Tag: Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

FIRE’s 2017 10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech

 

Unfortunately, it isn’t an easy undertaking deciding which schools belong on FIRE’s “10 worst colleges for free speech” list every year. This year was no exception.

This morning, we at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) published our annual “worst of the worst” list, which can be read with detailed descriptions of each school’s misdeeds at The Huffington Post.

FIRE Releases 2017 Speech Code Report

 

shutterstock_238626832Today my organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), released our annual “Spotlight on Speech Codes” report, a rundown of the speech policies at 449 of America’s largest and most prestigious colleges and universities. The report contains both good and bad news about the state of free speech on campus.

As the Wall Street Journal reported:

Fire’s 10th annual report surveyed speech policies at 345 four-year public colleges and 104 private schools. The good news is that the share of colleges with “red-light” speech codes that substantially bar constitutionally protected speech has declined to 39.6%, a nearly 10% drop in the last year and the lowest share since 2008. Over the last nine years the number of institutions that don’t seriously threaten speech has tripled to 27. Several colleges including the University of Wisconsin have adopted policies that affirm (at least in theory) their commitment to free speech.

FIRE Launches New Free Speech Podcast

 

So To SpeakI’m proud to announce that FIRE has launched So to Speak: The Free Speech Podcast. New episodes will be posted every other Thursday morning. The first of our bi-weekly episodes features interviews with me and with Brookings Institution Senior Fellow and Kindly Inquisitors author (as well as a personal hero of mine) Jonathan Rauch. As FIRE says over at The Torch:

In 1993, a young Rauch published Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought. It was his response to what he saw as the West’s lackluster and apologetic defense of the novelist Salman Rushdie’s free speech rights. In this inaugural episode, Rauch talks about his book and its impassioned moral (not legal!) defense of liberal inquiry and criticism. You’ll also hear the inside scoop from Greg on his and Rauch’s first meeting. (Hint: It involved comic book superheroes.)

You can listen to the episode here, and read more about the podcast over at The Torch.

Department of Justice to Universities: Title IX Requires You to Violate First Amendment

 

shutterstock_3359855The feds are once again pushing an unconstitutional definition of harassment on universities. The latest push, coming in the form of a “findings letter” issued to the University of New Mexico, is all the more concerning because it’s coming directly from the Department of Justice. Universities are forced to choose between adopting a wildly unconstitutional definition of harassment or face the possibility of losing their federal funding and the wrath of the DOJ.

As FIRE writes in our new press release:

The shockingly broad conception of sexual harassment mandated by DOJ all but guarantees that colleges and universities nationwide will subject students and faculty to months-long investigations—or worse—for protected speech. In recent years, unjust “sexual harassment” investigations into protected student and faculty speech have generated national headlines and widespread concern. Examples include:

Celebrate “Freedom Day” with a Free Speech Documentary!

 

Can-We-Take-a-JokeI am pleased to announce that the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia will be holding an advance screening of the FIRE-supported documentary Can We Take a Joke? to celebrate “Freedom Day” on April 13! Can We Take a Joke? is a documentary about the threats outrage culture poses to comedy and free speech, and features interviews with famous comedians including Adam Carolla, Gilbert Gottfried, Lisa Lampanelli, Heather McDonald, Penn Jillette, and more.

If you are from the Philadelphia area (or plan on being in Philadelphia on April 13) and would like to attend the screening, please email Haley Hudler at haley@thefire.org. To learn more about Can We Take a Joke?, visit the film’s Facebook page, follow its Twitter account, and sign up for email updates at its website. You can also check out an exclusive outtake of Penn Jillette’s interview from the film below.

And if you’re a college student, there’s still time for you to apply for free exclusive screening rights to show the documentary on your campus between April 13 and April 20! The deadline is fast approaching, however, so make sure to apply ASAP.

