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Setting FIRE to College Campuses
College administrators and faculty have met the enemy and it is the First Amendment. Many universities, public and private, have cracked down on intellectual freedom with a vengeance that would make a dictator proud. Fortunately, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), an interventionist watchdog, has taken up the challenge of defending basic human rights on college campuses.

Neither right-wing nor left-wing, FIRE seeks to "defend and sustain individual rights at America's increasingly repressive and partisan colleges and universities." FIRE uses an array of mechanisms including "public exposure of abuses" and, if needed, legal action to support fundamental freedoms such as "speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience -- the essential qualities of individual liberty and dignity."

One of FIRE's projects,, publicizes campus censorship codes and uses a red, yellow, green system to alert the public to level of freedom permitted on the campus. FIRE's reports on each college, easily accessible through their search engine, also provides detailed information about campus speech restrictions and links to the various speech codes.

Examples of colleges with restrictive speech codes cited by FIRE include Brown University which "has banned ‘verbal behavior' that produces ‘feelings of impotence, anger, or disenfranchisement,' whether ‘intentional or unintentional.'" The University of Connecticut "has outlawed ‘inconsiderate jokes,' ‘stereotyping' and even ‘inappropriately directed laughter.'" West Virginia University "would instruct incoming students and new faculty that they must ‘use language that is not gender specific...Instead of referring to anyone's romantic partner as girlfriend or boyfriend, use positive generic terms such as friend, lover, or partner..'" Antioch College "enforces a vague and expansive sexual harassment policy that prohibits any behavior that ‘emphasizes the gender or sexual identity of persons in a manner which prevents or impairs their emotional well-being.'"

FIRE notes that under such rules, "major voices of public criticism, satire, commentary, and debate would be silenced on American campuses, and some of our greatest authors, artists, and filmmakers would be banned. More ominously, in the face of such codes, students intuit a supposed right to be free from offense, embarrassment, or discomfort."

Justice William Douglas stated that "Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us." Unfortunately, many colleges, even the most prestigious, have become un-American. Just ask Larry Summers.

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