Academia

FIRE Illuminates Restrictions on Campus Free Expression

|

The Foundation for Individual Right in Education (FIRE) has rounded up its institutional victories for free speech on campus for the year. Some highlights, from its press release:

Probably obligatory: yes, a private university should be legally able to do what it wishes; but it's better if they honor the right of free expression to its employees and students, and FIRE's general reliance on education and pressure to make them change policies is a noble thing.

NEXT: Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Decides to Keep it Gay

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Sorry, but I have nil respect for FIRE. When conservative schools like Liberty or BYU supress speech they look the other way bigtime. In fact, Kors is a well known celebrant of religious colleges that restrict speech and push dogmatic indoctrination. Hypocrites.

  2. Ken, you’re spot on. FIRE is just a cover group for the likes of David Horowitz and other neocon bigots. FIRE is a disgrace and should be shut down.

  3. So when will they sue Harvard to put the ashtrays back where they belong in the Faculty Club ?

  4. They certainly seem to be a conservatives-only club with a selective eye for injustice. But is there really a shortage of comparable groups banging the gong for embattled liberals in conservative environs? Couldn’t it also be argued that FIRE’s campaigns are only calling liberals on their hypocrisy? After all, Falwell doesn’t pretend to be in favor of free speech.

    Hypocrisy aside, there is plenty of injustice, petty and otherwise, to go around. I’ll applaud the Foundation for Artistic Rights in Tacoma if they call organizations on their hypocrisy and their willfully ignorant inequities.

    That said, I don’t think that FIRE is being up front about being a conservative rights organization, and that stinks of dishonesty that’s hard to reconcile.

  5. Sorry, but I have nil respect for FIRE. When conservative schools like Liberty or BYU supress speech they look the other way bigtime. In fact, Kors is a well known celebrant of religious colleges that restrict speech and push dogmatic indoctrination. Hypocrites.

    Man, the nerve of those religions who want to run their colleges and universities according to the dictates of their conscience.

    Once again, this confirms a depressing fact about many Reason H&R commenters: They’d happily jettison the First Amendment if it allowed them to stick it to religious conservatives.

  6. The Captain is a moron. He’s obviously very happy slamming liberals while giving religious conservatives a pass. Coercion and bullying are wrong, regardless of side.

    What a doofus.

    (a filtered doofus!)

  7. The Captain is a moron. He’s obviously very happy slamming liberals while giving religious conservatives a pass. Coercion and bullying are wrong, regardless of side.

    I realize Le Grand is not going answer this, so I’ll make it an open question:

    And how are conservatives “coercing and bullying” people who work at their own institutions? Don’t religious groups have a right to set their own standards? Don’t they have a right to run their universities as they see fit?

    Or would you require that the government approve and manage private religious universities?

    You know, there was a time when most libertarian-minded people would have automatically recoiled from the idea of the FedGov interfering with religious institutions. Apparently, that time has passed.

  8. Captain Holly,

    for me, and speaking just for me, it all depends on whether or not they receive public money in any form – which many private schools do.

  9. for me, and speaking just for me, it all depends on whether or not they receive public money in any form – which many private schools do.

    The question would then be what constitutes “public money in any form”.

    If a private university directly receives state subsidies, then I’d be willing to consider that a state university.

    If, however, the “public money” is in the form of loans to students, then I would consider that to be overreaching by the government.

  10. Probably obligatory: yes, a private university should be legally able to do what it wishes; but it’s better if they honor the right of free expression to its employees and students, and FIRE’s general reliance on education and pressure to make them change policies is a noble thing.

    Of the three assertions above, I agree entirely with the first, question the second and disagree with the third.

    Does FIRE aim almost exclusively at leftist interference with campus freedom of expression? Sure. So what? But insofar as any of those schools are indeed private, what business is it of theirs to press even a noble cause when there is no unconstitutional state action involved?

  11. the religious collleges that FIRE does not slam are those that make CLEAR in their admission programs and statements of purpose that they have a clear, limited mission, etc.

    many of the “liberal” universities (the private ones) say that they are dedicated to free speech, etc.

    iow, it’s a matter of false advertising, etc.

    if one chooses a college where one KNOWS that numerous behaviors are prohibited, then that’s the marketplace at work

    if one applies to stanford, etc. which purports to be a place of “free inquiry” and debate, and then gets disciplined for an “affirmative action bake sale” or the like, then FIRE takes up the case

    also, many of these religious universities do NOT take federal money. many of the “so called” liberal universities do

    recall the case at Boston U (or was it boston college) years back where Mary Daly refused to admit men into some of her women’s studies classes

    iirc, the school she worked for accepted federal largesse, and thus her blatant gender discrimination wouldn’t fly

  12. Whit makes a distinction I should have made: I’m talking primarily about federal interference in openly religious institutions like BYU; universities where religion is an integral part of their mission. But there are many private institutions that would not fit that same definition (like Stanford). So we need to be more specific.

    But then, Harvard and Yale both started out as religious colleges…

  13. Captain Holly,

    no, i wouldn’t count student loans either. i view that as more of a benefit to the studen than the school – which is ultimately paid back with the student’s own money anyway.

    i can’t think of many other exceptions though.