Dartmouth Sticks with Speech Code, Loses FIRE’s “Green Light” Rating

 

Each year FIRE rates the speech code policies of over 400 of the nation’s top colleges and universities, assigning them a colored traffic light— red, yellow, green, or gray — to rate the extent to which they protect free speech (check out the guide to our database here).

I am sad to report that after failing to heed FIRE’s warnings that its “Bias Incident Reporting” protocol impermissibly threatens free speech on campus, Dartmouth College has lost the “green light” rating it has held since 2005.

World Premiere! ‘Can We Take a Joke?’

 

can-we-take-a-jokeI am psyched to announce that Can We Take a Joke? – a FIRE-supported feature documentary about the threats outrage culture poses to comedy and free speech — will be premiering next month at DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary film festival. The world premiere will take place on Nov. 13 at NYC’s IFC Center, with an additional screening on Nov. 16.

As FIRE announced:

In Can We Take A Joke?, comedians Gilbert Gottfried, Penn Jillette, Lisa Lampanelli, Jim Norton, Adam Carolla, Heather McDonald, Karith Foster, and more come together with narrator Christina Pazsitzky to explore what happens when comedy, censorship, and outrage culture collide. […]

Support Free Speech on Campus by Endorsing the University of Chicago Statement

 

shutterstock_248056876Today, FIRE is launching a national campaign asking colleges and universities to adopt the free expression statement authored by the Committee on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago earlier this year. FIRE endorsed the statement back in January and has written hundreds of faculty members, students, and student journalists at institutions nationwide encouraging them to do the same.

This announcement comes after the Sunday Washington Post published an op-ed by FIRE’s Will Creeley and Geoffrey Stone, the current Dean of the University of Chicago Law School and one of the authors of the statement, urging universities to protect academic freedom and free speech:

Backed by a strong commitment to freedom of expression and academic freedom, faculty could challenge one another, their students and the public to consider new possibilities, without fear of reprisal. Students would no longer face punishment for exercising their right to speak out freely about the issues most important to them. Instead of learning that voicing one’s opinions invites silencing, students would be taught that spirited debate is a vital necessity for the advancement of knowledge. And they would be taught that the proper response to ideas they oppose is not censorship, but argument on the merits. That, after all, is what a university is for.

Rep. Polis: ‘Sorry I’m Not Sorry’ For Belittling Student Due Process Rights

 

Jared PolisSome of you may remember my post last week about the disturbing comments Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) made in an exchange with FIRE’s Joe Cohn during a congressional hearing on “Preventing and Responding to Sexual Assault on College Campuses.” When discussing due process rights for the accused, Polis made the shocking suggestion that college students accused of sexual assault should be expelled even if they are innocent:

“If there are 10 people who have been accused, and under a reasonable likelihood standard maybe one or two did it, it seems better to get rid of all 10 people.”

After receiving considerable media backlash, on Tuesday, Polis wrote a piece in Boulder’s Daily Camera explaining that he “misspoke” at the hearing and apologizing to his constituents for his apparent contempt for the due process rights of the accused.

Colorado Representative Says That If One Out of 10 Students May Have Committed Sexual Assault, It’s ‘Better to Get Rid of All Ten People’ Just In Case

 

o-JARED-POLIS-facebook-620x400Yesterday FIRE’s Legislative and Policy Director, Joe Cohn, testified before the House Education and Workforce Committee’s Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training during its hearing on “Preventing and Responding to Sexual Assault on College Campuses.” When delivering his testimony, Joe elaborated on the importance of preserving the due process rights of accused students during investigations of campus sexual assault. But one moment from the hearing stood out in particular.

As you can see from the video below, Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) suggested that the “preponderance of the evidence” standard — which requires only that fact-finders be 50.01 percent certain in order to find an accused student guilty — may be too high of a bar for campus sexual assault cases:

“It certainly seems reasonable that a school for its own purposes might want to use a preponderance of evidence standard, or even a lower standard. Perhaps a likelihood standard. I mean, we’re talking about a private institution, and if I was running one I might say, well, you know, even if there is only a 20 or 30 percent chance that it happened, I would want to remove this individual.”[Emphasis added.]

