Tag Archives | Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

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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