  14. imo, student loans are like vouchers – paid for the student, not the school.

    many so called “liberal” voucher opponents claim that vouchers violate the “seperation of church and state” but the issue of whether the money goes to a religious school is irrelevant since it’s the parents choice, thus the STATE is not choosing to sponsor religion

    if BYU is going to accept federal monies, then they are going to have to abide by various federal standards, regardless of whether they are private or not

    i feel the same way about the whole military recruiters on college campus thang

    if the school accepts any federal money, they don’t have the choice to ban recruiters

  15. I’ve long heard this canard from FIRE, that they are not against religious colleges that have amazingly stringent restrictions on free speech because they are upfront about it. So at BEST, this makes them not champions of free speech (if they were then why would they not try to persuade conservative religious colleges to have more of it in their institutions, hmmmm?) but opponents of hypocrisy. So since THEY call themselves Foundation for Individual rights in Education (FIRE) it is also THEY who do the false adverstising: they don’t give a whit about the individual rights of students or teachers at these colleges who have their speech suppressed.
    Let me head off a common comment on this: that these institutions (religious colleges) are collected together to propogate dogma so its fine and dandy or allowable for this to occur. Firstly, the founder of FIRE, Charles Kor, not only thinks this a regrettable but permissible thing, he LOVES religious colleges that have strict religious codes on speech (I can provide cites with articles by him). But lets say its regrettable but permissible. This is easy to do, since I hope everyone agrees that if a bunch of nits want to get together and indoctrinate themselves then no one should STOP them; BUT of course freedom loving people are not required to AGREE with them, or NOT CRITICIZE them for doing this. In fact we are morally compelled to do so. And FIRE does not do so…IF FIRE cared about “individual rights” in education then when a professor who has worked at a religious college for twenty years, through his hard work and research, decides that he, for example, can no longer publish or teach that creationism or some such nonsense is true, then should he be shown the door? I say no, such a policy is, frankly, foolish. Why can’t FIRE say the same, and as loudly as they decry ‘hypocrisy’ at Columbia?

  16. Why can’t FIRE say the same, and as loudly as they decry ‘hypocrisy’ at Columbia?

    Because it’s not part of their mission to do so?

  17. ken, if I (lord forbid) chose to attend jerry falwell’s university, i will know DAMN well that I am giving up various liberties to attend, and that includes the right to make anti-religious statements, the right to cohabitate before marriage, etc.

    that’s a CHOICE. same as if i choose to join a church in the first place. i have to understand that if i don’t abide by their code of conduct, i get kicked out

    now, as to PUBLIC universities, they are going way overboard, if they try to limit free speech, free association, etc.

    as to PRIVATE universities – IF they receive federal monies (*does falwell’s college?), then it’s a whole other ball of wax.

    furthermore, if i attend a university i am buying a product, and if the university CLAIMS to support my right to free speech on campus, etc. and then violates it by disciplining me, I (and FIRE) have a case.

    if stanford wants to give up all federal money AND freely state (we are a liberal university and we don’t accept any speech we don’t like. if u criticize abortion, affirmative action, or any other of our pet theories/causes in our happy utopian campus environment, you canbe disciplined), then i don’t FIRE would have a case

    do you see the distinction?

  18. Can you imagine what would happen if the DailyKos posted something on what the IJ had accomplished this year? Pandemonium.

    Anyway, they pick their battles. What are they supposed to do? fight everyone’s fights?

  19. I see everyone’s point, but here is mine: if FIRE thinks freedom of expression is a good thing then why don’t they urge conservative religious colleges to abandon their ways? They do more than just legal action, which I admit is probably limited to false claims and public schools. The should do the same when it comes to conservative religious colleges. For example, the AAUP recently censored VA State University for its horrendous treatment of a Republican professor. They tilt left but they stick to their principles. I don’t think FIRE has such principles. As I said their founder heaps much praise on religious colleges that restrict speech; his argument I guess is that everyone there is there by choice. That’s true in only the most technical of ways; if a professor who has been there for decades through his research comes to a conclusion that upsets the dogma there, and they kick him out, I think they did wrong. They certainly have the RIGHT to kick him out, but I have the right to point and say “That was wrong what you did.” I would and do, because I think free speech is to be promoted. Does FIRE? Or do they just like catching people who say they are for free speech when they do not carry out their principles but fine with the squelching of speech if eveyone is up front about it?

  20. Anyway, they pick their battles. What are they supposed to do? fight everyone’s fights? – mk

    Exactly. To answer Ken, the private, Catholic college I attended was censured by the AAUP when they tried to fire a tenured professor who was quitting the priesthood. The U’s claim that, since he was hired as a priest, his tenure depended on his staying one didn’t cut any ice with his union. Eventually there was a settlement, and the school kept him on. Notice how there wasn’t any agent of the state involved. The AAUP takes a trade-union approach to dealing with academic freedom that goes considerably beyond the boundaries of the First Amendment. They don’t think much of the claims of religiously-based institutions that the authority of a Church over those who purport to teach its theology should be superior to their interpretation of the secular doctrine of academic freedom.

    I think FIRE is on its strongest ground when criticizing state schools, then state-funded programs at private schools, and on its weakest reed when complaining about privately-funded programs at private schools. If they don’t rush to the defense of pinkolefty faculty and students, it isn’t like those will lack help from the ACLU, AAUP or other organizations with a more traditionally left-wing outlook.

    Kevin

  21. These collages and universities have become places of tyrany and evil its time to drive out the red dirt

  22. Most people here would be more interested in voting for libertarian candidates if they didn’t range from oddball to crazy to out and out idiots.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.