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The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) Hitting Colleges Hard:

Here's a full-page ad that FIRE put into U.S. News and World Report's America's Best Colleges issue:

Cool.

J. Aldridge:
FIRE like many legal scholars don't have the faintest idea what freedom of speech implies and why it was made a restriction against Congress - and why the 14th amendment kept it there. Just a couple of weeks ago a federal judge said illegal aliens have a freedom of speech to stand on a sidewalk to solicit jobs.

Who is really kidding who?
8.25.2008 10:08pm
wolfefan (mail):
Hi -

I agree that Barnes' expulsion was ridiculous. Nevertheless, I don't think the ad is as cool as Eugene does, as the expulsion was overturned.



The statement that "Apparently, there's not enough room on Valdosta State University's campus for a new parking garage and Hayden Barnes' First Amendment rights" strongly implies that the expulsion is still in effect, and strikes me as dishonest. (Of course, if I missed something and Barnes was expelled again, that would be different.)
8.25.2008 10:10pm
SATA_Interface:
Wolfe, did the school overturn it on their own, or did one of those nice judge-type people force them to do it?
8.25.2008 10:12pm
Cornellian (mail):
I suppose Valdosta State University should be happy for the free publicity, especially publicity that puts them on a list with Tufts, Brandeis and Johns Hopkins.

Re Aldridge, are you saying the First Amendment right of free speech doesn't apply against the states? I don't think even Clarence Thomas takes that position and he's by far the most faithful originalist on the Supreme Court. What's your basis for that view?
8.25.2008 10:15pm
wolfefan (mail):
Hmmm... the link didn't show.... I guess I'm not following the instructions correctly. In your browser type http://www.valdostadailytimes.com/local/ followed after the slash by local_story_017234702.html

Sorry to be so technologically deficient...
8.25.2008 10:15pm
wolfefan (mail):
Hi SATA -

In case my luddite link instructions don't work, they overturned it on their own after a lawsuit was filed...
8.25.2008 10:16pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
J. Aldridge: If you want to criticize FIRE for not being good originalists, that's fine -- but it's pretty clear that they're talking about the First Amendment as it has been interpreted by courts (and as they think it should be interpreted), and not making assertions about what the original public meaning of the relevant parts of the First and Fourteenth Amendment was in 1791 and 1868.
8.25.2008 10:20pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Re Aldridge, are you saying the First Amendment right of free speech doesn't apply against the states? I don't think even Clarence Thomas takes that position and he's by far the most faithful originalist on the Supreme Court. What's your basis for that view?
Cornellian, Aldridge doesn't believe in the 14th amendment, and he pops up in every thread which applies the Bill of Rights to the states to claim that it didn't do that, even though his alleged source for the claim explicitly said that this was its exact purpose.
8.25.2008 10:28pm
Malvolio:
FIRE like many legal scholars don't have the faintest idea what freedom of speech implies and why it was made a restriction against Congress
The First Amendment is certainly a restriction on Congress (and on a Federally funded school like Valdosta) but "freedom of speech" is a far more general concept.

In particular, all the schools claim to be supporters of free speech, bastions of free thought, centers of learning, blah-blah-blah. You want people to think you aren't a left-wing shill -- and then you accept five-figure tuitions from those people -- you are obligated not the act like a left-wing shill.
8.25.2008 10:37pm
Anderson (mail):
Yeah, I kinda like those FIRE guys.

"I disagree with what you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it" is a mysterious concept to people nowadays.
8.25.2008 10:39pm
Vernunft (mail) (www):
I was amazed that the university apparently relied on the "clear and present danger" standard, leading me to believe their lawyers are idiots, really old, or really old idiots.
8.25.2008 10:39pm
Oren:
As a (grad)student at Brandeis, I can say without a doubt that FIRE has accomplished exactly here. Maybe that's not their goal but I would hope they could express their legitimate claims in a slightly less shrill tone.
8.25.2008 10:41pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
Here is the story in link format.

