‘Newsweek’ Devotes Cover Story to Threats to Student Rights

May 26, 2016

This morning, Newsweek published the online version of its latest cover story, “The Battle Against ‘Hate Speech’ on College Campuses Is Harboring a Generation That Hates Speech.” Author Nina Burleigh draws upon FIRE’s work to explain the climate for free expression and due process on today’s college campuses. In a time when threats to student and faculty rights are coming fast and furious, it is significant to have a prominent media outlet like Newsweek put those threats front and center.

Early in the piece, which hits newsstands June 3, Burleigh sets the scene. And it’s a stark one:

Graduates of the Class of 2016 are leaving behind campuses that have become petri dishes of extreme political correctness and heading out into a world without trigger warnings, safe spaces and free speech zones, with no rules forbidding offensive verbal conduct or microaggressions, and where the names of cruel, rapacious capitalists are embossed in brass and granite on buildings across the land. Baby seals during the Canadian hunting season may have a better chance of survival.

The article gives an overview of threats to free speech like trigger warnings, free speech zones, and speech codes. To illustrate her point, Burleigh describes how Modesto Junior College student Robert Van Tuinen—who, with FIRE’s help, successfully sued the college for First Amendment violations—was forbidden from distributing copies of the Constitution on his campus:

Political science graduates from Modesto Junior College might have shied away from touching a copy of the U.S. Constitution in public, since a security guard stopped one of them from handing it out because he was not inside a 25-square-foot piece of concrete 30 yards away from the nearest walkway designated as the “free speech zone”—a space that needed to be booked 30 days in advance.

The story also touches on several additional issues of concern to FIRE such as expansive interpretations of Title IX, speaker disinvitations, and “The Chalkening.”

FIRE Executive Director Robert Shibley is quoted about political speech on campus, as well as certain colleges’ and universities’ 501(c)(3) status, an issue about which FIRE Director of Litigation Catherine Sevcenko testified before Congress in March.

Newsweek’s cover story is a must-read for anyone interested in higher education and the state of free speech on America’s college campuses.