Thursday, July 10, 2014

ACLU, ADF Call "Foul" Over University's Treatment Of The First Amendment

Idaho's Boise State University ("BSU") is world-famous for its telegenic "blue turf" football field and a roster of impressive bowl game appearances. But if current trends continue, the school might be on its way to fame of a different sort: on the same weekend that Americans celebrate their nation's founding and their liberties, BSU is simultaneously under fire from three separate legal defense groups all of which are alleging violations of students' free speech rights.

The concerns have emerged from two nationwide organizations, the American Civil Liberties Union ("ACLU") and the Alliance Defending Freedom ("ADF"), as well as from the Idaho-based Center for Defense of Liberty ("CDL"). They involve the activites of two on-campus clubs.

"We believe that Boise State University violated the First Amendment when it assessed ‘security fees’ against the 'Young Americans for Liberty at Boise State University’ student group” notes Geoffrey Talmon, Attorney with the CDL. Talmon sent a letter ealier this week to BSU President Dr. Bob Kustra, requesting that the university refund money that it charged to the student’s involved with BSU’s chapter of “Young Americans for Liberty” (“YAL”), a club with college campus chapters nationwide. Talmon is also requesting that BSU revise its policies over the assessment of “security fees” at speaking events.

Talmon cites a YAL-sponsored event at BSU on May 16, 2014, which featured Dick Heller as a keynote speaker. Heller was at the epicenter of the US Supreme Court's landmark 2008 “District of Columbia versus Heller” case, wherein a lower court ruling which determined that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution applies to individuals living in a federal enclave was upheld. The high court's ruling resulted in the overturning of a restrictive gun law in Washington, D.C.

“Despite the Heller event having been planned for over six weeks, YAL was not informed until approximately 24 hours before the event that BSU had decided that additional security would be required at the event, and that YAL would have to pay an additional $465.00 for such security” Talmon states in his letter. “This charge increased the facilities cost for the Heller Event by approximately 820% over the previously-quoted total. Furthermore, the webpage containing the details of the Heller Event was removed from the BSU website prior to the event, and the event was also removed from the ‘This Week At Boise State’ section of the BSU website.”

In the letter Talmon references local news reports wherein BSU staffers alleged that the YAL event posed a campus security risk and, thus, required additional security measures to be taken. He also cites what he describes as “BSU’s vocal opposition to the expansion of the 2nd Amendment,” and then states that, even if the university was genuinely concerned about campus safety at the YAL event, “that does not permit the University to put a pricetag on Mr. Heller’s speech, itself.”

Calls to Kustra’s office seeking comment about the incident, and Talmon's requests, were not immediately returned.

“It is troubling to read about what it seems that the university has done” Ritchie Eppink, Attorney with the ACLU, told local news outlet IdahoReporter.Com about the YAL case. “In particular it is troubling to read about the policies under which these additional costs were imposed on YAL. Based on what I know now, this seems unfair, and unconstitutional.”

In addition to its troubles with YAL, last week BSU and Kustra were both named in a lawsuit filed by the non-profit “Alliance Defending Freedom” organization. ADF alleges that BSU officials required an on-campus pro-life club to post “warning signs” for two pro-life events that campus officials deemed to be “controversial.” The lawsuit also alleges that BSU prohibited the pro-life group from distributing fliers outside one of the school’s eight officially designated “speech zones.”

“University policies that suppress free speech are completely at odds with what a university is: a marketplace of ideas,” ADF Attorney David Hacker said of the lawsuit in a written statement.

Prior to his service as BSU's President, Kustra served as both a legislator, and as Lieutenant Governor in the state of Illinois. According to reports from the Chicago Tribune, in 1996 Kustra sought the Republican nomination for a seat in the U.S. Senate running as a "moderate Republican" in that state who championed both gun control and abortion rights.

Whether by Kustra's influence or not, BSU's stances with the pro-life and pro-liberty organizations on campus bear a striking contrast to the policies of the otherwise "pro-life" and 2nd Amendment-friendly state. Idaho officially requires parental consent for under-age minors seeking abortions, prohibits public funding for abortion services, and as of this month allows students who are licensed to posess concealed firearms to carry those weapons on college campuses.

Spokesperson Greg Hahn said that Kustra's office will likely issue a public response to the YAL conflict next week.


UK: Children held back by 'vested interests' in education, says Michael Gove

Education standards risk being undermined “by vested interests determined to hold back reform”, Michael Gove has said on the eve of a major national teachers' strike.

