March 4, 2004
Dear Friend of Liberty,
the summer of 1999, a lawyer, a professor, and a twenty-four year-old
half-joked, over a large bottle of red wine, that they would
revolutionize higher education.
With the vision and
leadership of Harvey A. Silverglate and Alan Charles Kors, we moved
from idea to action, establishing FIRE, an organization devoted to
freedom of speech, due process, religious liberty, and academic
freedom. The idea took hold quickly: FIRE's remarkable Board of
Advisors came together within one week, uniting journalists, scholars,
and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological
spectrum. We incorporated, and Harvey loaned FIRE seed money to get
started. In August of 1999, we established our first office in a vacant
waiting room of a Wilmington, Delaware doctor's office. At that time,
I, the twenty-four year old, had the great fortune of becoming FIRE's
first Executive Director.
Since then, FIRE has won battle
after battle against violations of individual rights in higher
education. We have become known as a formidable watchdog organization,
with a reputation for winning and for being right. We are the moral and
legal standard bearer for free speech, freedom of association, and due
process on campus. FIRE's revenues have grown to more than one million
dollars a year. We now have offices in Philadelphia, New York City, and
Boston. In the words of writer Celia Farber, "FIRE has become the most
successful organization of its kind." Last month, U.S. News & World Report
described FIRE as "a major player in the campus wars," and a
"spectacular" civil liberties group that makes the struggle to defend
individual rights seem "astonishingly easy."
It has been
an amazing run. I feel privileged to have participated in the growth
and increasing power of this important organization, most recently as
its Chief Executive Officer. I am proud of what we, working together,
The organization has come into its own.
FIRE is entering what promises to be its most successful year. The
organization is thriving, with a new Board of Directors
expanded to include ten distinguished and forward-looking members who
will together ensure that FIRE carries out its mission with vigor and
for me, I am ready for a new challenge—although FIRE and its mission
will remain dear to me, as will the individuals in this organization
from whom I have learned so much. I am honored to accept an invitation
to serve as a member of FIRE's Board of Advisors, and remain, as ever,
dedicated to doing all I can to guarantee FIRE's continuing success.
I want to move in a slightly different direction. I am in love with
this country; it is the freest place on the planet. In my birthplace,
Venezuela, the government constantly tramples its constitution; due
process, freedom of speech, freedom of movement, and economic liberty
are all under assault. I know first-hand how readily innocent civilians
may be arrested and even tortured for disagreeing with the government.
December, the president of the Venezuelan labor movement and the former
head of the Venezuelan chamber of commerce, both of whom are now in
exile, asked me to assist in the formation of a new advocacy group.
Located in the United States, this organization would promote civil
liberties, human rights, and democracy in Venezuela. I understand that
the struggle for freedom around the world is weakened if American
liberty is not safeguarded so this, and a number of related American
individual rights concerns, shall be a focus of my work going forward,
Over the five short years of its existence,
FIRE has accomplished miracles. Because of the organization, there is
more justice and less repression in the world. Liberty's prospects are
brighter, and tyranny's prospects are dimmer. That's truly something. I
have been honored to be a part of that work. I thank you for your
commitment to our shared ideals and for your support of me during these
years. I look forward to continuing to work with you in the future.
Thor L. Halvorssen