Latest News and Commentary: National

September 22, 2021
By Adam Steinbaugh
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Excerpt: A public high school in Hudson, Ohio, has managed a remarkable feat: censoring a college course and — thanks to a mayor’s grandstanding and false claims that a book of writing prompts is “child pornography” — leading police and prosecutors to investigate the class. Today, a coalition of civil liberties organizations led by FIRE is sending a letter to the high school and local law enforcement explaining that the high school’s administration is violating the First Amendment and state law.

High school seniors at one Cleveland-area school, Hudson High, can take an introductory college writing class offered by Hiram College, a local private college. The textbook for the course — “642 Things to Write About” — is a collection of hundreds of writing prompts. When a parent of a Hiram High senior flipped through the book, she was shocked to learn that some of the prompts involve risqué material — none of them, it turns out, were actually used in the class.

September 22, 2021
By Frederick Hess
Forbes

Excerpt: If your local library was sponsoring book burnings, you’d have some issues that would need to be addressed before you got around to boosting the budget. If your local sanitation workers were dumping trash into your driveway instead of picking it up, discussions of new funding would have to wait. Yet, even as college campuses across the land evince a growing hostility to free thought, the Biden administration and a Democratic Congress are racing to shovel untold billions of new dollars into higher education—without even pausing to acknowledge the problem.

And the problem is profound. If higher education has a Hippocratic Oath, a counterpart to medicine’s “Do no harm,” it’s “Don’t stifle the exchange of ideas.” After all, that’s what colleges and universities are for—to be places where knowledge is acquired, shared, and stored. The fundamental purpose of higher education is compromised if campus leaders cease to embrace that mission.

 

September 22, 2021
By Teresa Manning
New York Post

Excerpt: This summer, Rep. Greg Murphy (R-NC) introduced the Campus Free Speech Restoration Act, designed to enhance free expression in American universities. Murphy’s bill defines “expressive activities” to include peaceful assembly, speaking and listening, and protects them from “improperly restrictive” institutional incursions, such as speech codes, bias response teams and “free speech zones.”

However, no constitutional provision is self-enforcing. To give it effect, an injured party must sue a school. But after filing suit, that party often endures years of “lawfare” that public universities greet with a yawn. Individual lawsuits against universities are simply pebbles thrown against the citadel. Murphy’s bill addresses this problem with two innovations. First, it authorizes the Department of Education to condition Title IV federal funding on First Amendment compliance at public schools. Second, the bill creates a new position in the Department of Education to oversee the status of free speech on campus and to enforce the First Amendment.

September 22, 2021
By Will Creeley
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Excerpt: Common sense tells us that when it comes to rules, there’s a big difference between the grade school playground and the public university campus. Conduct codes appropriate for high school freshmen — let alone fifth graders — might not fly for college freshmen. So why should courts impose speech standards designed for grade schoolers on public college students? Well, they shouldn’t, as FIRE argued in an amicus curiae brief filed with the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit last week.

In a lawsuit filed this February, Speech First challenged the University of Central Florida’s (UCF) discriminatory harassment policy, computer policy, and bias response team. In its July order, the district court correctly issued a preliminary injunction preventing UCF from enforcing its wildly unconstitutional computer policy, which broadly barred students from sending “harassing or hate messages.” But the district court’s analysis of UCF’s harassment policy then veered sharply off course.

 

September 21, 2021
By Jeff Zeman
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Excerpt: In June, the Supreme Court explained in Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L. that courts should be skeptical when public grade schools attempt to regulate off-campus speech, lest school administrators control “all the speech a student utters during the full 24-hour day.”

The Court’s ruling has direct implications for another pending case involving a Colorado high school student who was expelled for an off-campus, after-hours Snapchat post. Before Mahanoy was decided, the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado dismissed the student’s claims that his First Amendment and due process rights had been violated, granting the school broad power to regulate student speech regardless of where or when it is uttered. On Sept. 16, FIRE — joined by the Cato Institute — filed a brief of amici curiae in the case of C1.G v. Siegfried, in support of the student’s appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

September 20, 2021
By Bonnie Snyder
The Volokh Conspiracy, Reason Magazine

Excerpt: It's understood by most college alumni—and pretty much everyone in the general public, at this point—that open discourse is under assault in higher education, and has been for decades. From demands that speakers with unpopular opinions be disallowed on campus to strident calls for controversial professors to be fired, free speech culture has declined precipitously in academia while the corridor of acceptable opinion has uncomfortably narrowed.

