Frequently Asked Questions

large question mark in chalk on a blackboard

FAQ About Case Submissions

Last Update September 9, 2021

Do I have a case? What is a “case”?

By “case,” we mean an “issue,” “concern,” or “controversy” — any situation you suspect might represent a threat to your rights to freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience. As a rule of thumb, if you’re thinking you might have a problem or a case, but you’re not sure, it’s better to get in contact with FIRE early. Even if we are unable to directly assist you at the time, we may be able to point you to useful resources. The issues we consider can sometimes be nuanced, and every situation where rights are threatened is unique. Submitting a case to us allows us to see whether we can help you. If we can, we will work with you on the best path forward.

How do I submit a case, and what should I provide?

Typically, we accept case submissions through our online form. However, if you are a faculty member at a public university, you can call FIRE’s Faculty Legal Defense Fund Hotline at 254-500-FLDF (3533). Student journalists, student media, and their advisors can contact FIRE’s Student Press Censorship Hotline at 833-451-FIRE (3473).

If you do not fall under the parameters for either hotline, please provide us, through our online form, with a short narrative statement — giving a basic timeline of what was said, who said it, and when it happened — and any pertinent documents, such as emails, letters, or notices.

What kinds of cases does FIRE work on?

Our mission is limited to higher education in the United States. FIRE defends the rights of students and faculty members at public and private colleges and universities in the United States. We will consider cases involving freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience. However, FIRE does not take cases from university staff members who lack faculty or student status, cases from elementary or high-school students, cases that are primarily grade disputes, or cases that arise at schools outside the United States.

What about private colleges? Does the First Amendment apply?

We defend rights at private institutions, too. While private institutions are not obliged to follow the First Amendment, many advertise or promise freedom of expression, academic freedom, due process, and other rights. Those promises should be honored, and FIRE aims to make sure they are.

What kind of help does FIRE provide? What can you do to help me?

Our approach may involve some combination of public or private advocacy, such as writing letters to the institution, issuing press releases, sharing your story with media outlets, or, in some cases, connecting you with legal counsel or representing you ourselves. We understand that you may be undergoing a stressful period or may be worried about whether — or even how — to defend your rights. Each situation requires a unique approach, and we’ll work with you to figure out the approach with which you’re comfortable. But in order to defend your rights — and the rights of others who may not recognize threats to their rights or be able to stand up for themselves — you have to be willing to stand up for yourself.

I’ve been suspended/expelled from my college/university? Can FIRE Help?

If you’ve been suspended or expelled from your college or university in violation of your civil liberties, FIRE may be able to help. Submit a case to confidentially provide FIRE with additional information about your situation. We’ll be in touch to let you know if we can help.

I’m being investigated by my university or I’ve been accused of a student code of conduct violation. Can FIRE Help?

If you’re being investigated by your university or college or have been accused of violating its student code of conduct, FIRE may be able to help if your civil liberties were violated. Submit a case to confidentially provide FIRE with additional information about your situation. We’ll be in touch to let you know if we can assist you.

I’ve been disciplined by my college/university? Can FIRE Help?

FIRE can sometimes assist in college discipline cases. Submit a case to confidentially provide FIRE with additional information about your situation. We’ll be in touch to let you know if we can help.

I’ve been brought up on campus charges. Do I need a lawyer?

Both the traditional legal system — criminal and civil courts — and the campus disciplinary system involve the adjudication of important rights. If you believe that you might benefit from legal advice or representation, you should consider obtaining the services of a private attorney as you contemplate how to proceed. Except in the limited number of cases in which FIRE provides direct legal representation, which occurs only where FIRE has entered into an express, signed retainer agreement with you, our assistance cannot replace the assistance of an attorney. 

I am a faculty member/I am a college student who has been falsely accused. Can you help?

If you have been falsely accused of wrongdoing, FIRE may be able to assist. Submit a case to FIRE with additional information about your situation. We’ll be in touch to let you know if we can help.

Are you campus misconduct lawyers?

Not exactly. FIRE advocates in defense of student and faculty rights, and many FIRE staffers are attorneys. If you’ve been suspended or expelled from your college or university in violation of your civil liberties, FIRE may be able to help. Contact FIRE confidentially to provide us with information about your situation.

But we are not attorneys for hire, and the majority of FIRE’s work does not involve formal legal action. Nothing on our website or correspondence should be taken to constitute legal advice or to mean that we’ve formed an attorney-client relationship.

While FIRE engages in litigation, our mission and obligations as a nonprofit restrict our litigation efforts to a narrow range of cases. Unless we have explicitly agreed to enter into an attorney-client relationship with you, nothing in our correspondence or advocacy should be construed as a promise or intent to represent you in a legal capacity.

Will this cost me anything?

No. FIRE is a charitable, non-profit organization and does not charge for any of its services.

What about my privacy?

