Author Archive | Greg Lukianoff, guest-blogging

Final Thoughts: Changing the Culture on Campus

This week I survived Hurricane Sandy, a massive tree covering the entire front of my house, an intermittent Internet connection, and even guest-blogging for The Volokh Conspiracy. For my last post, I wanted to end on a positive note. First, I wanted to let you all know that I am having a book event for Unlearning Liberty at the Los Angeles Press Club on November 29. Tickets are free, but please register to attend and tell your friends to do so too. It should be a good time.

I also wanted to share some of the ways the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE, where I am president) is working to positively “change the culture” on today’s college campuses to one that better understands the importance of freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of association, due process, etc. After all, the problems I describe in Unlearning Liberty run deep.

In order to provide a much-needed basic introduction to the core concepts of free expression — something fewer and fewer high schools seem to be doing — FIRE authored a five-book series of Guides to Student Rights on Campus. We just updated our flagship Guide to Free Speech on Campus and released the new edition (available free for download) this summer. The books earned praise from Nadine Strossen, Alan Dershowitz, and Ed Meese. I hope you’ll read them and pass them along to students you might know who could use them.

But to truly “change the culture” we must stop rights abuses from happening in the first place by preparing and educating students for the challenges they will face. FIRE is trying to do this through several programs: our Campus Freedom Network of more than 5,500 students, professors, and alumni; our “Freedom in Academia” High […]

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‘The New York Times’, Yale, and Sissygate

Last week, I had the pleasure of having my first op-ed published in The New York Times, and I was pleased (and a little surprised) when the letters to the editor that were published the next day were overwhelmingly positive.

The op-ed changed a lot during the editing process, evolving from what started as a piece primarily about restrictions on election-related student speech. (For more on that front, see several cases my colleague Will Creeley talked about in greater detail in a recent piece for The Huffington Post.) Switching gears, the editors in particular wanted me to add some discussion of elite colleges.

Thankfully, that wasn’t very hard — my new book, Unlearning Liberty: Censorship and the End of American Debate, has an entire chapter just devoted to censorship at Harvard and Yale. So I chose one fairly recent, very silly case from Yale, which I had previously written about for The Huffington Post.

As you may or may not know, Yale and Harvard have a football rivalry. Every year students and alumni get very excited about what they call “The Game.” And every year, Yale and Harvard students figure out new ways to insult each other. In 2009, Yale freshmen took a highbrow approach, plastering a line from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1920 novel This Side of Paradise on that year’s annual “Game” T-shirt: “I think of all Harvard men as sissies,” the T-shirt read. The Yalies added “WE AGREE” underneath.

Just for context’s sake, the full quote reads:

“I want to go to Princeton,” said Amory. “I don’t know why, but I think of all Harvard men as sissies, like I used to be, and all Yale men as wearing big blue sweaters and smoking pipes.”

But for Yale, this was a literary reference […]

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Private Religious Colleges and Free Speech

I have been guest blogging this week, and Eugene asked me to reserve some of my posts to respond to reader comments. From the moment that Eugene announced I would be posting, a few commenters have decided that the single most important thing FIRE should actually be fighting is the scourge of censorship-happy Christian colleges. I confess, as I have before, to just being really tired of this argument, as we’ve explained FIRE’s stance on private colleges so many times. (Check out the following link, and most recently my piece in RealClearReligion.)

It’s really pretty simple, and people familiar with law and legal principles should be able to understand our stance. Public colleges and universities are, of course, legally bound by the First Amendment. Private colleges are not. However, private institutions should be held accountable for how they present themselves and for the contractual promises they make to students. The vast majority of private colleges promise free speech in rather glowing language found in student handbooks, codes of conduct, and similar materials. But out of the top few hundred colleges and universities in the country, a small minority do not. FIRE has concluded that it makes little sense in our pluralistic democracy to go after private colleges that have policies making it clear that the institution places other values (for example, their religious or ideological identity) above the value of freedom of speech.

Pepperdine University is an example of a school with a very powerful statement that should serve as a warning to students that its religious identity takes priority. Pepperdine policy states, for instance, that “[i]t is expected that all students will adhere to biblical teaching regarding moral and ethical practices. Engaging in or promoting conduct or lifestyles inconsistent with biblical teaching is not permitted.” The […]

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Only a Few Examples of Censorship on Campus?

A few commenters on my latest post for The Volokh Conspiracy have been riffing on the theme that the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE, where I work) is only able to show a few examples of censorship on campus, and therefore it must not be that big of a problem.

Here’s my erudite response: hogwash.

