Tag: free speech

Colleges in the United States and the United Kingdom share many great similarities, but an unflattering commonality they share is a tendency to censor what they consider offensive ideas. Although students in the UK don’t enjoy the same First Amendment protections as US students do, the principles that make free speech so beneficial and practical are universal.

 In response to six student union groups across the UK banning Robin Thicke’s hit song “Blurred Lines” this semester, Sam Dumitriu of The Mancunion, the UK’s largest student newspaper, recently interviewed Greg about Unlearning Liberty and his thoughts on colleges’ censoring potentially offensive material, like “Blurred Lines.” In the interview, Greg notes that,

 “Being offended is what happens when you have your deepest beliefs challenged, if you make it through four years of university without having your deepest beliefs challenged, you should ask for your money back.”

Greg goes on to say that pro-censorship student unions would do well to remember this important point. Check out the full interview here.

Greg addresses the latest (and perhaps most outrageous) example of unlearning liberty in The Huffington Post today. A student at Modesto Junior College in California was forced to stop handing out Constitutions on campus—on Constitution Day! He was told by campus security officers and student life administrators that because of “time, place, and manner” restrictions, he must go “in front of the student center, in that little cement area over there” in order to pass out his materials. Greg writes:

Yes, it is true that campuses can impose what are known as “reasonable time, place, and manner” restrictions on speech. But under the law, these need to be reasonable, tied to the pedagogical interest of the college, narrowly tailored, and leave open ample avenues to engage in free speech. Modesto’s all-too-typical behavior here does not pass this test or conform with basic common sense. It almost seems like something Mark Twain would say; “This college is so daffy, I bet you they wouldn’t even let you pass out constitutions on Constitution day.” And amazingly, he would win that bet.

Check out the full article here and make sure to watch the video of the incident.

Over the summer, FIRE President Greg Lukianoff sat down for an interview with TheBestSchools.org, an independent organization dedicated to covering issues in higher education and empowering individuals with a wide variety of resources to make prudent decisions regarding career and educational opportunities. The interview covers Greg’s early influences motivating his work in the First Amendment and civil liberties, his inspiration for writing Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate and the book’s central themes, and how Greg sees the future of higher education.

Here is a preview of Greg’s interview:

TBS: We found your book, Unlearning Liberty, to be frankly inspiring. It not only documents a large number of astonishing abuses, it also models throughout what civility in public discourse ought to be—through its fairness, its scholarly care, and above all its calm and even tone, which is maintained throughout, even when rising occasionally to genuine eloquence. Could you start by telling us what your chief aim was in writing the book?

GL: Thank you for your kind words about the book! I knew writing a book would be a challenge, but it was even more challenging than I expected.

I wrote the book for a number of reasons. First, I wanted a place to gather and relay a sampling of the shocking cases of censorship and violations of basic rights on campus I’ve seen in my decade with FIRE. I needed one place to demonstrate the scope and scale of the problem and, even though I only cover a tiny percentage of the cases I have seen over the years, I don’t think any reader would say I was short on examples.

Second, I aimed to explain why this matters, not only on campus, but also in how it affects our entire society. And finally, I wrote the book to raise awareness about the issue of censorship on college campuses and about FIRE. The kind of cases we deal with on a daily basis at FIRE should be well known in every household in the United States, but, sadly, they are not. Unfortunately, these days the media pay too little attention to stories of censorship that would have been front-page news to an earlier generation.

This wide-ranging interview provides an incisive analysis of the origins and implications of the censorship movement in higher education and highlights a number of cases demonstrating ‘unlearning liberty’ in an engaging video format.

Check out the full interview here.


Ten years ago in 2003 in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Greg Lukianoff & Harvey Silverglate examined the state of free speech on campus in an article entitled, “Speech Codes: Alive and Well at Colleges.” Last week, Greg published an update to that article in the Huffington Post.

The article debunked the myth that university restrictions on freedom of speech (“speech codes”) had gone the way of the dodo after being roundly mocked in the court of public opinion and consistently defeated in federal courts in the 1980s and 90s. The article revealed that the overwhelming majority of campuses still maintained the very kind of speech codes that lost in court. A decade later, I ask: What has changed since our 2003 article, and what does that change–or lack thereof–mean for our nation’s campuses?

In the article, “Speech Codes: Alive and Well, 10 Years Later,” Greg details what hasn’t changed, what has gotten better, and what has gotten worse in the last ten years. Unfortunately, the answers to those questions (and the implications for students and free speech) are not very encouraging.

You can read to whole article here.

FIRE President Greg Lukianoff and a broad coalition of organizations, First Amendment experts, and civil libertarians sent an open letter to the Department of Education (ED) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) urging the retraction of the controversial “blueprint” for campus sexual harassment policies that threatens student and faculty rights.

Some of the impressive signatories include the Electronic Frontier Foundation, American Council of Trustees and Alumni, Goldwater Institute, National Coalition Against Censorship, Rutherford Institute, Students For Liberty, Student Press Law Center, Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance, professors Steven Pinker, Nadine Strossen, Cary Nelson, Michael McConnell, and journalists Nat Hentoff and Wendy Kaminer.

The open letter warns:

The blueprint mandates a shockingly broad definition of sexual harassment—“any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” including “verbal conduct”—and rejects the inclusion of a “reasonable person” standard, endangering academic freedom and freedom of expression on campus. The blueprint also requires university employees to report protected speech for mandatory investigation, allows for punishment before the completion of an investigation, and instructs [universities] to keep records of the names of all students and faculty accused of “sexual harassment,” even if no wrongdoing is found.

The “blueprint” mandates a definition of harassment even more expansive than those that have plagued college campuses for decades. In Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate, Greg details how these codes stifle speech, promote groupthink, and encourage self-censorship. This “blueprint” does that and more; it places an enormous administrative burden on universities, curbs academic freedom, and mandates vague conduct standards that the Supreme Court has already determined to be unconstitutional. In doing so, the “blueprint” magnifies the dangers presented in Unlearning Liberty—a scenario that is alarming for students, professors, and broader society.

View the open letter here and learn more about the dangers of the mandate by reading Greg’s Four Key Points About Free Speech and the Feds’ ‘Blueprint.’