FIRE’s Worst for Free Speech Spotlight: Modesto Junior College


As I announced in my last post, FIRE has revealed its “10 Worst for Free Speech” list. Yesterday, I brought your attention to a worrisome ongoing case at Marquette University. Today, I want to bring your attention to another case that won’t seem to end: Modesto Junior College.

Modesto Junior College (Modesto, Calif.)

With FIRE’s help, student Robert Van Tuinen sued Modesto Junior College (MJC) for violating his First Amendment rights when he was stopped from distributing copies of the Constitution–on Constitution Day. Last March, MJC settled the case for $50,000 and agreed to abolish MJC’s “free speech zone.” But MJC apparently hasn’t learned its lesson. Not only did MJC Chancellor Joan Smith publish an op-ed after the settlement with the unbelievable assertion that MJC did not prevent Van Tuinen from handing out Constitutions, it has also gone after Van Tuinen’s supporters. William Holly, a professor who publicly stood up for Van Tuinen, has paid a high price for his integrity. For the first time in his career, he received a critical evaluation and has been forbidden from developing material for his classes, except for articles that have appeared in a peer-reviewed journal–a requirement that the American Association of University Professors has called “novel and strange.” Most recently, MJC informed Holly that he will no longer be able to teach ethics, as he has done for years. Holly is not alone. Leslie Beggs, an English instructor, had a job offer temporarily withdrawn when the Dean was forbidden from hiring her because of her “scathing” op-ed supporting Van Tuinen in the fall of 2013. Retaliation against professors for exercising their First Amendment rights is ugly, vindictive, and likely illegal, and it makes MJC an easy choice for FIRE’s “Worst” list.

For more about the Modesto saga, check out this video:

Take a few minutes to watch the video, and you’ll see why Modesto made it on to the list despite the fact their lawsuit was settled last year. We have been happy to settle with universities, like the University of Hawaii at Hilo, when they rescind their unconstitutional codes and try to make right with the students, but Modesto’s behavior towards professors is chilling.

So far, four out of the seven schools that are part of FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project have already settled in favor of students’ free speech rights, while each of the remaining four suits is ongoing. The schools that have settled include the University of Hawaii at Hilo, Citrus College, and, begrudgingly, Modesto Junior College with the outstanding lawsuits being Ohio University, Iowa State University, Chicago State University, and Western Michigan University.

If schools like Modesto didn’t already have an incentive to improve their speech codes, they do now. And stay tuned for my last piece in this short series, tomorrow!

There are 5 comments.

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  1. Ricochet Member

    Keep the FIRE going, good work.

    • #1
  2. Ricochet Inactive

    I encourage all to watch this video – not only because I am a producer on and narrated the piece – but because it should inspire all of you to donate to FIRE!

    • #2
  3. Pony Convertible Inactive
    Pony Convertible

    Folks, when you get those calls from the Alumni Association tell them why you no longer choose to donate.   That is the only way to get their attention.  Most Universities violate free speech laws and discriminate based on race or gender (affirmative action).  Let them know it is unacceptable.

    • #3
  4. Zoon Politikon Member
    Zoon Politikon

    I highly recommend everyone read Greg’s book “Unlearning Liberty” as well. The state of civil liberties on campuses is shockingly bad, given that universities have the tacit social mandate to prepare the next generation of citizens.

    I posted in the member feed earlier today about a debate that Greg was involved in with Intelligence Squared.  Going in to the debate, only 33% of the audience felt that liberals are stifling intellectual diversity on campus.  Following the debate, the vote shifted to 59% in agreement.

    You can listen to that debate here.

    • #4
  5. Greg Lukianoff Contributor
    Greg Lukianoff

    Thanks everybody, and yes, please watch Matt’s GREAT video and know that if you buy Unlearning Liberty all author royalties go to FIRE!

    • #5

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