FIRE takes your privacy seriously. If you contact us, we will not disclose information concerning your case submission or contact your institution about your dispute without your permission (or a court order). While FIRE’s advocacy efforts often benefit from drawing public pressure on institutions to correct their actions, we will not disclose information or documents you provide to FIRE without your express consent. Contacting FIRE does not obligate you to go public. For more information on how we approach public advocacy when you (and FIRE) agree that it makes sense for you, click here.

What happens if my university or college finds out?

It’s highly unlikely that your university or college will retaliate against you for standing up for your rights. In many cases, particularly at public institutions, doing so may even be unlawful. If an institution is violating your rights, it’s more likely to be careful when it becomes apparent that third parties are aware of what it’s doing.

Should I contact you from my .edu email address?

While it’s unlikely that your institution is monitoring your email, it may be a good idea to use an independent email service to communicate with us.

But I’m a [liberal, conservative, leftist, anarchist, socialist, animal rights activist, artist, nihilist, etc.]. Will you still defend me?

FIRE is proudly non-partisan. We defend Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Democratic Socialists, and those not affiliated with any party at all; Muslims, Jews, Christians, and atheists; environmental activists, animal rights activists, pro-choice activists, pro-life activists, anti-rape activists, anti-war activists, and LGBT activists; free market advocates, , anti-immigration activists, and anti-affirmative action activists. We’ve defended student reporters, student government members, adjunct faculty, and tenured professors, and many, many more. Bottom line: If your rights have been violated, we will defend you.

I’m a non-U.S. citizen enrolled or teaching at an American campus. Can you still help me?

Yes. The rights afforded to students and faculty in the United States are not dependent on nationality, citizenship, or residency.

How long will it take for FIRE to review my submission?

We review every case submission within three business days. If this is an urgent matter that requires a faster response, please note the nature of the urgency in your case submission and we will attempt to review your case within that time frame, if possible. FIRE is a non-profit organization with limited resources, and review of a submission does not guarantee that we will be able to take your case or otherwise provide assistance. If you are in need of immediate assistance, you should consider retaining a local attorney.

Will you be my lawyers?

Submitting a case to us does not itself establish an attorney-client relationship. FIRE will not represent you as your lawyers in the absence of a retainer agreement. Our team may be able to provide you with a variety of advocacy services, including writing letters to the institution, issuing press releases, sharing your story with media outlets, or connecting you with outside legal counsel. However, FIRE will only offer legal representation in a very narrow range of cases. 

I already have a lawyer. Can FIRE still help?

Please have your lawyer contact us directly. We can speak with them about how we might be able to help. We want to respect your relationship with your lawyer, and coordinating with them is the most effective way that we can help.

I am a lawyer. Can FIRE help my client?

Maybe! Please get in touch with us by filling out a case submission form. We may be able to help provide advice on strategy, consider the case for amicus participation, write a letter to the institution in support of your client, or help draw public attention to the matter. Attorneys interested in helping to defend student and faculty rights should join FIRE’s Legal Network.

I’m not the person whose rights are threatened. Should I still submit a case?

We’re always on the lookout for rights violations, and you may be aware of a situation that we haven’t seen yet. If you know of censorship or a threat to a student or faculty member’s rights, please contact us even if you’re not directly involved. We’ll see if we can make contact with the people who are involved — and if you know how to contact them, consider encouraging them to contact us! Because of our commitment to privacy, however, we probably will not be able to discuss the case with you beyond thanking you for bringing it to our attention.

Why didn’t you take my case?

FIRE is a non-profit organization with limited resources and a narrow mission. We can’t help in every case. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t have a case, and you may consider retaining a lawyer to advise you of your rights.

Why can’t I submit over the phone?

FIRE has two hotlines dedicated to specific purposes: a hotline for faculty members at public universities and colleges (254-500-FLDF (3533)) and a hotline for student journalists, student media, and their advisors (833-451-FIRE (3473)).

For other matters or issues, FIRE only accepts submissions through our case submission form. FIRE receives a tremendous number of requests for assistance each year. In order to best streamline our ability to quickly review and respond to requests for help, it is best for submissions to go through our website. Once our staff has had the opportunity to review your written submission, any subsequent correspondence can focus more on the immediate task of assisting you, rather than basic fact-gathering. If you have an urgent need, please note the nature of the urgency in your online submission so that we may prioritize review.

When does it make sense to publicize my case?

Although it is not always the right decision to publicize a situation — depending on the level of public interest, the type of rights violation, the school’s history of rights violations or lack thereof, and other factors — FIRE has found that we are usually more effective at defending student and faculty rights when we publicize a situation. To learn more about what it means to “go public,” see our “Fighting rights violations by going public” guide.

I’m not in trouble, but my institution’s policies threaten student and faculty rights. I want to change them. Can FIRE help?

If you’re interested in FIRE’s help in changing your institution’s policies — as opposed to seeking assistance with a specific application of those policies — we can help. Contact FIRE’s Policy Reform team using this form.

I have a question that isn’t answered here.

All the more reason to get in touch with us.