This Month in FIRE History: FIRE Announces ‘Red Alert’ List

June 20, 2011

In June 2007, FIRE added a new weapon to its public awareness arsenal, announcing the creation of our "Red Alert" list and naming Tufts University and Johns Hopkins University as the first Red Alert schools.

Schools on the Red Alert list are the worst of the worst when it comes to campus liberty. They are unrepentant offenders against basic rights, and their policies or practices demonstrate an ongoing threat to present and future students. They have earned their spots by instituting particularly restrictive speech codes, enacting seriously unconstitutional punishment on students and faculty members, or refusing to reverse their actions against fundamental rights even after being repeatedly engaged by FIRE.

Eight schools have earned this dubious distinction, of which six remain on FIRE’s list: Bucknell University, Brandeis University, Colorado College, Johns Hopkins University, Michigan State University, and Tufts University. Almost immediately after it was added in June 2007, Gettysburg College ended its ridiculously overbroad sexual misconduct policy and earned its removal from the list. The next year, Valdosta State University (VSU) successfully reformed its "free speech zone" policy to earn its removal from the list, though the extreme disregard former President Ronald Zaccari showed for free speech during his tenure has haunted VSU in the courts.

The Red Alert list has proven a vital tool in our effort to spread awareness of free speech violations on these campuses. For everything from shutting down "affirmative action bake sales" to censoring student publications and clamping down on student email use, the Red Alert schools have been highlighted in public campaigns in U.S. News & World Report and The Huffington Post, as well as featured on programs including FOX Business Network’s Stossel.

It is our hope that publicly censuring these schools for their immoral actionsin many cases violating their own explicit promises of free speechwill help to create enough pressure on them to reform their policies and restore liberty on their campuses. FIRE has not stopped reaching out to these six schools, offering assistance in reforming their policies and appealing to new leaders, such as at Bucknell, to reverse the decisions of past administrators. Despite their years of dishonor, we will urge the universities on our Red Alert list to turn a new page and begin respecting individual rights on campus.