For the third consecutive year, Colorado College is called out for its shameful disregard of free speech in FIRE’s full-page U.S. News & World Report advertisement. As with its fellow Red Alert list members, we would dearly like to take it off the list, and for Colorado College to earn its way off would be simple. First, though, the matter of how it got on the list to begin with.
Torch readers may remember that in 2008 Colorado College student Chris Robinson, along with one other student, parodied a flyer called "The Monthly Rag," which had been distributed on campus pseudonymously by a group calling itself the "Feminist and Gender Studies Interns." The Monthly Rag contained items of interest to its authors, including, for example, a promotion for an upcoming lecture on "feminist porn" and a harmless reference to "male castration."
In response, Robinson and the other student circulated their flyer—called "The Monthly Bag"—under the pseudonym "The Coalition of Some Dudes." The Monthly Bag riffed on such manly topics as "chainsaw etiquette," "tough guy wisdom," and the specifications of a sniper rifle.
What happened next? Here’s how I described Colorado College’s staggering overreaction earlier:
Shortly after "The Monthly Bag" was posted, Celeste sent a campus-wide e-mail denouncing the flyer, saying that it included "threatening and demeaning content, which is categorically unacceptable in this community… Vigorous debate is welcome. Anonymous acts meant to demean and intimidate others are not." When Robinson and the other student turned themselves in soon after-per the e-mail’s request-they were told that they had violated Colorado College’s values of respect and integrity, as defined by the school’s Student Code of Conduct, and that some in the community had interpreted their flyer as a threat against them.
[A]fter a trial that to the detached observer appeared heavily tilted against the two students-Associate Dean of Students for Academic Support Ginger Morgan, for example, actively solicited students willing to testify against the two defendants-Robinson and the second student were found guilty of violating the code of conduct policy on "violence" in a decision handed down by Vice President for Student Life/Dean of Students Mike Edmonds.
Edmonds claimed to understand the flyer’s satirical intentions, and commended the two students for immediately coming forward when asked by Celeste-clearly understanding that the "Dudes" never at any time posed a threat to any member of the community. All of this made his rationale for the decision the more alarming. Said Edmonds:
[I]n the climate in which we find ourselves today, violence-or implied violence-of any kind cannot be tolerated on a college campus. I believe the issue here is not whether you intended to threaten anyone. The fact is that your publication was received as a threat by members of the Colorado College community.
Edmonds went on to cite "the juxtaposition of weaponry and sexuality, combined with the fact that it was distributed anonymously," as the source of the so-called threat felt by students.
That "juxtaposition of weaponry and sexuality," to be clear, was a reference to The Monthly Bag’s inclusion of the sniper rifle’s shooting range atop a description of a rather athletic sexual position taken from Men’s Health magazine. President Celeste would later shamefully co-opt the violent shooting tragedies at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University as further excuse for punishing the students—a flagrant insult both to the intelligence of the Colorado College community and those most affected by the shootings.
After a grossly biased appeals process which ruled against them, the students’ violations of Colorado College’s "violence" policy were placed in their permanent student files, and Colorado College was awarded a first-class ticket to our Red Alert list.
Is there any hope for Colorado College? Of course.
For one, Colorado College gets it right with some of its stated commitments to free speech (though it does remain a red-light school due to its speech codes), which would go a long way to restoring public trust if only it could be true to them. Take this segment from its "Diversity & Anti-Discrimination" policy, for example:
On a campus that is free and open, no idea can be banned or forbidden. No viewpoint or message may be deemed so hateful that it may not be expressed. Nothing in this Anti-Discrimination Policy should be construed to interfere with the academic freedom of all persons at the college to express and debate diverse ideas. Persons who object to the expression of certain ideas should generally counter with refutation, not demands for sanctions or disciplinary action against the person who has expressed the controversial ideas.
Sounds good, right? Now, if only Colorado College could remember this noble affirmation of the importance of free expression when it counts.
Additionally, President Celeste plans to retire at the end of the academic year. Hopefully in his final year, Celeste will want to tie up some of the loose ends of this presidency—of which surely the Monthly Bag debacle is one. Doing so would be simple: All it requires is to reverse its bogus finding of sexually-related violence against the two students, and Colorado College can happily be removed from the Red Alert list.
If Celeste declines to right this wrong, FIRE will appeal to his yet-to-be-named successor, and hopefully will find a more willing ear. Regardless, it is well past time for Colorado College to take these simple steps and restore student rights, and we will keep up with our campaign—here and in the pages of U.S. News—until it does so.