A terrible storm of injustice is raging in central New York, but FIRE is working hard to quell it.
Torch readers by now are all too familiar with the story of Syracuse University College of Law (SUCOL) student Len Audaer. After two months of being investigated for "harassing" statements that he allegedly made on the satirical blog SUCOLitis, he is now being asked to sign a gag order by faculty "prosecutor" Gregory Germain.
This development has sparked media interest across the nation. In sunny Nevada, Thomas Mitchell of the Las Vegas Review-Journal criticized Syracuse for not abiding by its own free speech guarantees and warned about the dangers of punishing offensive speech. Marc Parry of The Chronicle of Higher Education noted that Syracuse—unsurprisingly—will not divulge much information about the case to the press and related how Audaer’s supporters are trying to feature his story on The Daily Show. Such publicity would be a very welcome development and FIRE would love to see how Germain and company respond to being mocked in front of a national television audience. Right in the lion’s den, Peter’s letter to the editor, in which he argued that the contents of SUCOLitis don’t even come close to constituting harassment under either the Supreme Court’s or Syracuse’s definitions of the term, was recently published in The Daily Orange.
Last week’s big story about Northern Illinois University (NIU) finally granting recognition to Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) continued to make headlines this week. The national SSDP praised FIRE for helping the NIU chapter gain recognition and urged the administration to reform the policies related to student organization funding so future groups will not have to endure SSDP’s ordeal. Torch readers will remember that the NIU Student Association Senate (Senate) follows an unconstitutional two-tiered system for financing student organizations, denying funds to "political" or "religious" organizations, while granting them to "Social Justice, Advocacy, and Support" ones. Although SSDP was finally granted recognition as a "Social Justice, Advocacy, and Support" organization after two failed attempts, this two-tiered system still remains.
However, in his letter of recognition to the founder of NIU’s SSDP chapter, Jeremy Orbach, last Friday, Associate Vice President of the Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management John R. Jones III promised to establish a task force to review the Student Association bylaws and develop a training module to teach the Senate to abide by "applicable legal standards that have been established by the court systems regarding student recognition processes in public university settings." Strong SSDP supporter Charles Davis of Change.org wrote his fourth column about this case, praising the recognition of SSDP and reminding NIU that it has promised to train the Senate to respect students’ constitutional rights. Finally, Jacob Sullum of Reason emphasized FIRE’s role in pressuring NIU to recognize SSDP as a student organization and—like in last week’s media blog—quoted Senator Brian Troutman to remind people that not all senators voted against liberty.
Elsewhere in the news, KC Johnson—whom Torch readers may remember from his video about dispositions theory—defended FIRE in Minding the Campus against false accusations made by Yeshiva University professor Ellen Schrecker. Schrecker argued that FIRE’s efforts fighting speech codes "undermined public support for public education," to which Johnson countered that it is not FIRE, but the speech-restrictive policies that FIRE fervently fights to reform, that are causing people to distrust academia.