The fate of the University of Rhode Island (URI) College Republicans (CRs) rests on a meeting of the Student Senate tonight. The CRs have been threatened with revocation of their official student group status for advertising a satirical “White, Heterosexual, American Male” (WHAM) scholarship for $100. No less than eight letters in support of the CR’s right to free expression have been published in The Good Five Cent Cigar, the URI student paper (all links below are to the URI CRs’ website because of registration requirements for The Good Five Cent Cigar and The Providence Journal):
- Student Senate actions ‘illegitimate and failure of leadership’
- Actions taken against College Republicans ‘disturbing’
- Senate agenda ‘immoral,’ should be for improving student life
- URI SOARC fails to understand satire
- Student Senate not above First Amendment
- Alumna displeased with Student Senate, congratulates Carothers
- College Republicans being punished for free speech
- Student Senate can’t force apology from College Republicans
What’s at stake here is the ability of a student organization at a state institution to express a political viewpoint through a satirical vehicle. An editorial in The Providence Journal today describes the issue precisely:
What URI students should understand is that vigorous debate, and a tolerance for the expression of unpopular ideas, is essential to intellectual and political freedom. Ultimately, the greatest protection for any minority lies in its freedom to get its story out—often in the face of government agents who seek to stifle the free flow of information. Unless we wish to live under a totalitarian system, it is crucial that we defend that freedom.
Of course, if the Student Senate does wrongly decide to punish the College Republicans, it will be up to URI’s President Carothers to reverse that decision. FIRE will be watching events at URI closely tonight.