Roger Chesley has an excellent editorial in today’s Virginian-Pilot about FIRE’s case at Hampton University—where, you will recall, several students were threatened with expulsion for daring to hold an anti-Bush protest. Here’s how it begins:
For an institution so heavily preoccupied with its image, Hampton University administrators continue to step into public relations nightmares. If they would ease the reins on students just a little, the university would avoid unwelcome press coverage and mollify the individuals forking over thousands of dollars in tuition.
That’s not too steep a price for HU to pay. And it would treat the people who matriculate there more like the young adults—and future leaders—they truly are.
Most recently, the university that boasts it’s “The Harvard of the South” shut down a November demonstration by several students who were distributing fliers on campus. The students were protesting the Iraq war and the U.S. response to Hurricane Katrina. Seven students faced disciplinary hearings last week.
In a highly publicized incident two years ago, Hampton was criticized for hauling off copies of the student newspaper. The Script had dared publish an article on health violations in the school’s cafeteria. The resulting fallout garnered coverage in national publications such as USA Today. That means a small, intra-university dispute on press freedom received attention across the country.
If you’re an HU official, the whole episode had to be counter-productive. Such incidents suggest a paternalism that borders on the absurd.
FIRE agrees—in fact, the point that college students are adults and ought to be treated as such is one we make all the time.
Chesley also makes some excellent points about private universities:
Because Hampton is a private institution, it can set its own rules and regulations in a way many public colleges cannot. Kent Willis, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, says HU doesn’t have to allow free speech among students.
Yet, it seems amazingly antithetical that a university would muzzle the people who sit in its classrooms, soaking up knowledge. After all, young people attend institutions of higher learning not only for the education, but also to broaden their view of the nation and the world, and to challenge their preconceptions. Universities should encourage—not stifle—that pursuit.
Indeed! Read the rest of the piece here.