Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A reformed university

Mike Adams

Concerned parents looking to send their kids to a college free from repressive speech codes can now add another option to their list. Last semester, the University of Virginia (UVA) eliminated the last of a series of policies that unconstitutionally restricted the free speech of students and faculty members. Two-thirds of the nation's colleges maintain policies that clearly and substantially restrict freedom of speech. But now, UVA is an exception to the rule having fully reformed four speech codes over the course of the last year.

President Teresa Sullivan should be commended for overseeing these important changes, which guarantee the First Amendment rights of students and faculty members at the University of Virginia. Within just three months of taking office, President Sullivan has overseen the transformation of UVA from a school that earned FIRE's worst “red light” rating for restricting protected speech to their highest “green light” rating. But there is another UVA administrator who deserves even higher praise than President Sullivan.

FIRE began working with UVA administrator Dean Allen Groves in April 2010 after Adam Kissel gave a lecture on free speech that was hosted by two UVA student groups - Students for Individual Liberty and Liberty Coalition. Shortly thereafter, Dean Groves received a letter from FIRE, which provided detailed objections to UVA’s then-existing speech codes. UVA student Virginia Robinson happened to be interning for FIRE in the summer of 2010. Thus, she was able to help UVA reform its speech codes.

First, Dean Groves reformed UVA's “Just Report it" so-called bias reporting system. He made sure students were aware that protected speech will not be "subject to University disciplinary action or formal investigation" even if it is reported.

Next, Assistant Vice President for Information Security, Policy, and Records Shirley Payne removed unconstitutional language from a policy prohibiting Internet messages that "vilify" others and mailing list messages that are "inappropriate." Removing such overly broad and vague language helped remove a possible chilling effect on constitutionally protected speech.

Finally, with the help of Dean Groves, UVA's Women's Center confirmed that it had removed two policies with unconstitutional examples of "sexual harassment" from its website. Some examples stated that "jokes of a sexual nature," "teasing," and even mere "innuendo" constituted sexual harassment. The policies further suggested that simple flirting could be sexual harassment if it was not "wanted and mutual," and that if a person felt "disrespected," their experience "could indicate sexual harassment."

This is all good news as UVA joins its fellow Virginia public institution The College of William & Mary (W&M) in an elite group of just 13 “green light” schools in America.

Now that Virginia’s two leading public universities have led the way FIRE is turning its attention to three more Virginia public universities that currently have "red light" ratings. Hopefully, they will follow suit. If not, suits could follow. I wrote in my last column about the increasing likelihood that college administrators will be faced with paying personal monetary damages. It is sad that such threats are even necessary. There is much to be gained by voluntarily abandoning these oppressive policies.

Like Dean Groves of UVA, other administrators around the nation can attend a FIRE lecture if one is scheduled at their school. If that doesn’t happen this semester or even this year they can simply read FIRE's pamphlet on Correcting Common Mistakes in Campus Speech Policies. The pamphlet contains all the information that is needed to comply with the law. And FIRE is more than willing to assist if any questions or complications should arise. After administrators make the necessary changes they are sure to receive much praise for their efforts. Just ask UVA’s President Sullivan and Dean Groves. I am just one of many who have taken the time to praise them publicly. Better yet, the alums who hear of these changes will be far more likely to open up their wallets and make much needed donations.

The time has come for administrators to turn a potential legal liability into a fund-raising asset by reforming speech codes now. Taking a stand against politically correct censorship is always the right thing to do. And with donations down, it could become a political masterstroke.


New Film Documents Unions' Destruction of Public Education

"Kids Aren't Cars" is a new short film series set for release February 1st. Using examples from the Midwest, it documents the impact organized labor has had on the American education system, creating a one-size-fits-all assembly line model that leaves students behind and treats teachers equally, stifling innovation and improvement.

Our government education system has been spending more and more each year, yet the results have been the same. While unions demand higher spending - which of course ends up in the pockets of their members - money is not fixing the problem.

Those that have been in the trenches gave shocking interviews - stories of money grabs by adults while children are left behind.

An executive director of a literacy clinic in Detroit - where high school graduates go to learn how to read - compared the actions of the school board to the Ku Klux Klan. "If they were sitting up there in Klan robes," she said, no one would be tolerating what is going on, but the effect is the same. [Eight of the 9 school board members are black.]

We tell the story of two Indiana teachers recognized state-wide for their impact on students, only to be fired literally the next day because they lacked seniority of their co-workers.

Numerous leaders sound the alarm, but do elected leaders have the courage to stand up to the all-powerful teachers' unions? The tide seems to be turning, but the need is dire. The United States continues to slip globally [pdf], with student achievement lagging behind Iceland and Hungary.

In short, it's because our public school system is designed to benefits adults, at the expense of children. The focus has been on spending - which invariably ends up in pay, health benefits and retirement for the employees.

"Kids Aren't Cars" is an unflinching look at the state of public education in America and what can be done about it.


British Labour Party's failed initiative on private schools as just one-third of independents report interest

Parents have snubbed Labour’s attempt to give poorer pupils bursaries to top private schools, a report reveals today. Just one-third of independent prep schools have seen a ‘reasonable’ level of interest in bursary places from prospective parents – despite legislation forcing schools to offer them.

Private schools say it meant they were forced to waste valuable resources complying with red-tape in a ‘failed bid at social engineering’. Headmasters believe the measure was a ‘cheap political trick’ and ‘an attack on private schools’. They want the legislation axed or relaxed so they can be given the freedom to benefit the public in the way they see fit.

David Hansom, of the Independent Association of Prep Schools, said: ‘These results show that the provision of 100 per cent bursaries is nothing more than a box-ticking exercise for the Charity Commission and the demand from parents simply is not there.’

Independent schools are run as charities and must show they provide ‘public benefit’ to maintain their charity status. Charity Commission legislation, which came into force in September 2010, set out rules prescribing how schools should make places available to poorer pupils, ushering a shift from scholarships to means-tested bursaries.

It forced many to hire extra staff to deal with the red tape involved in complying as any school failing to meet the requirements risks losing its charitable tax breaks. And less well-off independents were forced to pass on the cost of bursaries to fee-paying parents, which has in turn made them even further out of reach for many.

A survey by the Independent Schools Council, which represents private schools, shows that just 33 per cent of schools thought interest in their bursaries was good or better.

Russell Hobby, of the National Association of Head Teachers, said it was too early to judge whether the new measures were a success and added that many parents will be put off by the additional costs of sending their children to a private school.


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