One of the more interesting aspects of our case submissions is that a disproportionately high number come from “nontraditional” students—those students who are older, married, or often have substantial work experience. Many of our more sensational and egregious cases—including the recent ban on showing The Passion of the Christ at a college in Florida, Scott McConnell’s expulsion from Le Moyne College in New York, Bill Felkner’s troubles at Rhode Island College, and Jihad Daniel’s case at William Paterson University—have involved students in their thirties, forties, and (in Daniel’s case) sixties.
I think there is a good reason for this phenomenon: nontraditional students have “real world” experience and are less easily intimidated by academic threats than traditional undergraduate and graduate students. For an army vet like McConnell, the prospect of poor grades or expulsion holds a bit less terror than it does for a traditional undergrad. Since academic life is all many traditional undergrads know, academic success means everything.
Additionally, for many traditional students, the atmosphere of oppression and indoctrination that dominates so many of our universities is a mere extension of their high school experience. For these students, this is just the “way the world works,” and they are unaware that alternatives exist (or even that the First Amendment actually prohibits many university policies and procedures). When I speak on campus, I am always amazed at the number of otherwise politically aware students who say, “I had no idea that the university isn’t supposed to do that.” On-campus speeches always result in a litany of tales of censorship.
As a consequence of this widespread ignorance, FIRE is and will be putting more and more resources into its education efforts. Our Guides to Student Rights on Campus have been downloaded almost 100,000 times in the last two years, but that is still not enough. We will be targeting problem campuses for intensive education and advocacy efforts and—through the Spotlight database—provide even greater levels of campus-specific information. It is vital that we reach the next generation of students—a generation that is censored and all too often sees nothing at all wrong with censorship.