I'm not sure I understand the alleged misleading aspect; the man was still expelled for clearly protected speech, even if he was allowed back seven months later. From the school's policies, he was never expelled, only administratively withdrawn, but regardless of the actual terminology he was forced from his dorm room and no longer allowed to attend classes, which is effectively the dictionary definition.
8.25.2008 10:43pm
J. Aldridge:
Eugene: I don't think the courts have ever bothered to interpret the First against the Fourteenth. Remember this foolishness all started when the court once said it "assumed" the First might apply against the states. Future courts picked up on that without any factual consideration and blindly ran with it for all its worth!

David M. Nieporent: Don't understand why the 14th talks about citizens of a State and citizens of the United States? Here is a great 14th amendment reading assignment for you.
8.25.2008 10:45pm
theobromophile (www):
Considering that FIRE mentioned "fundamental rights" in the section that relates to public and private universities, I think we can determine that it's not talking about Con Law, but rather about how colleges deal with academic freedom (especially what they claim to do and what they actually do). The First Amendment is useful for forcing public universities to respect their students and to foster an environment of academic freedom, but is not necessary to that.

Very sad, although not entirely surprised, to see my alma mater on the list. Guess that things haven't changed much there.
8.25.2008 10:48pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Hey, my undergraduate school (CC) is too. Last time they called to ask for money, I told them I contributed to FIRE instead.
8.25.2008 11:02pm
David Warner:
Interesting choice of school to highlight. Doesn't get much more red-state than Valdosta.
8.25.2008 11:05pm
Sean M:
FIRE does great work. Although it necessarily takes an activist tone, it can be generally relied on for an accurate take on the facts of a given situation and firm, effective advocacy.

It shames the private universities and sues the public ones. It's also nonpartisan; as I recall, David French said most of the FIRE people are lefties, but they routinely stand up for right-leaning organizations on college campuses.

I've admired them since the days of the "Shadow University." Good to see them make a punch in U.S. News.
8.25.2008 11:10pm
Thomas_Holsinger:
VERY good move by FIRE. That has gotta hurt.
8.25.2008 11:22pm
Oren:
Sean, I was with you until "effective advocacy". At least here at 'deis, their "activism" as accomplished precisely nothing.
8.25.2008 11:28pm
wolfefan (mail):
Thank you, gattsuru. I thought I had followed the link instructions, but obviously not.

What I found misleading was FIRE's clear implication that the student was still expelled (or administratively withdrawn.) To borrow the ad's language, obviously the Board of Regents _did_ decide that there's room for both the garage and the viewpoint. The ad says that the absence of room for both is the current state of affairs...this is simply not true.

None of this is to defend Valdosta... I just wish that FIRE (whom I admire with others on this thread,)or more accurately their PR people, had chosen a situation where the school had not backed down so that the language would be accurate.

Not worth arguing about - that's just how it struck me...
8.25.2008 11:42pm
Archon (mail):
FIRE is simply, hands down, the best advocate out there for student rights. It doesn't matter if you are PETA protester or a College Republcan, if your speech is protected FIRE will defend it.

They might not win every single case, but I imagine they win about 95% of them either through advocacy or litigation. Obviously, because private schools are not subject to the First Amendment, if they ignore the shame and constant bad publicity FIRE will not win the case. I imagine that this is the large number of small cases that they don't ultimately win.

I also imagine that this is a warning shot to universities. FIRE is clearly trying to say, "hey, if you screw up and don't fix your immoral or unconstitutional violation then we are going to do things like take out full pages ads in the top college review magazines to shame you." My guess is next year we can see multiple full page ads if universities don't heed this warning.

This is clearly only the beginning.
8.25.2008 11:46pm
Brian K (mail):
The First Amendment is certainly a restriction on Congress (and on a Federally funded school like Valdosta) but "freedom of speech" is a far more general concept.

does this also mean that companies can't restrict what an employee can or cannot say? does this mean that the government cannot restrict what its own scientists say? does this mean that newspapers, including the NY times, can print what they want to print? or am i expecting to much consistency from your position?
8.25.2008 11:54pm
mad the swine (mail):
"It doesn't matter if you are PETA protester or a College Republcan, if your speech is protected FIRE will defend it. "

Isn't FIRE David Horowitz's affirmative-action-for-conservative-voices college activism group? Kind of funny to imagine Horowitz pushing for more representation for PETA :)
8.26.2008 12:11am
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
Oren,


Sean, I was with you until "effective advocacy". At least here at 'deis, their "activism" as accomplished precisely nothing.


