Dear Friend of Liberty,
During the summer of 1999, a lawyer, a professor, and a twenty-four year-old half-joked, over a large bottle of red wine, that they would revolutionize higher education.
With the vision and leadership of Harvey A. Silverglate and Alan Charles Kors, we moved from idea to action, establishing FIRE, an organization devoted to freedom of speech, due process, religious liberty, and academic freedom. The idea took hold quickly: FIRE’s remarkable Board of Advisors came together within one week, uniting journalists, scholars, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum. We incorporated, and Harvey loaned FIRE seed money to get started. In August of 1999, we established our first office in a vacant waiting room of a Wilmington, Delaware doctor’s office. At that time, I, the twenty-four year old, had the great fortune of becoming FIRE’s first Executive Director.
Since then, FIRE has won battle after battle against violations of individual rights in higher education. We have become known as a formidable watchdog organization, with a reputation for winning and for being right. We are the moral and legal standard bearer for free speech, freedom of association, and due process on campus. FIRE’s revenues have grown to more than one million dollars a year. We now have offices in Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston. In the words of writer Celia Farber, “FIRE has become the most successful organization of its kind.” Last month, U.S. News & World Report described FIRE as “a major player in the campus wars,” and a “spectacular” civil liberties group that makes the struggle to defend individual rights seem “astonishingly easy.”
It has been an amazing run. I feel privileged to have participated in the growth and increasing power of this important organization, most recently as its Chief Executive Officer. I am proud of what we, working together, have accomplished.
The organization has come into its own. FIRE is entering what promises to be its most successful year. The organization is thriving, with a new Board of Directors
that has expanded to include ten distinguished and forward-looking members who will together ensure that FIRE carries out its mission with vigor and integrity.
As for me, I am ready for a new challenge�”although FIRE and its mission will remain dear to me, as will the individuals in this organization from whom I have learned so much. I am honored to accept an invitation to serve as a member of FIRE’s Board of Advisors, and remain, as ever, dedicated to doing all I can to guarantee FIRE’s continuing success.
But I want to move in a slightly different direction. I am in love with this country; it is the freest place on the planet. In my birthplace, Venezuela, the government constantly tramples its constitution; due process, freedom of speech, freedom of movement, and economic liberty are all under assault. I know first-hand how readily innocent civilians may be arrested and even tortured for disagreeing with the government.
In December, the president of the Venezuelan labor movement and the former head of the Venezuelan chamber of commerce, both of whom are now in exile, asked me to assist in the formation of a new advocacy group. Located in the United States, this organization would promote civil liberties, human rights, and democracy in Venezuela. I understand that the struggle for freedom around the world is weakened if American liberty is not safeguarded so this, and a number of related American individual rights concerns, shall be a focus of my work going forward, as well.
Over the five short years of its existence, FIRE has accomplished miracles. Because of the organization, there is more justice and less repression in the world. Liberty’s prospects are brighter, and tyranny’s prospects are dimmer. That’s truly something. I have been honored to be a part of that work. I thank you for your commitment to our shared ideals and for your support of me during these years. I look forward to continuing to work with you in the future.
Thor L. Halvorssen