“My comments are based on personal experiences I had while working at a college that received a red rating from FIRE. The school's policies were narrowly tailored and geared toward preventing a small category of behavior that detracted from the college's mission and goals of providing a place where people could feel safe and could engage in learning and intelligent discourse. I personally thought the language was clear as to what was covered and that they were not to be used for suppression of particular opinions or viewpoints. I know that the people who drafted the policies were mindful of potential chilling effects and specifically worded the policies so as not to prohibit legitimate expression. The few times they were used while I was there were in response to events that I think most people would agree were deserving of action and were undertaken with appropriate due process.
When I became aware of FIRE's rating, I personally tried to contact someone to discuss the matter. I wanted to understand the nature of the objections and see what we could do to alleviate the concerns. I received no response. Nobody else at the college had even known about the rating because no person from FIRE had ever reached out to the college. If this was an anomaly or the situation has changed, so much the better. I can only go on what I personally experienced.”
Samantha Harris on Sep 5, 2012 at 20:46:09
“I'm sorry to hear that you tried to contact us and didn't hear back. I can assure you it was unintentional, as we are always eager to correspond with administrators about reforming speech policies. If you still have contacts at the institution, please encourage them to get in touch with us again.”
“I'm a strong believer in freedom of speech, but there are no absolutes in the real world. What is wrong with a college saying they want to accept and keep students who will avoid harassing other students? Why is it so hard to understand that maintaining an environment that supports and encourages free and open expression might actually benefit from limited restrictions on some fictional, absolute right of free speech?”
“Although I agree wholeheartedly with the stated mission of FIRE, their conception of censorship on campus is overly restrictive. They seem to adopt an extreme libertarian view whereby anything deemed a limitation of speech is unacceptable and unconstitutional censorship. There is no recognition that colleges are among the most open and unrestricted places when it comes to speech and discourse in part because there are community norms of civility that have to be respected. I've worked and studied at colleges that have received a red rating from FIRE and there is a clear disjunction between that designation and my experiences at those places. I've wondered if there is some ideological motivation behind the organization, part of the whole demonizing of academia as leftist indoctrination. That's just speculation, though.
As a side matter, ironically, FIRE's campus ratings are not open to discussion and should a college find themselves on the wrong end of their critical eye, there is no procedure for appeal or explanation. I guess openness is only for others.”
Samantha Harris on Sep 5, 2012 at 16:23:02
“A few points here. First, our rating system is indeed based on the extent to which a school's *written* policies restrict speech, not on how they are enforced on campus. This is consistent with how courts analyze university speech codes: courts have repeatedly struck down speech codes as "facially" unconstitutional (meaning the unconstitutionality lies in the written policy, not in how it is applied), and for good reason—policies prohibiting protected expression have a "chilling effect" on free speech, wherein students reading the policy will simply refrain from legitimate expression because they fear punishment. Moreover, so long as a policy allowing punishment for protected speech exists, students' rights exist at the whim of the current administration.
Second, there is absolutely no "ideological motivation" behind our ratings. FIRE is proudly nonpartisan, and our staff is the most politically diverse group of people you'll ever have occasion to meet, with pretty much our only point of agreement being the essentiality of the right to free speech.
Finally, your statement that our ratings are not "open to discussion" is false. I and other members of FIRE's staff correspond almost daily with students and administrators about why their school has received a particular rating. In fact, many of the schools on this list earned their "green lights" as a result of extremely productive collaborations between FIRE and university administrators. If you have questions about why a particular school has received the rating it has, we would be happy to answer.”
Charles Martel 732 on Sep 5, 2012 at 15:45:04
“Sorry, Jerzel, the floating abstraction of "civility" doesn't get to trump freedom of speech.”