I'm curious. Do you think that FIRE approached Brandeis the wrong way, or is Brandeis just particularly obstinate?
8.26.2008 12:13am
theobromophile (www):
Brian K.,

As I took a similar position, I'll respond.

The difference is the purpose and type of institution. Unless you believe that the purpose of college is exceptionally narrow - to give students an education in reading, writing, and 'rithmetic - you will see a college campus not just as a place in which someone exchanges time and money for a degree, but a place in which professors and students conduct research, debate, learn to advocate, and and push academia forward. We hope that "learning outside the classroom" is a horribly overused cliche because such a thing actually occurs. We also hope that students may take classes in controversial areas - world economics, sociology - and be able to be judged on the quality of their arguments, not on their actual position.

Colleges that stifle debate, permit their professors to act as tyrants in the classroom, or otherwise do not allow their students to be academics are colleges that are cheating their students out of the bargain. Very few colleges admit to stifling certain types of speech, which at least gives fair warning to potential students about the academic environment. Students without that warning go in with a certain set of expectations - expectations that are not only understood by the college, but encouraged by it (via the admissions process, which includes teachers' recommendations, essays, and other indicia of intellectual passion) - which are then thwarted by the college.

Last time I checked, the NY Times can print what it wants to print. Government scientists, likewise, retain their First Amendment rights.

Private employers, however, may do whatever they want. Employees are not there to learn, debate, and contribute to a thriving academic community; they are getting paid to do a certain job. If they don't want to do that job, they can simply not get paid for it and do something else, on their own time, with their own money.
8.26.2008 12:22am
Archon (mail):

Isn't FIRE David Horowitz's affirmative-action-for-conservative-voices college activism group? Kind of funny to imagine Horowitz pushing for more representation for PETA :)


I don't think FIRE has anything to do with Horowitz. In fact, they criticized him on their blog recently:

http://www.thefire.org/index.php/article/9620.html
8.26.2008 12:28am
loki13 (mail):
I like the work the ACLU does.

I like the work FIRE does.

I like civil liberites, no matter who stands up for them.

I do no, however, like Illinois Nazis.
8.26.2008 12:29am
Oren:

I'm curious. Do you think that FIRE approached Brandeis the wrong way, or is Brandeis just particularly obstinate?

Both are true statements. As an advocacy group, however, it's FIRE's job to approach every situation in the manner most likely to effect change.
8.26.2008 12:36am
Eugene Volokh (www):
J. Aldridge: I don't quite know what you mean by "I don't think the courts have ever bothered to interpret the First against the Fourteenth." If your argument is that the courts haven't adequately explained why, as a matter of original meaning, the First Amendment shouldn't be seen as incorporated against the states, that might be right -- they certainly haven't focused heavily on this. But if your arguments is that there's no square holding on this point, that's mistaken; there are plenty of such holdings. And FIRE isn't in the originalism business; it takes First Amendment law, at least in its broad strokes, as it has been developed by the Supreme Court. It's never, to my knowledge, claimed the opposite.
8.26.2008 12:38am
Oren:
Also, to be fair to 'deis, the claim that I've heard is that their hands were tied by MA law. I don't necessarily buy that defense, but if it is true, then FIRE is really barking up the wrong tree. I would be quite grateful if anyone knowledgeable could shed some light on that particular claim.
8.26.2008 12:51am
Tony Tutins (mail):
From the FIRE web page, apart from protesting parking garages, Barnes made what they could reasonably have construed as a VPSU copycat threat: the Va Tech killer "shot" people, "shot" a film, uploaded the film, and became infamous.

