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Vandals at Syracuse University Demonstrate How Not to Advocate for Free Speech

The Daily Orange reports that in an unfortunate incident, a number of buildings at Syracuse University were vandalized with spray paint on Sunday night. It’s not yet clear who is behind the vandalism.

What makes this incident noteworthy for FIRE is the content of one of the vandal’s (or vandals’) messages. Scrawled on the wall of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, immediately below the oversized text of the First Amendment etched into its windows, appear the words:

#1 in communication
LAST in free speech

Indeed, Syracuse has made more than its fair share of free speech blunders in recent years, despite being home to a renowned journalism school as well as the Tully Center for Free Speech and despite its professed commitment to “freedom of discussion” and the “expression of dissent.” Syracuse has drawn criticism from FIRE and other free speech advocates for, among other things, threatening to censor “offensive” Halloween costumesexpelling a student for complaining on Facebook about a racially charged comment made by a community leader, and conducting an inexorable witch hunt against the author of an anonymous blog satirizing life in law school. Most recently, we highlighted Syracuse’s illiberal communications policy, which prohibits use of its computer systems to send “offensive messages.” As a result of these transgressions, Syracuse has been noted as one of the worst offenders on our list of the 12 Worst Colleges For Free Speech in both 2011 and 2012.

Yet, Syracuse’s depressing free speech record aside, it is important to make one thing clear: Vandalism is not free speech. It is a crime. Free speech does not give anyone license to destroy or deface the property of others.

It is disappointing that these vandals thought it appropriate to make a statement about free speech at Syracuse in such a manner. Vandalism does nothing to advance the cause of free speech at Syracuse. If they wished to speak out against Syracuse’s history of free speech transgressions, there are ample legitimate means by which they could have done so. Others in the Syracuse community have done just that, for instance, by writing articles in order to raise awareness about Syracuse’s poor record.

Those who are truly interested in learning about their rights and how to properly (and legally) defend free speech on campus are welcome to download FIRE’s Guides, to join our Campus Freedom Network, and to help raise awareness and work with administrators to protect student rights on campus. As always, FIRE stands ready to help students seeking to advocate for free speech through intelligent discourse rather than criminal activity.

Image: Vandalism at Syracuse University - The Daily Orange

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