The University of Cincinnati maintains a shockingly restrictive free speech zone comprising just 0.1% of the school's 137-acre campus. The policy, which was named FIRE's Speech Code of the Month back in December of 2007, quarantines "demonstrations, pickets, and rallies" to a tiny portion of campus, requires students to request permission to use the zone a full ten working days in advance, and threatens students with criminal prosecution for violations, warning that "[a]nyone violating this policy may be charged with trespassing."
Because this public university isn't shy about enforcing its misguided and illiberal policy, it now faces a federal civil rights lawsuit. Last month, a political student group seeking to collect signatures from students across campus in support of a ballot initiative filed a First
Amendment challenge against the free speech zone after being told by administrators that they were not even "permitted to walk around." The administration added, "if we are informed that you are, Public Safety will be contacted." Threatening to call the cops on civic-minded students who want to talk to their peers about politics sure seems indefensible, and now the University of Cincinnati has to answer for its policy in federal court.
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Topping the list last year for threatening to expel a law student for harassment due to his role in a satirical blog about life in law school, Syracuse University makes the list again for an even worse case. This past year, Syracuse's School of Education effectively expelled an education student who complained on his own Facebook page about a comment that he thought was racially insulting. Matt Werenczak was required to undergo counseling and diversity training just to earn a chance of readmission. Just hours after FIRE took Matt's case public, Syracuse backed down but called its free speech violations "standard" and blamed them on the rules of its accreditor, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).
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In December 2010, tenured criminal law professor Lawrence J. Connell was banned from Widener's Delaware campus and charged with numerous violations of the university's Faculty Member Discrimination and Harassment Code. His crimes? Aside from allegedly using the term "black folks" (a choice of words that even President Obama uses), his real "offense" seemed to be his use of the name of Dean Linda Ammons in hypothetical classroom crime scenarios (a common practice in law schools). When a faculty panel recommended that this nonsense be dropped, Dean Ammons allegedly induced two law students to refile harassment charges against Connell, and added a new charge of "retaliation" for defending himself. Connell was cleared of all charges of harassment and discrimination, but found responsible for retaliation because he had explained his situation to his students!
Instead of restoring sanity here, Widener University President James T. Harris accepted Ammons' recommendation that Connell be suspended for one year without pay and be forced to undergo a psychiatric or psychological evaluation before returning to Widener. Connell sued, and the case was ultimately settled out of court.
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Last fall, Harvard pressured all freshmen to sign a morality pledge promising that they would exercise "civility" and "kindness ... on a par with intellectual attainment" (a nice-sounding policy with terrible implications for academic freedom, which I explained here). Under pressure, Harvard decided not to publish the names of those who signed it, but still posted the pledges in every residence hall. When it came time for the annual Harvard-Yale football game, Harvard's licensing office prohibited Yale's freshman class from using the names of famous Harvard dropouts Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg on game-day T-shirts.
Then in December, Harvard's Arts & Sciences faculty effectively fired a longtime professor because he had published a controversial op-ed in India about ways of combating Islamic terrorism. All of this is just the tip of the iceberg.
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Talk about a chilling effect on speech, Yale has made its community downright frigid. We criticized Yale last year for censoring a book with cartoon images of Mohammed in an academic book about those very cartoons, and for quashing its Freshman Class Council's T-shirt for the annual Harvard-Yale football match because the shirts quoted F. Scott Fitzgerald referring to Harvard students as "sissies." Yale has kept busy since then. It censored the freshman class again, absurdly refusing to approve this year's tees unless Harvard approved them, too (see Harvard's entry). Under pressure from the federal government, Yale also suspended a fraternity for five years after the pledges' satirical, juvenile, and intentionally offensive outdoor chants about sex were deemed to be "imperiling the integrity and values of the University community." Yale raised eyebrows when it gave academic justifications for closing down the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism not long after the center came under criticism for holding a conference ... about antisemitism. And after a committee recommended ending Yale's annual Sex Week, the university forced the organizers to change the content of their festivities or else have no Sex Week at all.
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St. Augustine's College in Raleigh, North Carolina, earned its place on this list by banning student Roman Caple from participating in its spring 2011 graduation ceremonies merely for advising his fellow students on Facebook to come prepared for a contentious meeting about the school's recovery from a destructive tornado. For this civic-minded expression,
which the college laughably twisted into a "negative social media exchange," St. Augustine's deemed Caple to be "attempt[ing] to create chaos" and "fuel[ing] an already tense situation." It seems there were some thin skins among the St. Augustine's administration.
Instead of commending Caple for encouraging his peers to provide documentation to support their arguments, St. Augustine's forbade him to walk at graduation or participate in other official activities, forced him to receive his cap and gown from a security officer,
and later extended his punishment to exclusion from the following fall's Homecoming celebration. Caple, a first-generation college graduate whose family members had already made travel arrangements to attend his graduation, sued his alma mater for the violation of its free speech promises, reaching a settlement agreement that was satisfactory to him.
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Michigan State University remains on our list this year in light of its ongoing prohibition on "spamming," which it defines as emailing more than 10 people the same unsolicited email within 48 hours. MSU noted in January that "MSU IT resources have a finite capacity" which apparently cannot handle 11 unexpected emails over two days.