According to VSU, Barnes also "posted a link on his website page to an article discussing the massacre at Virginia Tech"; linked to an advertisement for a film competition sponsored by commercial photography site Webshots.com, which featured the tagline "Shoot it. Upload it. Get famous. Project Spotlight is looking for the next big thing. Are you it?"; and commented on his website that he was "cleaning out and rearranging his room and thus, his mind, or so he hopes."

Did FIRE come to the aid of the Boalt student who momentarily posted on AutoAdmit "a joke" about (not) reproducing the Va Tech massacre at UC Hastings, and was apparently expelled in consequence?
8.26.2008 1:05am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Those of you who recall their undergraduate days, and your mental and emotional state at the time might consider what happened here more severe than merely not being expelled but being something else for seven months with moving in and out of the dorm, refiling for benefits, if any, and so forth.
That he was not expelled under the most accurate definition is not the same as nothing happened.
8.26.2008 1:06am
David Warner:
"I do no, however, like Illinois Nazis."

Don't get too far out there on that limb, Lokester.
8.26.2008 1:10am
Brian K (mail):
The problem with your analysis is that he was arguing for free speech as a general concept. if it doesn't apply to everyone then it is hardly a general concept. carving out scenarios where free speech doesn't apply is just an exercise in making speech you approve of "free" while preventing speech you disapprove of.

in regards to you first paragraph, you have made an excellent argument in favor of diversity. a greater breadth of ideas from a wider variety of people is good, no? and yet, somehow this argument only applies to certain types of "diversity" but not others.

Last time I checked, the NY Times can print what it wants to print. Government scientists, likewise, retain their First Amendment rights.
both of my references have been discussed on this site before...that is why i chose those specific examples. both position are particularly contradictory as they essentially are saying "the government can't restrict speech, except when it can"

in regards to your final paragraph, if free speech is good as a general principle then everyone should respect it. all of your examples of what is good for academia apply to society as a whole. people need to learn about and debate relevant issues and contribute to thriving societal debates. they can't do this if they can be fired for supporting the wrong political party or holding "incorrect" beliefs about the benefits of unions. i know the natural response to this would be "they can hold the beliefs, they just can't act on them". but this would work against your academia arguments.

if you want to profess belief in free speech in all its forms, then you have to accept free speech in all its forms. if however you only believe that speech is free from government influence then say so and stop making claims about which political party is more or less protective of free speech.
8.26.2008 1:24am
Waldensian (mail):

"I do no, however, like Illinois Nazis."

[David Warner:] Don't get too far out there on that limb, Lokester.

I think he was merely quoting from one of the classics.
8.26.2008 1:25am
Bill Poser (mail) (www):

Also, to be fair to 'deis, the claim that I've heard is that their hands were tied by MA law. I don't necessarily buy that defense, but if it is true, then FIRE is really barking up the wrong tree. I would be quite grateful if anyone knowledgeable could shed some light on that particular claim.


There is a Massachusetts law that makes it harassment to mention a term for a non-protected group in the course of condemning it? I'd be stunned if this is true, and am eager to hear further details of the claim.
8.26.2008 2:26am
Harry Eagar (mail):
Coulda been worse, Richard. When I was at Cow College, a friend of mine painted slogans on the memorial tower to the school's WWI dead and got expelled. (I tried to intervene on two grounds: 1. He was drunk; and 2. I was with him, though I wasn't drunk and didn't do any painting, but I didn't stop him, so they should expel me, too.)

That was 1966, so he was drafted, sent to Vietnam and might easily have gotten killed.

As it happened, he didn't, came home, re-enrolled and became editor of the yearbook, on whose cover he put cows -- which was something I had tried and nearly got expelled for myself.

I think colleges are weird places.
8.26.2008 2:35am
David Warner:
"I think he was merely quoting from one of the classics."

I'll confess to being drunk the last three times I saw that one. Evidently some good brain cells went down with the bad.

My pop fu is weak.
8.26.2008 3:19am
Hoosier:
"I think colleges are weird places."