First of all, it takes a very rare brave and/or motivated student to even bother fighting back against his or her college or university administration. Nonetheless, FIRE, which is not exactly a household name, receives about 450 requests for help every year from students or faculty members who believe their free speech or due process rights have been violated. Because of our size, we don’t actually have the capacity to handle all of the case submissions we receive. Some cases we refer to attorneys, while other cases are settled in private. The cases that we talk about publicly are only those about which we have been given permission to speak. But even with all these limitations, here’s a short list of just some of the cases we have fought over the past few years:

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The Reality of College Censorship, Part 2: Speech Codes

While the public seems to fondly believe that speech codes are a thing of the past — a bygone product of the “political correctness” movement of the 1980s and 1990s — they are alive and well on the modern college campus. As I explain in Unlearning Liberty, these days, you’re unlikely to open up a student handbook and find a section labeled “Speech Code.” Instead, these codes are woven into other policies regarding student conduct, particularly those that prohibit “harassment” and “incivility.” What hasn’t changed about these speech codes, however, is how ludicrous they often are.

In the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education‘s (FIRE’s) most recent annual report on campus speech codes, we found that nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of the 392 colleges and universities we surveyed across the country maintained speech codes that clearly fail to meet First Amendment standards (which FIRE labels as “red light” policies). See Spotlight on Speech Codes 2012: The State of Free Speech on Our Nation’s Campuses for our analysis. Moreover, even though public schools are legally required to uphold students’ First Amendment rights, these institutions were no more likely than private schools to have policies that met constitutional standards; 65 percent of both public and private universities surveyed received a “red light” rating.

This is actually an improvement from past years. In fact, the percentage of overall “red light” schools has now dropped for four straight years, from 75 percent in 2009, to 71 percent in 2010, to 67 percent in 2011, to 65 percent today. Additionally, the number of institutions that do not maintain any published policy restrictions on student free speech (which we call “green light” schools) has nearly doubled over that time, from 8 to 15. Nonetheless, the fact that such a high proportion of surveyed colleges […]

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The Reality of College Censorship, Part 1: Censorpalooza

As those of you who read my blog yesterday know, Eugene invited me to be a guest contributor to The Volokh Conspiracy this week in order to discuss some of the issues raised in my recently released book, Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate.

Yesterday, I described the negative impact that suppressing speech on campus has on our greater society. I also promised to give some shocking examples of censorship. So before we get into the legal issues that these cases raise, let’s take a moment to examine the state of free speech on campus.

Over the last decade, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE, where I work) has fought against so many acts of censorship that we decided to put together a short video that highlights some of our most egregious and bizarre cases:

The video features:

  • Hayden Barnes, a student from Valdosta State University who was expelled for peacefully protesting the proposed construction of a parking garage.
  • Keith John Sampson, a student in Indiana found guilty of racial harassment for publicly reading a book.
  • The University of Delaware, a public college that developed a program of thought reform to serve as a “treatment” for students’ incorrect attitudes and beliefs.
  • Andre Massena, a student at Binghamton University (formerly SUNY-Binghamton) who faced suspension or expulsion for challenging the Department of Social Work.
  • KC Johnson, a professor at Brooklyn College and author of a book about the Duke Lacrosse case who was threatened with a possible investigation after publicly criticizing the School of Education for what he perceived to be indoctrination and viewpoint discrimination by members of the faculty.

These cases are just a few in the long list of rights violations that FIRE has battled. Last year, FIRE began drawing attention to this […]

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Free Speech on Campus & ‘Unlearning Liberty’

Thank you to Eugene for inviting me to guest blog on The Volokh Conspiracy this week. By way of introduction, I am a First Amendment lawyer and the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), and my new book, Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate, hit the bookshelves just last week.

As some readers know, Eugene has taken a special interest in campus censorship. He has frequently highlighted FIRE’s work on this blog and was a keynote speaker at our 10th Anniversary Dinner. We have also worked together on a couple of cases, including State v. Drahota and Snyder v. Phelps.

This week, I will be writing about the reality of campus censorship, the prevalence of campus speech codes, and numerous shocking stories that show how even relatively tame and uncontroversial speech is targeted. Look for my next post to see some remarkable cases of campus censorship.

But I will also be going beyond the laundry list of horror stories and discussing the many ways in which campus censorship harms us all. As I discuss in my book, I believe that it damages our greater society in two distinct ways.

The first and most dangerous harm is that speech codes and ridiculous “free speech zones” make students far too comfortable with restrictions on their freedom of speech. In a recent case at the University of Cincinnati, for example, libertarian students were restricted to only 0.1 percent of campus when they wished to collect signatures for a ballot initiative, and were threatened with police action if they strayed outside those boundaries. Further, I argue that frankly creepy indoctrination programs like the one run out of the University of Delaware teach students that censorship of “wrong” opinions is what good and educated […]

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