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|NUMBER 233||THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS||JUNE 2005|
Anyone who thinks the constitutional right to free speech is respected on college campuses should consider the recent case of Southern Illinois University Carbondale history professor Jonathan Bean, a self-described "lone libertarian-conservative on a campus that lacks ideological diversity." His life hasn't been the same since he offered his 20th-century American history students an optional reading consisting of a handout of an abridged article from FrontPageMagazine.com describing a series of 71 murders perpetrated by a group of black men against white civilians in San Francisco between 1972 and 1974.
The legal options available to students and to faculty like Bean are lucidly explained in FIRE's Guide, which has a strong pro-free-speech point of view. It reviews the history of U.S. laws restricting speech, the current state of the constitutional case law relevant to college campuses, and the weapons available to students and employees confronting repressive speech restrictions on a college campus.
The Guide describes effective responses FIRE, a Philadelphia-based civil liberties organization, has made to university speech codes, limited free-speech zones, newspaper theft, crackdowns on satire or parody, restrictions on religious speech or association, burdensome fees for controversial speakers, unequal access for certain student groups, and other techniques used by colleges to repress unpopular points of view. The different legal climates affecting public and private universities are spelled out. This is a useful "how-to" manual. It arms the reader not only with technical legal arguments but also with outstanding sound bites sure to embarrass administrators.
For some readers, the scope of college free speech espoused by this book may seem too broad. Taken to their logical conclusions, the arguments would appear to prohibit public universities from reining in, for instance, a student publication devoted to pornography.
For the many conservative students harassed by left-wing college officials, however, the FIRE Guide, and the legal support of the FIRE organization, can be a godsend - literally. As recently as May, a FIRE letter took only three days to persuade Princeton University's president to change course and recognize a student evangelical group.