BINGO!
8.26.2008 5:03am
Hoosier:
"When I was at Cow College"

Now known as Moo U.?
8.26.2008 5:04am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
The Harvard of Horticulture?
Said, dismissively, by a guy who had something to eat almost every day of his life.
Colleges would be closer to normal if it weren't for administrators and professors.
8.26.2008 7:38am
TM Lutas (mail) (www):
The board of regents that reinstated Hayden Barnes is not a part of Valdosta in the same sense that Clarence Thomas is not part of the 1st Circuit court of appeals. Giving Valdosta State University credit for the correct action that an outside supervisory body did in reversing their free speech violation would be odd but several comments have done just that.
8.26.2008 9:06am
common sense (www):
Brian K.,
I hope you can see the difference. No matter how good free speech is, there is a drastic difference between the government invading other areas to support it and merely refraining from restricting it itself. Everyone acknowledges that free speech is good everywhere. What most people won't agree with is that the cost of government intervention in all areas of our life to protect all speech is worth the benefit. Keeping the government--and government agents such as public universities--from restricting free speech is.
8.26.2008 9:22am
Alan K. Henderson (mail) (www):
FIRE's website does not list Horowitz among its founders, Board of Directors, or Board of Advisors. The site does link three of his FrontPage Magazine articles.
8.26.2008 9:49am
M O'Brien (mail):
You are all missing the point. FIRE has made a list which prospective students ought to factor into their college decisions. This sort of list ought to be in the college reports already, because tolerance for free speech on campus directly affects both the learning experience and campus life. But that information usually isn't given.

If you're going to have to guard your tongue every moment at college and bend your knee in word as well as deed to every little tin admin, you might like to know about it before Orientation.

Of course, if colleges that don't support free speech suddenly find themselves with lower enrollment numbers, I don't think FIRE would cry.
8.26.2008 9:52am
Archon (mail):

FIRE's website does not list Horowitz among its founders, Board of Directors, or Board of Advisors. The site does link three of his FrontPage Magazine articles.


I don't think that merely posting links to news articles about certain cases means that FIRE is some kind of front group for David Horowitz.
8.26.2008 10:22am
Oren:
Bill, the main problem is that the Provost has not made this legal "claim" in any detail, aside from asserting that it exists. Hence my need for an expert to set me straight.
8.26.2008 10:22am
Adam J:
Tony Tutins- how exactly is reasonable to assume two links and a ambigious quote on his website mean he intends to go on a shooting spree?
8.26.2008 10:40am
Oren:
Adam, school administrators cannot be accused of reason when dealing with anything even tangentially related to a school shooting.
8.26.2008 10:49am
Happyshooter:
To borrow the ad's language, obviously the Board of Regents _did_ decide that there's room for both the garage and the viewpoint. The ad says that the absence of room for both is the current state of affairs...this is simply not true.

When the U's outside supervisory group has to reverse a decision to expel someone because the U got sued and is going to lose, that is not a the U doing the right thing, it is them being forced to do the right thing.
8.26.2008 10:50am
AnneS:
Adam - Especially when one of the links in question is to an article about how the VT shootings will likely lead colleges to overreact and the other to a website promoting a film contest. THat is so obviously innocuous that it makes me question the sanity of the college president who saw it as a threat, as well as that of the idiots who went along with his delusions.

Oren - That's because the second most frequent wrong answer is "that's against the law/the law ties my hands." The most frequent is "confidentiality law says we can't do that," which I separate from the former because it has the distinction of being specific enough to check.
8.26.2008 10:55am
guest003332:
I tried searching FIRE's site, but didn't get far. Does anyone have their take speech codes like the one at Bob Jones U, which restricts students right of association and even dress?
8.26.2008 11:10am
Adam J:
Oren- I don't think it was fear of a school shooting, it seems like the President was scrambling to find dirt to justify his decision... of course the real reason seems to be that he didn't want his "legacy" endangered by some student.
8.26.2008 11:18am
delurking (mail):
guest003332 wrote:

I tried searching FIRE's site, but didn't get far. Does anyone have their take speech codes like the one at Bob Jones U, which restricts students right of association and even dress?


I have read this on their website, but I can't find it now either.

FIRE does not concern itself with Universities that state up front that they are places where free expression is valued. This includes many religious schools where a certain viewpoint is expected of, and taught to, all students.

