What a difference a change in leadership makes!
As those who follow FIRE—as well as the millions of people who saw our full-page advertisement in the most recent U.S. News & World Report “America’s Best Colleges” issue—already know, Valdosta State University has been one of the leading free speech villains among America’s campuses for approximately the last year, ever since former president Ronald Zaccari personally expelled a student for posting a collage on Facebook.com. Further investigation turned up the fact that Valdosta State had one of the country’s worst “free speech zones”—a policy that limited free speech on campus to one tiny stage. For two non-consecutive hours a day. And only Monday through Friday. (No free speech on the weekends, folks!) This was simply too much for FIRE, which added Valdosta State University to our Red Alert list of institutions that demonstrate a severe and ongoing disregard for fundamental rights on campus last November. The situation at Valdosta State was so bad that FIRE even made a small movie out of it.
Our first indication that things might be moving in the right direction came when President Zaccari announced that he would be retiring six months ahead of schedule. Still, it was a long wait until new president Patrick J. Schloss took the reins this summer. Schloss seems to have wasted little time addressing the problem caused by his predecessor. In a September 11 letter to FIRE, Schloss informed us that he had revoked Valdosta State’s unconstitutional free speech zone policy, restoring free expression to the vast majority of the campus. In return, we’ve taken Valdosta State off our Red Alert list. (Note to the presidents of other universities on our Red Alert list: See how easy that was?) You can read more details in today’s press release.
FIRE does not enjoy putting schools on our Red Alert list. We pride ourselves on resolving cases quickly and fairly whenever possible. Yet some institutions prove resistant to change and, frankly, impossible to shame (that’s not a compliment, by the way). Brandeis University particularly comes to mind, given how profoundly its current values seem to conflict with those of its namesake, free-speech champion and Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. Our U.S. News ad—which brought more than 100,000 new, unique visitors to FIRE’s website in the two weeks after it was run—was just the first tactic we will be using in the coming school year to raise awareness about the schools that are at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to respecting student and faculty rights. Brandeis, Colorado College, Johns Hopkins, and Tufts can expect more of the same (and some different things too!) until they return to honoring the fundamental American rights they claim to respect, as well as their own promises of free expression and academic freedom.
Check back tomorrow for a breakdown of Valdosta’s new freedom of expression policy.