality, and freedom of conscience on America’s college campuses.

Daniel Burnett, Communications Manager, FIRE: 215-717-3473;

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