While college and graduate school-level speech censorship is widespread and well-documented, we find ourselves facing an even more alarming problem: this same restrictive culture, with its oppressive conformity demands, has already filtered down to younger students. Recent college graduates—now newly-minted teachers—are bringing these acquired academic habits and expectations to American high-, middle-, and even elementary schools. Who can estimate the damage inflicted, and the potential loss, when children are not even allowed the mental freedom to form their own positions independently?

 

 

September 20, 2021
By Molly Worthen
New York Times

Excerpt: Why should universities guarantee jobs to a bunch of elitists who study esoteric subjects and brainwash students with left-wing politics? This critique of tenure in higher education is as old as tenure itself, and it’s gaining ground. In recent years, governing boards and legislators in several states have attempted to ban tenure or curtail its power — sometimes succeeding. The proportion of American faculty members on the tenure track has been falling since the 1970s, and today just a third of college professors have tenure or are on track to receive it. Every year more and more teachers join the ranks of contingent faculty, surviving contract to contract.

Over the years, tenure’s defenders have offered up noble pleas for the system. It does not grant a teacher a job for life but simply protection from arbitrary firing and retribution; it safeguards academic freedom. All these arguments are basically right. But they will never persuade tenure skeptics outside the university.

 

September 20, 2021
By Princetonians for Free Speech
PFS website

When notable articles come to our attention weeks after they were published, we will sometimes precede them with an editor’s note dated when written, like this one, so as to get them onto our homepage. The below column is notable because it was co-signed by eight leaders and members of a liberal student group at Cornell, in an era when many left-leaning students have turned against free speech.

Featured

August 31, 2021

GUEST ROOM | Cornell Should Adopt the Chicago Principles

By Sara Stober ’22, Chair of the Liberal Caucus of the Cornell Political Union

Cornell Daily Sun

 

Excerpt: A little over seven years ago, the University of Chicago issued a report defending free speech on campus. Since then, over eighty institutions or faculty bodies have adopted the report and committed themselves to promote free expression. We write this letter to encourage Cornell to do the same.

Free speech and academic freedom are essential to the kind of liberal education Cornell seeks to promote. Liberal education is meant to foster free thinkers who systematically reason through important issues. As such, universities should encourage their students to think freely and engage with different perspectives. As notable and ideologically opposite academics Cornel West and Robert George wrote, “All of us should be willing—even eager—to engage with anyone who is prepared to do business in the currency of truth-seeking discourse by offering reasons, marshaling evidence, and making arguments.” This includes those that think differently from the progressive orthodoxy.

Such discourse is difficult, however, when many Cornellians are scared to challenge the progressive status quo and speak in opposition to those pushing ideological conformity. Cornell witnessed the basis of this fear firsthand last year.

 

September 18, 2021
By CNN Staff
CNN

Excerpt: Students and lecturers at Hong Kong's most prestigious university returned from summer break this month to a very different institution. The Democracy Wall at the University of Hong Kong (better known as HKU) -- a pinboard where students once shared political thoughts -- is gone. The student union, which once advocated for students, is all but defunct, with four of its members facing charges of advocating terrorism. Although many students and academics were happy to be back on campus -- many for the first time since the start of the pandemic -- a political chill hangs over the university that some staff say is influencing how they teach.

While the Hong Kong government told CNN the city's universities "continue to enjoy academic freedom," four current HKU staff who spoke with CNN on condition of anonymity said they are more cautious about what they say in class, afraid that their own students could report them to authorities.

 

September 17, 2021
By Kate Murphy
News & Observer

Excerpt: A group of UNC-Chapel Hill alumni, faculty, staff, students and others interested in the university are coming together to stop what they say are political influences in campus decisions. The group launched the Coalition for Carolina on Thursday to build a supportive network of allies “to defend the university’s independence from interference” and to support “the principles of open inquiry, free speech, equity, and inclusion.”

Professor and UNC-CH Faculty Chair Mimi Chapman first proposed the idea for this group in an op-ed in The Daily Tar Heel. The piece came on the heels of the highly politicized controversy over journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones’s tenure that brought national attention to Chapel Hill this summer. Chapman said the problems trace back to an overly political UNC System Board of Governors and UNC-CH Board of Trustees, which she said are behaving differently than they have in years past.