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The State of Liberty on Campus: FIRE's Year in Review
PHILADELPHIA, December 27, 2006—Throughout 2006, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) rose to the task of combating repressive policies and practices in academia. FIRE continued to promote free speech in higher education by securing crucial victories, producing vital informational materials, and initiating new programs that lay the groundwork for lasting change on campus.
“It is amazing how much can happen in a year,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “2006 witnessed a rise in disturbing acts of censorship by administrators and by students themselves, and FIRE fought as many cases as we ever have, but we also made real progress. Every victory for individual rights on campus is a victory for all students and faculty.”
FIRE won many victories for free speech, religious liberty, student press freedom, and freedom of conscience throughout the year. These successes included:
- Convincing the University of Wisconsin System to repeal a ban on resident assistants leading Bible studies in their dorms and to approve a new policy explicitly permitting them to do so;
- Defeating SUNY Fredonia’s attempt to deny a promotion to Professor Stephen Kershnar for expressing opinions critical of the university;
- Restoring press freedom to students at Johns Hopkins University, where issues of the conservative student publication The Carrollton Record were stolen and its staff investigated for harassment;
- Successfully pressuring Columbia University to revoke the suspension it placed on the men’s ice hockey club for posting recruitment flyers containing a play on words that some found offensive;
- Defeating unconstitutional “free speech zones” at universities across the country, including at Clemson University, the University of Nevada at Reno, and the University of North Carolina–Greensboro;
- Vindicating the rights of a student at the University of Central Florida who was charged with harassment for calling another student a “Jerk and a Fool” on Facebook.com;
- Ending segregated freshman orientation at Marshall University, which under pressure from FIRE removed racial restrictions from an orientation course for first-year students;
- Convincing the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), a leading accreditor of education schools, to abandon its politically loaded requirement that students demonstrate a commitment to “social justice.”
FIRE also initiated new strategies for proactively combating threats to liberty on college campuses. These efforts included:
- Taking action as the Mohammed cartoon controversy swept the academy by issuing a statement on the free speech issues involved, defending a professor at Century College who fell into administrative disfavor for displaying the cartoons, and opposing New York University’s censorship of the cartoons at a student-led panel discussion;
- Educating the public about the disturbing rise in newspaper thefts, a form of censorship that students are increasingly perpetrating against one another. In addition to its victory at Johns Hopkins University, FIRE publicly criticized newspaper thefts at Stetson University, the University of Tulsa, the University of Southern Mississippi, Weber State University, and Bryant University;
- Leading the charge against college administrators extending their regulatory reach into Internet expression. In addition to its victory at the University of Central Florida, FIRE is also currently defending a student whom Johns Hopkins University suspended for a year for posting “offensive” party invitations on Facebook.com;
- Expanding the campaign against political orthodoxy on campus in 2006 by challenging Columbia University’s Teachers College to remove a requirement that students demonstrate a commitment to social justice from its materials, and asking the Council for Social Work Education, a leading accreditor of social work programs, to do the same;
- Issuing our first-ever report on speech codes, Spotlight on Speech Codes 2006: The State of Free Speech on Our Nation’s Campuses, which revealed that an overwhelming 68 percent of the more than 330 schools surveyed restrict otherwise constitutionally protected speech;
- Collaborating with other organizations in order to jointly combat illiberal practices and policies on campus, including the ACLU of Nevada, the New York Civil Rights Coalition, the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, and the Institute for Justice;
- Launching the Campus Freedom Network (CFN), a coalition of faculty and students working together with FIRE’s assistance to defend civil liberties on individual campuses;
- Bringing more FIRE issues to the public’s attention than ever before through continued prominence in the media, including appearances on “The O’Reilly Factor,” “Hannity and Colmes,” articles in The New York Times, the New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and many, many more.
FIRE hopes to see even more victories for freedom in the first few months of 2007. Brown University is primed to recognize the Reformed University Fellowship, a student evangelical organization suspended for reasons that remain unclear. Heeding months of FIRE’s arguments, Gettysburg College is reviewing its sexual misconduct policy. And at Michigan State University, administrators are reevaluating a disciplinary program of ideological indoctrination.
Hoping to expand this list of successes, FIRE will continue its efforts to achieve justice for Johns Hopkins student Justin Park, whose one-year suspension for posting Halloween party invitations that some found offensive is set to begin in January. FIRE will also continue to demand that Marquette University, where an administrator tore a Dave Barry quote off a Ph.D. student’s door, clarify the status of free expression on its campus.
“2006 was a year of growth, of change, and of a continued commitment to advancing liberty at our nation’s institutions of higher learning,” Lukianoff said. “With the help of our generous supporters and our exceptional staff, we hope to make 2007 another year of reform on campus.”
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, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, 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 www.thefire.org.
Greg Lukianoff, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org
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