This Week in FIRE News: Victory at Montclair State

April 22, 2011

This week, FIRE reported a free speech victory after Montclair State University backed down from charging an unconstitutional security fee for a speech sponsored by Students for a Democratic Society featuring education theorist and former Weatherman Bill Ayers. This is one more example where FIRE thwarted a “heckler’s veto.” Stanley Kurtz, writing for National Review Online’s The Corner, writes:

It seems that Montclair State adopted a tactic sometimes deployed to keep controversial speakers off campus. They tried to assess the SDS a special fee to pay for security during Ayers’ speech. This tactic has been used to discourage conservative and libertarian speakers form appearing on campuses, and FIRE has intervened in those cases as well.

Thanks also to our supporters over at The Moral Liberal for announcing our victory.

Torch readers may remember that three professors were suspended from Southwestern College (SWC) in California and banned from its campus after straying beyond its unconstitutional free speech zone during a protest. While the professors, with FIRE’s assistance, were reinstated and eventually had their disciplinary records over this incident completely expunged, it has taken SWC almost a year and a half to revise its free speech policy. Lyndsay Winkley of The Southwestern College Sun mentioned the relentless pressure FIRE put on SWC to revise the policy in her article about the new policy. We await final revisions to the related “free speech patio” policy that was used against the professors, which has never been renounced by SWC even though it apparently is still on the books.

Two weeks ago, University of North Carolina-Wilmington professor Mike Adams won a landmark victory for academic freedom in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Adams v. Trustees of the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. David Moshman, in his analysis of the case for The Huffington Post, mentioned the amici curiae brief signed by FIRE, the American Association of University Professors, and The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression in support of Professor Adams’ right to academic freedom.

Finally, former FIRE intern Ginny Robinson wrote a column for The Cavalier Daily, the University of Virginia’s student newspaper, about how college students will experience greater intellectual growth if they learn to consider all viewpoints, rather than always agreeing with the majority. Ginny argues that while students are often too quick to dismiss or even ridicule minority viewpoints, sometimes it is the unpopular argument that comes closest to the truth. Thanks to Ginny for reminding us that the discovery of truth and intellectual growth are just two of the many reasons why protecting free speech on campus is so vital.

Schools:  Montclair State University

Cases:  Montclair State University: Student Group Threatened with Unconstitutional Security Fee