Setting The New Yorker Straight on Freedom of Speech

 

free-speech-flagEarlier this month, The New Yorker ran an article by Kelefa Sanneh called, “The Hell You Say,” which purports to examine “the current free-speech debate.” Unfortunately, the article is chock full of inaccuracies and flawed arguments. We simply could not let this slide, so I, along with other staff members at FIRE, have carefully compiled A Dozen Things ‘The New Yorker’ Gets Wrong about Free Speech (And Why It Matters). Why is criticizing this one magazine article important, you might ask? As I say in our rebuttal:

First of all, in a time when people seem increasingly comfortable with book banning, blasphemy laws, hate speech laws, and amending the Constitution to limit the First Amendment, it’s important to take every opportunity we can to correct common misconceptions and explain some of the basics of the deep and profound philosophy behind free speech and the wisdom inherent in First Amendment law. Second, it’s important to take on the growing tide of critics, including authors and even journalists, who rely on freedom of speech but want to dismiss it as something unsophisticated or even dangerous. Whether from Eric Posner, Gary Trudeau, or Noah Feldman, there is a push to dismiss freedom of speech that seems to lionize the fact that other countries limit it. Every single one of these critics should sit down and read Flemming Rose’s book on international censorship, The Tyranny of Silence, before assuming that “enlightened censorship” is either justified or working out well for anyone.

There are ten more things the intrepid staff of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education believes The New Yorker got wrong about free speech. Here’s the first:

How Campus Censorship Culture Could Be Causing Students Psychological Harm

 

pic_giant_040615_SM_Safe-Space-DTI’m excited to announce that The Atlantic just published my feature article, The Coddling of the American Mind, which I co-wrote with best-selling author and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. Haidt and I examine some of the behaviors we’ve observed on the modern college campus and the way they illustrate a new campus movement that goes beyond the PC movement of the 1980s and ‘90s. We write:

The current movement is largely about emotional well-being. More than the last, it presumes an extraordinary fragility of the collegiate psyche, and therefore elevates the goal of protecting students from psychological harm. The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into “safe spaces” where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable. And more than the last, this movement seeks to punish anyone who interferes with that aim, even accidentally. You might call this impulse vindictive protectiveness. It is creating a culture in which everyone must think twice before speaking up, lest they face charges of insensitivity, aggression, or worse.

Examining vindictive protectiveness through a psychological lens, Haidt and I ask whether this new movement, created to help students, is actually hurting them:

How to End Abuses of Free Speech on Campus

 

HaydenBarnesFIREI am happy to announce that today marks the official end of an eight-year legal saga, as well as a big victory for freedom of speech on campus.

Valdosta State University (VSU) has agreed to pay $900,000 to finally settle the case of Hayden Barnes, a student who was expelled from VSU back in 2007 after posting a collage on Facebook protesting the construction of a campus parking garage (I open my 2012 book Unlearning Liberty with his case).

As I write over at The Huffington Post, one of the most interesting things about the Hayden Barnes case is that the district court found that former VSU president Ronald Zaccari could not take advantage of a defense known as “qualified immunity,” and was therefore personally liable for violating Hayden’s constitutional rights.

Standing Up for Global Academic Freedom

 

Next week, I head off to the United Kingdom to talk about global threats to free speech and academic freedom. As the Index on Censorship describes in its latest issue, there are many threats to academic freedom and free speech worldwide. However, as I write in my newest piece at The Huffington Post, it’s important to remember that these freedoms are also in trouble here at home in the United States.

College and university administrators are punishing professors’ freedom of expression left and right, even when it’s off-campus speech on their personal blogs or social media accounts. For instance, my organization, FIRE, has been closely following one major ongoing case at Marquette University, where a professor is facing termination for publicly criticizing a graduate student instructor who told a student not to oppose same-sex marriage in a philosophy class discussion.

