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Tyranny at Tufts

BOSTON, May 11, 2007—Showing profound disregard for free speech and freedom of the press, Tufts University has found a conservative student publication guilty of harassment and creating a hostile environment for publishing political satire. Despite explicitly promising to protect controversial and offensive expression in its policies, the Tufts Committee on Student Life decided yesterday to punish the student publication The Primary Source (TPS) for printing two articles that offended African-American and Muslim students on campus. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which has spearheaded the defense of TPS, is now launching a public campaign to oppose Tufts’ outrageous actions.

“We now know that Tufts’ promises of free expression are hollow,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “By punishing political expression—the type of expression at the very core of the right to free speech—Tufts has shown that, in spite of its promises, it has no regard for its students’ fundamental rights. Such hypocrisy must not go unchallenged.”

Last December, TPS published a satirical Christmas carol entitled “Oh Come All Ye Black Folk.” Although TPS runs a Christmas carol parody every year, December’s carol sparked controversy on campus because it harshly lampooned race-based admissions. Realizing that the carol offended large portions of the Tufts community, TPS published an apology on December 6, 2006. Four months later, however, a student filed charges alleging that the carol constituted “harassment” and created a “hostile environment.” Other students filed similar charges in response to TPS’ April 11, 2007 piece entitled “Islam—Arabic Translation: Submission,” a satirical advertisement that ridiculed Tufts’ “Islamic Awareness Week” by highlighting militant Islamic terrorism.

The two complaints were consolidated for a hearing before the university’s Committee on Student Life on April 30, 2007. Yesterday, the Committee issued a decision holding that TPS had violated the university’s harassment policy by publishing the two pieces. The Committee found that the carol “targeted [black students] on the basis of their race, subjected them to ridicule and embarrassment, intimidated them, and had a deleterious impact on their growth and well-being on campus.” The Committee also held that the parody of Islamic Awareness Week “targeted members of the Tufts Muslim community for harassment and embarrassment, and that Muslim students felt psychologically intimidated by the piece.”

“By issuing this decision, Tufts University is saying that its students are not strong enough to live with freedom,” Lukianoff said. “Satire and parody are so strongly protected by the U.S. Constitution precisely because they may offend or provoke. Tufts knows that the proper cure for speech one dislikes is more speech—but it has instead elected to meet controversial speech with repression. We call on the president of Tufts to overturn this unwise and illiberal decision.”

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process rights, freedom of expression, and rights of conscience on our campuses. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty at Tufts University and elsewhere can be seen by visiting

Greg Lukianoff, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473;

Lawrence S. Bacow, President, Tufts University: 617-627-3300;

Barbara Grossman, Chair, Committee on Student Life: 617-627-2535;

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