FIRE only criticizes those Universities which claim to support the free exchange of ideas, but then fail to do so in practice.
8.26.2008 11:36am
delurking (mail):
oops. "... that they are not places where..."
8.26.2008 11:38am
guest003332:
"FIRE only criticizes those Universities which claim to support the free exchange of ideas, but then fail to do so in practice."

Ah. So a university that follows its speech code is fine, but one that is arbitrary or something else is not.
8.26.2008 11:44am
David M. Nieporent (www):
I tried searching FIRE's site, but didn't get far. Does anyone have their take speech codes like the one at Bob Jones U, which restricts students right of association and even dress?
FIRE's position on speech codes at private universities is that they're fine if disclosed to applicants in advance so that students know what they're getting into when they attend.

FIRE has a particular problem with private universities that publicly hold themselves out to potential students as supporters of academic freedom but then in private enact vague speech codes which they apply arbitrarily.


I doubt Bob Jones ever pretends to be anything other than what it is, so FIRE would view it as outside its purview.
8.26.2008 12:10pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Ah. So a university that follows its speech code is fine, but one that is arbitrary or something else is not.
Yes -- but only a private university that does so. A public university cannot enact a "speech code" that violates the first amendment.
8.26.2008 12:11pm
Michael B (mail):
Not within FIRE's purview as such, but the method deployed in attempting to shut this down is telling. It's a prima facie First Amendment issue, yet rather than address issues and facts in an open and forthright manner, strangulation of the First Amendment principle is the tactic resorted to. Seems coercion and the letter of the law is more important than the spirit and principle of the law in Obama-land.
8.26.2008 2:33pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):

could reasonably have construed as a VPSU copycat threat


Nothing reasonable about jumping to such a conclusion. Links to an article constitute a threat? I guess in some extreme circumstance maybe but not here.
8.26.2008 2:47pm
Joshua Persons (mail):
"Isn't FIRE David Horowitz's affirmative-action-for-conservative-voices college activism group? Kind of funny to imagine Horowitz pushing for more representation for PETA :)"

Might wanna ask Eliana Campos about FIRE and PETA: http://www.peta2.com/COLLEGE/f-eliana.asp .
8.26.2008 2:48pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"Both are true statements. As an advocacy group, however, it's FIRE's job to approach every situation in the manner most likely to effect change."

The university could change, prospective students could change their minds about attending the university, and donors could increase or decrease their contributions. We can measure the first, but probably not the others.
8.26.2008 2:56pm
wolfefan (mail):
Hi -

Happyshooter and TM Lutas - thanks for your criticisms of my earlier posting crediting the school. They are well-taken.
8.26.2008 8:02pm
ElizabethW (mail) (www):
The wise cracks about FIRE and David Horowitz are based on resentment of FIRE's support of conservative students' grievances. Around the time of FIRE's beginnings (1999-2000?), campuses had long been rife with instances of attempts to squelch events sponsored by conservative students. People like Horowitz, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and others whose names I've forgotten, came close to being physically assaulted, when attempting to fulfill speaking engagements, and sometimes events simply had to be canceled. Silverglate and Kors, the two liberals who founded FIRE, were outraged by this behavior, which usually was not condemned by college administrators.

Although FIRE has taken on all kinds of cases that have nothing to do with Right-Left, some leftwingers still resent the early history of the organization and, hence, think they are smearing it by linking it to Horowitz, et. al. The fact that Horowitz has written some very sensible articles about preferential policies is simply to be ignored, as he is pilloried for his other more intolerant views.
8.27.2008 10:57pm
Alan K. Henderson (mail) (www):
I don't think that merely posting links to news articles about certain cases means that FIRE is some kind of front group for David Horowitz.
I was suggesting the opposite - Horowitz's absence from the list of founders and leaders establishes that FIRE isn't his front group. They just happen to find three of his articles useful.

FIRE also links one article each from David Bernstein and Todd Zywicki.

They also link three Virginia Postrel articles - and a bio is also listed because she has an actual leadership position with FIRE.
8.28.2008 9:53am