Friday, September 25, 2015

RISD, Universities and Free Speech

On September 19, the Richardson ISD sponsored a "College and Career Fair" at the University of Texas - Dallas. About 200 colleges with interest in recruiting RISD students to attend their schools were represented. Good news for Richardson's high school students? You'd think so. But frequent RISD critic Bill Ames had other ideas.

The gist of Ames's criticism is that some of the represented schools have room for improvement in their respect for students' free speech rights. Now I'm with Ames all the way in calling out schools for shortcomings in this regard. Where Ames goes off the rails is in holding up Jerry Falwell's Liberty University as an "excellent example" in campus free speech because they invited Bernie Sanders to speak and students didn't demonstrate, petition or picket him. That's commendable, not that the students were given any freedom of speech to do so. From the Liberty University student rulebook: "Student participation in on-campus demonstrations, petitions or picketing is prohibited unless approved by Liberty University administration." Liberty University can get away with this open suppression of free speech because it's a private university; public universities cannot. So much for Bill Ames's "excellent example" of campus free speech.

Anyway, what follows is my Facebook conversation with Bill Ames. His opening statement has been edited for brevity.

I was not surprised to find that fully 46 of those institutions have been assigned "red light" status by the group Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
A "red light" institution has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.
WHAT IS AN EXAMPLE OF CAMPUS FREE SPEECH AS OPPOSED TO SUPPRESSED SPEECH? An excellent example is documented in the article, "Senator Sanders speaks at Liberty University". Sanders, an avowed socialist, was treated with respect, although his ideas are opposed by the largely conservative student body.
I recommend that parents utilize the FIRE website as an additional way to select the right college or university for their students.

Mark Steger: Just a guess, but those 46 schools that FIRE has assigned a "red light" status to probably have more free speech on campus than, say, your example of Liberty University. Try being a student at Liberty University and advocate for, say, same sex marriage or a woman's right to contraception and see how tolerant the university administrators are to your free speech rights. If you've been following the news, liberals are some of the biggest critics of suppression of free speech at those 46 universities. Conservatives, on the other hand, seem to care only when it's conservative free speech that's being suppressed. That's a big difference.

Bill Ames: Mark, you should do your homework rather than cluttering the page with "just a guess" about FIRE, and the well-documented liberal bias on American campuses. FIRE is non-partisan, only recently intervening on behalf of U. of Toledo students who were censored for demonstrating against Karl Rove.
Further, Mark.......speaking of double standards.....have you noticed the deafening silence from the left ...... regarding "separation of church and state"....... the leftist love-in between the Pope and Obama.....

Mark Steger:
1. My "guess" wasn't about FIRE, it was about the 46 schools. Bill Ames hasn't provided any evidence about the relative free speech at those schools vs Liberty University. I haven't done any homework regarding that (which is why I said "just a guess") but Bill Ames hasn't shown any homework on this question either.
2. To the extent that FIRE is non-partisan, it eliminates it as a counter-example of my claim that "Conservatives, on the other hand, seem to care only when it's conservative free speech that's being suppressed."
3. What does Bill Ames have against the Pope? And what to make of his new-found love of separation of church and state?

Bill Ames: My homework consisted of matching relative free speech ratings by bi-partisan FIRE (46 red light campuses, versus yellow or green ratings) against the 197 campuses that showed up at the RISD event. My homework consisted of educating parents as to how to determine the "relative free speech" rating of a campus.

Mark Steger: My own homework consisted of researching what FIRE had to say about Liberty University, the "excellent example" of "campus free speech" that Bill Ames cited. Here's what FIRE has to say: "Our evaluation of Liberty University indicates that Liberty is actually quite open and straightforward about its values, and respect for unfettered freedom of expression does not appear to be among them." Again, just a guess, but I suspect the 46 "red light" universities have more free speech on campus than Bill Ames's Liberty University. So, parents, by all means utilize the FIRE website as an additional way to select the right college or university for your students. But take what Bill Ames says about it with a large grain of salt.

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