An earlier anti-"spam" policy was central to the school's punishment of student Kara Spencer for sending an email to about 8% of the faculty regarding an imminent decision to change the school's academic calendar. As a student government representative and member of the University Committee on Student Affairs (UCSA), Spencer deserved praise for alerting faculty members to the letter that MSU students, faculty, and administrators had written in response to the proposed change. MSU didn't back down until 13 civil liberties organizations put public pressure on MSU. But then MSU made its anti-"spam" policy absurdly worse.
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Colorado College remains on our list for refusing to back down from finding two students guilty of "violence" for the "juxtaposition of weaponry and sexuality" when they posted satirical flyers on campus. Back in 2008, two male students using the pseudonym "Coalition of Some Dudes" created a flyer, "The Monthly Bag," that parodied "The Monthly Rag," a flyer produced by the Feminist and Gender Studies Interns. Classic case of meeting speech with more speech in the marketplace of ideas, right?
Not at Colorado College, where the students were charged due to the flyer's references to guy stuff such as chainsaws (in a piece on "chainsaw etiquette") and rifles (using a fact about the range of a sniper rifle). Any reasonable person reading the flyer would have seen that it was pure protected speech, humor, and commentary, but despite pressure from FIRE and others, Colorado College to this day refuses to reverse its finding against the two students.
In addition, the college was a recipient of FIRE's "Speech Code of the Month" designation in November 2011 due to a policy banning speech that "produces ridicule" or "embarrassment." If anything is an embarrassment at Colorado College, it's the school's attitude, in both policy and practice, toward free speech.
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For five years, Johns Hopkins University has been forcing students to live by a neo-Victorian "civility" policy prohibiting "rude, disrespectful behavior." Then-president William R. Brody announced that uncivil, "tasteless," and insufficiently "serious" speech would not be tolerated, invoking the specter of "death and destruction" if people disrespect one another.
Early in 2006, Hopkins had turned a blind eye to freedom of the press, investigating campus conservative newspaper The Carrollton Record for "harassment" but choosing not to investigate when 600 copies of the paper were stolen in violation of the paper's rights. Just months later, Hopkins punished a student for posting "offensive" party invitations on Facebook, charging him for "failing to respect the rights of others" and impairing the university's "reputation in the community." For punishment, Hopkins suspended the student for one year and required him to complete 300 hours of community service, read 12 books and write a paper on each, and attend an approved workshop on diversity and race relations--all for simply posting invitations on Facebook.
After FIRE mounted a publicity campaign, Hopkins eventually reduced the sanctions but never reversed the charge. In fact, JHU moved even further away from free speech principles when it enacted the civility policy. And according to the 2011 book The Fall of the Faculty, Hopkins even began interfering with faculty speech.
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Sadly, Tufts University has yet to undo the violation of its promise that it is "committed to free and open discussion of ideas and opinions." During the 2006-2007 school year the campus conservative journal, The Primary Source, published two satirical pieces: a Christmas carol mocking affirmative action policies and an "itinerary" for Tufts' "Islamic Awareness Week" that printed facts about Islam and called the religion "intolerant." Rather than taking the opportunity to enter debate of such important issues, Tufts charged the paper for having "targeted" black students and Muslims for "embarrassment" and found the publication guilty of harassment. Tufts then refused to allow The Primary Source to print anonymous articles in the future and announced that funding for student groups should take into account the "behavior" of the organization.
Under pressure from FIRE, Tufts eventually overturned these punishments but has yet to drop the harassment findings, and in fact passed a new restrictive policy. Tufts has had similar problems respecting free speech dating back at least to 1989. Now that Tufts has a new president, here's to hoping Tufts does not make the list next year!
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Bucknell University in Pennsylvania made news (in the bad way) when it banned students from holding anti-affirmative action "bake sale" protests. Bucknell persists in saying that such protests are illegal even though they aren't. John Stossel held one on national television, other colleges regularly permit them, and the American Association of University Women and Feminist Majority Foundation hold similar bake sales to protest the gender wage gap. Instead of restricting such voices, Bucknell should consider encouraging students to hold alternative bake sales like students at other colleges have done.
In fact, Bucknell repeatedly censored a student group's protests and has yet to show a shred of remorse about it or an inclination to change. In 2009, three events by the Bucknell University Conservatives Club were censored in just under three months: two anti-affirmative action bake sales and a protest of President Obama's stimulus plan where the students distributed Obama "stimulus dollars" that said the plan "makes your money as worthless as monopoly money." Each of these fully documented instances of censorship violated Bucknell's promise of free expression to students, who are told in the school's student handbook that they are entitled to "the robust and wide-open pursuit of ideas and freedom of speech."
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Brandeis University declared professor Donald Hindley guilty of racial harassment and discrimination after he used the word "wetbacks" while criticizing it in his Latin American Politics course. Brandeis even assigned an administrator to monitor his classes, while never giving the veteran professor a formal hearing or even putting the allegations against him in writing. Brandeis' contempt for Hindley's rights severely alienated many among Brandeis' faculty and students, and earned Brandeis a place on FIRE's Red Alert list of the very worst colleges for free speech.
What has changed since then? Nothing substantial, it seems. The departure of President Jehuda Reinharz and Provost Marty Krauss brought hope that the new president, Frederick Lawrence, would make it clear to faculty that what happened to Hindley would never happen again. So far, though, the harassment finding remains and hangs over the heads of faculty members as a warning to watch what they teach. Brandeis represents the rare case where both students and faculty united to defend the free speech rights of a professor, but ultimately with no success. I hope that the new administration will put this incident behind it and finally expunge the harassment finding against Hindley or, at the very least, explain that no such incident would happen at Brandeis again.
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