The New Victorians Strike Campus Yet Again (VIDEO)

April 16, 2013
By Greg Lukianoff

While they are rightfully accused of being hyper-politically correct, college campuses these days sometimes seem downright Victorian. Take, for example, the case of Isaac Rosenbloom, a student whose quest to complete college so he could become a paramedic was nearly ended after he complained to another student about an assignment after class. Rosenbloom told his classmate that the grade he got on the assignment was “going to fuck up my entire GPA.” When his professor overheard him, she threatened the 29-year-old father of two with (I kid you not) “detention.” Rosenbloom was brought up under the charge of “flagrant disrespect of any person”—an actual offense at Hinds Community College in Mississippi.

Check out Isaac’s story in this new video.

One might think that such a ridiculous incident would quickly resolve itself as soon as the charges got in front of the university counsel. But one would be wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong. Ignoring cases like Cohen v. California (1971) and, even more on point, Papish v. Board of Curators (1973), the administration went ahead with a surreal hearing. Rosenbloom was found guilty of “flagrant disrespect,” given 12 “demerits,” and was no longer eligible for his Pell Grant, (which effectively meant expulsion for Rosenbloom). The university only backed down after my organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), found a lawyer for Rosenbloom and secured a favorable settlement in July 2010.

Cases like this are not rare on campus. Indeed, just as the Isaac Rosenbloom case was ending, the perhaps even sillier swearing case of Jacob Lovell at the University of Georgia was just beginning (you can watch a video about his case here, complete with Lex Luthor allusions). As I pointed out last fall when I unveiled a video about a professor who vandalized a “free speech wall” in Texas because someone had written “fuck Obama” on it, if there is one thing that seems to unite the Right and Left on campus, it is that some subset of both groups really, really hate swearing. Because of this fact, unfortunately, campus administrators are too often able to get away with punishing students for cases that involve swearing.

I tried to call out this practice in my book Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate. While swearing is sometimes the purported justification for punishment, it is clear that in case after case students are not really being punished for swearing, they are being punished because they swore in the process of complaining about the university.

Lately it seems as though the “campus censors as Victorians” theme is popping up all over the country. Just last month one college in upstate New York banned a campus event involving a gay porn star, another college in New Mexico shut down the student newspaper after they produced an issue about sex, and in an ongoing saga, a professor at Appalachian State University was suspended after showing a graphic video that was critical of the adult film industry.

Today’s campus censors appear to be haunted by the spirit of Anthony Comstock, and they’re likely to have the same level of success in the long run that Comstock did. But in the meantime, these efforts to appease the uptight are doing real damage by harming discourse on campus, impoverishing the marketplace of ideas, and higher education just a little bit dumber.

Greg  Lukianoff is the president of Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).  He is also the author of “Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate.”


It’s a Beautiful Thing, the Destruction of Words.

December 4, 2012

First Amendment BAMF The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (“FIRE”) defends individual rights at American Colleges and Universities from the barrage of attacks on free speech and free expression. Every month, FIRE features an institution of higher learning that should be ashamed of itself for enacting a speech code that is, at best, terrible. This month’s honoree is the University of North Dakota (“UND”) for its delightfully well-written policy that defines harassment as:

[U]nacceptable behavior, which can range from violence and bullying to more subtle behavior such as ignoring an individual at work or study. It subjects an individual or a group to unwelcome attention, intimidation, humiliation, ridicule, offense or loss of privacy. It is unwanted by the recipient and continues after an objection is made.

Source.

Universities have long been thought to be the last gleaming hope of free thought and expression. It is also generally accepted that college campuses are bastions of left leaning philosophies that champion speech and expression. Imagine the shock and chagrin, then, when one discovers that UND isn’t the only member of the “liberal” American higher education system that quite possibly poses more of a threat to First Amendment rights than the government. But before you conservatives and libertarians start squealing and pointing the shame finger at the nearest hippie, sit down, shut up, and read “Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate”, by First Amendment super BAMF and FIRE president Greg Lukianoff.

In his book, Lukianoff gives a very real and very scary glimpse into contemporary American academia. No longer a shining beacon of differing viewpoints and the relentless pursuit of intellectual honesty, the typical American university is a quagmire of self-serving administrative officials, apathetic faculty, and a woefully ignorant student body. Lukianoff deftly sheds light on the evolution of censorship policies that have been unilaterally enacted by weak-minded bureaucrats who want to stamp out criticism and dissent. Policies that are enforced without a glimmer of due process for the offender and without so much as a peep from the student body. Policies that may be in response to legislation at both the state and Federal level.

As someone once said, “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next”. If so, we’re in for a world of hurt. Unlearning Liberty is a must-read for every First Amendment defender out there. It will scare you, piss you off, and maybe even make you cry, but hopefully it will also inspire you to wake up, stand up, and speak up.


Let the punishment fit the crime?

October 19, 2012

This year, Highland Middle School in Anderson, Indiana purchased iPads as an enhancement tool for student education.  Unfortunately, the teachers weren’t given a crash course on how iPads work before the tablets were introduced to the kids.  One teacher at the school decided to take some topless photographs of herself on her iPhone and proceeded to accidentally sync her naked pics to one of the school’s iPads.

Inevitably, four boys borrowed the offending iPad, opened up iPhoto, found themselves confronted with their teacher’s boobs, and did what any 13 year old boys would do in that situation.  They turned the iPad over to the administration so that other students wouldn’t see the photos.  Wait, what…?

Alright, these may be the most honorable 13 year olds on the planet.  So, of course, Highland Middle School recognized this and gave the boys the credit they deserved for not circulating their teacher’s naked chest all over the school.

Actually, no.  One of the students was given a warning.  Two were suspended.  And the fourth was expelled.

Highland Middle School is defending the punishment, claiming that the students violated its technology policy.  However, the school won’t explain how.  While the school tries to figure out what, exactly, these kids did wrong, the rest of the country can be thankful that they don’t live in Anderson, Indiana.


ACLU sues after middle school girls expelled over Facebook comments

June 14, 2012

The ACLU filed a complaint in the Northern District of Indiana against the Griffith Public School district after it expelled three middle school girls for a lengthy conversation they had on Facebook outside of school hours.  According to the complaint, the conversation “spanned numerous subjects,” beginning with one girl complaining on her Facebook wall about cutting her legs while shaving (#FirstWorldProblems), before turning to which classmates they would kill if given the chance. The comments were littered with the typical cutesy teenage girl sprinklings of emoticons, OMGs, and LOLs, and most of the comments were directed toward the “ugly” girls, a la Mean Girls fashion. The comments were contained to Facebook, and subject and post were not discussed on campus.

Two days later, after another person presented a screen shot to school administrators, the girls were expelled from school for violating student handbook policies on bullying, harassment, and intimidation.  Griffith Public School later informed the girls they were expelled for the remainder of the school year, but would be able to continue to the ninth grade the following year.

The ACLU contends that this action was a violation of the students’ First Amendment Rights, as the comments were “clearly made in jest” and did not constitute a “clear threat.”  The ACLU also states in the complaint that the comments did not disrupt school activities.

Students notoriously have very few rights, and schools generally have had wide latitude to punish activity outside of school.  It will be interesting to see how the case proceeds.


High school drama students get lesson in homophobia, censorship

November 3, 2011

Students in the drama department of a Baltimore high school are fighting back after Hartford County School officials censored a scene from an upcoming production of “Almost, Maine.” The production, which is set to open on Nov. 10 at Bel Air High School, includes nine mini-dramas exploring falling in and out of love. The American Civil Liberties Union stepped in on behalf of the students when school officials took out a scene featuring two men professing their love.

The students say they are still prepared to perform the scene, called “They Fell.”

The scene at the heat of the debate features a humorous discovery of mutual attraction that doesn’t include any references to sexual behavior, and is even less suggestive than other scenes the school chose to leave in, where students kiss, remove clothing and leave the stage, suggesting sexual activity.

According to ACLU of Maryland Legal Director Deborah Jeon, much of the play focuses on the characters falling in love; the only difference here is that the two people in this scene both happen to be men.

So as Hartford County School officials are likely thinking right now, let’s get this straight: the Bel Air High School drama students are allowed to remove clothing and hint at sex as long as it’s between a male and female student. But an innocent scene between two men humorously sharing an exchange of love, which does not even hint at sexual activity, is somehow inappropriate for high school students to depict.

The students at Bel Air High are seeing right through it to the underlying issue of homophobia.

“I think it is important to speak out against homophobia and discrimination, and the full play can help students better understand that love is not something to be feared,” Julia Streett, a sound engineer with the production and the president of the school’s gay-straight alliance, said in a press release.

The students of Bel Air’s drama department are getting an early education on First Amendment and gay rights. We live in a country that glamorizes celebrity weddings like Kim Kardashian’s 72-day PR-debacle, but still shudders at two men sharing a legitimate exchange of love. The only reason for the school’s censorship is homophobia, pure and simple. Kudos to the high school students at Bel Air High School for being more accepting than the adults running the show.


5th Circuit Rules in Favor of Student Speech Rights

September 29, 2011

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that students who handed out christian-centric materials to other students had a First Amendment right to do so. School principals who prohibited this student-to-student speech violated the students’ First Amendment rights, the Court held.

“We hold that the First Amendment protects all students from viewpoint discrimination against private, non-disruptive, student-to-student speech,” Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod wrote in a part of her opinion, joined by nine of the 16 participating judges. “Therefore, the principals’ alleged conduct—discriminating against student speech solely on the basis of religious viewpoint—is unconstitutional under the First Amendment.” (source)

I guess I have to say “yay Jesus!”


University Pig Decides She Will Not Tolerate a Challenge to her Authoritah

September 26, 2011

A professor at University of Wiconsin – Stout, put up a poster from the sci fi series, Firefly. The poster had some macho shit on it about where and when the character would kill one of his enemies. Some worthless fuckhead in the school’s administration (Lisa Walter, the chief of police) lost her shit, and hadthe cops come tear down the poster.

Miller was contacted by Lisa Walter, the chief of police/director of parking services, and informed that “it is unacceptable to have postings such as this that refer to killing.” She also warned the astounded professor that any future such posts would be removed and would cause him to be charged with disorderly conduct. (source)

So the professor put up this poster in its place:

And so Chief Walter said “ok, point taken,” and gave the professor back his original poster, and everyone learned a nice lesson about the First Amendment.

NAH, Just kidding.

Chief Walter decided that disobedience of her authoritah would not be tolerated, so she sent cops back to the professor’s classroom to tear down that poster too.

with Chief Walter claiming this time that the problem was that the poster “depicts violence and mentions violence or death.” She went on to say that “it is believed that this posting also has a reasonable expectation that it will cause a material and/or substantial disruption of school activities and/or be constituted as a threat.” Seriously. (source)

As if the Victim Studies departments on college campuses had not done enough damage to free expression, here come the TSA agent rejects. Fortunately, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is on the case.


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