For anyone looking for proof that free expression is under attack on college campuses around the country, look no further than a recent op-ed posted in the New York Times. Jim Sleeper, a lecturer in the Political Science department at Yale, calls out the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and the Dean of Students at the University of Chicago, for taking part in what Sleeper believes is a vast right-wing conspiracy disguised as a movement to protect free speech.
In response to the infamous University of Chicago letter to incoming freshman, which warned the new students that “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” were not compatible with the school’s mission and duty to protect First Amendment rights, Sleeper makes the claim that these calls for censorship on campus are actually made worse by organizations like FIRE.
“But it isn’t the protests per se that damaged open inquiry and expression, but the frenzied way they have been portrayed by the right,” Sleeper says in his piece. He attempts to make his point by calling attention to the video that went viral at the end of last year, where a student at Yale can be seen screaming at a faculty member and accusing him of failing to do his job, which she believes is creating comfort and safe spaces for students on campus.
FIRE, along with others, wrote about this incident and its implications on campus free speech. However, Sleeper believes that FIRE (and others), have taken this and other similar incidents out of context in order to support their alleged quest against political correctness.
“What motivates it is not the defense of free speech, but an ideology that condemns “politically correct” activists and administrators and dubiously recommends “free markets” as the best guarantors of such rights.”
Sleeper also asserts that free speech is alive and well on campus, aside from the conservative influence that is doing all it can to suppress the right of students to have an open dialogue and discussion about issues like race and sexual assault.
Anyone familiar with FIRE and its long track record of zealously protecting freedom of speech, understands that these claims fall short, to say the least. FIRE, which has been one of the most effective and largest protectors of First Amendment rights on college campuses, did not take these false criticisms lightly. In fact, the president and CEO of FIRE, Greg Lukianoff, wrote his own piece attempting to set the record straight.
In his response to Sleeper, Lukianoff calls out the factual errors that the New York Times was later forced to issue an addendum for and reminds readers that FIRE has defended students and faculty members from all walks of life and holding a variety of different viewpoints.
FIRE is so committed to protecting the right of free expression and free speech on college campuses, their own Will Creeley commented that “FIRE even stands ready to protect the expressive rights of those who call for censorship, though we flatly disagree with those advocates’ goals.”
The battle to protect free speech on campus will be one of constant vigilance, which makes it all the more important to have organizations like FIRE around to protect those whose constitutional rights are being violated.