Rushing to Judgment in the Duke Lacrosse Case: An Important Reminder

 

A little more than a year ago, FIRE released a short documentary about the lessons of the Duke Lacrosse case, which is a badly needed and powerful reminder of the danger of rushing to judgment in sexual assault cases. I think every student in the country should watch it (and also read FIRE’s Guide to Due Process and Campus Justice) before heading off to college.The video features the inimitable KC Johnson, author of the heavily researched account of the due process debacle, Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustice of the Duke Lacrosse Case. Check it out below and please share the video.

Big, New Feature Documentary Asks: “Can We Take A Joke?”

 

i-Co2a06Way back when I was promoting my first book, Unlearning Liberty, I did a podcast at the Comedy Cellar in which the most liberal member of the panel of comedians I was talking to said that he didn’t like playing campuses anymore. Really, given the kind of things that can get you in trouble on the modern college campus, I was not surprised. Satire and parody are risky business in higher education and have been throughout my entire career at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

A few years ago FIRE started working with director Ted Balaker on a small video about the censorship of comedy on campus. Now, with the help of the DKT Liberty Project, Ted is completing a new major feature documentary titled Can We Take a Joke? The documentary already features interviews with Adam Carolla, Gilbert Gottfried, Penn Jillette, Jim Norton, Lisa Lampanelli, Heather McDonald, Karith Foster, me, Jon Ronson, Chris Lee, Ron Collins, Bob Corn-Revere, and Jonathan Rauch.

The timing is perfect. The year kicked off with comedian Chris Rock saying that he did not like playing campuses anymore, and that comedy legend George Carlin didn’t like to either. Now, with Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher condemning the oversensitivity and humorlessness of college students, the world seems ready to make a stand for comedy. The through-line of the film follows the life and career of famous iconoclastic comedian Lenny Bruce, making the argument that Lenny Bruce would not stand a minute on the modern college campus. The film also features a few important FIRE cases in which censorship tried to crush satire, parody, and comedy on campus — sometimes successfully.

The Wrong Kind of Renaissance: A New Age of Campus Censorship

 

shutterstock_141582367When I published my first book, Unlearning Liberty, in 2012, I felt optimistic that the situation for free speech on campus, though not good by any means, was improving. A lot of the campus censorship efforts had become less ideological and more of the old-fashioned, “Don’t you dare criticize my university” type of censorship. Even the scourge of campus speech codes seemed to be eroding—albeit very slowly in the face of Herculean efforts.

Still, I knew from experience that things could turn around—and, sadly, turn around they have. In the last two years, the intense political correctness of the late 1980s and early ’90s has returned with a vengeance, and we are now experiencing the wrong kind of renaissance.

Yesterday, I examined the contributing forces to this “renaissance” in my latest essay on Minding the Campus. As I write in the piece:

Are College Campuses to Blame for the Explosion of Social Media Outrage?

 

I just finished reading Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed which has been getting a ton of press ever since it came out in March. All throughout the book I couldn’t help but see the correlation between the modern social media outrage machine and what colleges seem to be teaching their students.

I posted a review of Ronson’s book over at The Huffington Post, but I wanted to share a snippet of it with my fellow Ricochet readers to see what you think:

Ithaca College Student Government Considers Anonymous ‘Microaggression’ Tracking System

 

prevent-snoring-tape-mouthThere is a chilling resolution that is currently under consideration by the Student Government Association (SGA) at Ithaca College, a private university in upstate New York. The resolution, which has the support of many SGA members, seeks to target so-called “microaggressions” on Ithaca’s campus by creating a tracking system that students can use to anonymously report incidents of perceived bias on campus.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, a microaggression is a slight against another person—intentional or not—that is perceived to be discriminatory based on the snubbed person’s race, ethnicity, gender, class, or practically any other characteristic that one might think of. Princeton University students have called microaggressions “papercuts of oppression.”

For my latest op-ed at The Huffington Post, I tackle this resolution because I see it as part of a broader trend on campus to create what I’ve called “a war on candor.” As I write in the piece: