Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Sometimes principle takes you to funny places 

FIRE has two interesting pieces up today at its new blog, The Torch. First it has a letter in support of Ward Churchill's rights to free speech.

This case presents CU with an important opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to the First Amendment, as CU has a record of favoring censorship over the U.S. Constitution. One year ago, the university tried to prevent the College Republicans from holding an "affirmative action bake sale" on campus to protest racial preferences in admissions and hiring. Affirmative action bake sales are a constitutionally protected form of political parody directed against affirmative action and were held at colleges across the country in 2003 and 2004.

Facing public pressure from FIRE and the threat of a legal challenge, CU permitted a watered-down version of the protest to go forward, but it also allowed an angry mob of students to physically assault the Republican protestors and destroy their literature. This previous demonstration of CU's lack of respect for free speech must not be repeated.

FIRE requests that CU immediately and publicly declare that the university will fully and consistently protect the free speech rights of all students and professors. FIRE also requests that if the university initiates academic fraud investigations against Churchill, those proceedings be conducted in accordance with long-standing university policy, providing Churchill with the same level of protection afforded to professors who are not as controversial or reviled.

In other words, all students and professors at CU, including Churchill, are entitled to and must be granted the full range of constitutional protections.

In the second, there is discussion of a graduate student of education at LeMoyne College in New York, Scott McConell, who was expelled from the program for writing a research paper that argued that corporal punishment of younger students could be effective in their education.

McConnell submitted as part of an assignment a paper expressing his personal views on classroom management, including various ideas for attaining a classroom environment that is �based upon strong discipline and hard work� and that allows �corporal punishment.� The paper received an �A-,� with his professor noting that his ideas were �interesting� and that she had shared the paper with the department chair, Cathy Leogrande.

...Yet in January 2005, with no prior warning, Leogrande dismissed McConnell from Le Moyne.
McConnell was conditionally admitted to the program. We do not know what the conditions of his admission were, nor do we know whether his grades in other classes. I do not necessarily agree with McConnell's view, and I do not wish to suggest that LeMoyne is wrong to express their disagreement. But it seems to me unwise for any academic program to simply wash out a new student to their program with whose views you might disagree. McConnell was engaged in theorizing -- he did not rap a kid's knuckles with a ruler in some practicum.

I think in both cases FIRE has upheld a principle for the broadest latitude for campus free speech.