In a swipe at classroom unions, the Education Secretary says attempts to reform schools have “not always been easy” because too many teachers believe “things must stay the same”.

Writing for The Telegraph, Mr Gove says large numbers of pupils across Europe – including England – are facing a bleak future unless extra effort is made to raise standards and create more equal access to good schools.

He says teaching standards must improve because too many children are still attending schools that “aren’t good enough”.

The comments are made in a joint article with education ministers from Spain and Portugal as a major international conference is staged in London on Wednesday – just a day before Britain’s biggest teaching union prepares for a national strike over Coalition education reforms.

Education ministers, teachers and school leaders from seven countries are expected to attend the summit co-hosted by the Department for Education.

It is expected to place renewed focus on a series of Government education policies including the creation of a new generation academies and free schools, more freedom for head teachers, an overhaul of the curriculum and a new-style league tables focusing on achievement in core subjects.

Mr Gove has also introduced a wave of reforms aimed at teachers including raising the bar on entry to the profession and a new system of performance-related pay.

The reforms have been met with furious opposition from classroom unions who claim Mr Gove has turned teaching into one of the worst jobs in the world.

On Thursday, the National Union of Teachers will stage a one-day strike across England and Wales in protest over performance-related pay and escalating workload.

It threatens to shut around a quarter of state schools and lead to the partial closure of many more – forcing millions of parents to take the day off work or seek emergency childcare.

But writing in the Telegraph, Mr Gove said the Coalition’s reforms were typical of those being pursued across Europe and the developed world.

He also criticises the education establishment for failing to support change.

“Our struggle has not always been easy,” he says. “All of us have been opposed by vested interests determined to hold back reform, insisting that things must stay the same.

“We understand that change can be difficult. But it must happen.”

In an article written jointly with Nuno Crato, minister for education in Portugal, and Lucía Figar, a regional minister for education in Spain, he said: “A child’s education is only ever as good as their teacher. So all of us are focusing on driving up the quality of teaching in our classrooms.”

“In England, we’re raising the bar for entry to the profession, expanding elite recruitment routes and offering new incentives to attract the brightest and best into teaching,” he said. “It’s already working – we now have the best qualified teachers in a generation, and Ofsted’s impartial inspectors report that schools improved faster last year than at any time in Ofsted’s history.”

The article says that England, Spain and Portugal have “long traditions of educational excellence, but we know that too few of our children are guaranteed an excellent education”.

“Too many children across Europe – especially those from poorer communities – still attend schools which just aren't good enough,” it is claimed. “And the nature of economic and technological change means those children, and our societies, face bleaker futures unless we can improve their education and make opportunity more equal.”

The Education Reform Summit – jointly hosted by The Education Foundation think-tank – will take place on Wednesday and Thursday. It has been billed as the most “high-profile example yet of global interest in the Government’s school reforms”.

Mr Gove has said that education reform experts are “coming here to share their ideas and see what we are doing in this country”.

But the conference threatens to be overshadowed by the biggest public sector strike since the Coalition came to power. As many as a million workers are set to strike as members of the NUT walk out alongside the Fire Brigades Union, the GMB, the Public and Commercial Services Union, Unison and Unite.

The NUT has been locked in an ongoing dispute over a series of controversial reforms, including the introduction of a system of performance related pay, which will see future salary rises linked to pupils' results and behaviour.

They have also been angered by mounting workloads and reforms to pensions which will see staff work for longer and retire with a smaller fund.

Christine Blower, NUT general secretary, said ministers were “refusing point blank to accept the damage their reforms are doing to the teaching profession”.

“The consequences of turning teaching into a totally unattractive career choice will most certainly lead to teacher shortages,” she said. “Teaching is one of the best jobs in the world but is being made one of the worst under Michael Gove and the Coalition.”


FIRE Vows to Keep Filing Lawsuits Against Campus Speech Codes

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has unveiled its Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project, a new initiative supporting the free speech rights of college students nationwide.

The plan consists of filing consecutive lawsuits “against public colleges maintaining unconstitutional speech codes in each federal circuit.”

“After each victory by ruling or settlement, FIRE will target another school in the same circuit—sending a message that unless public colleges obey the law, they will be sued,” FIRE said.

“In 1989, the first of the modern generation of speech codes was defeated in federal court in a case called Doe v. Michigan….But amazingly, all these years later, campus speech codes are still alive and thriving,” FIRE president Greg Lukianoff said at a press conference last week at the National Press Club in Washington.

“The half-dozen lawsuits we have already filed are just the beginning,” Lukianoff continued. “More suits are already in the pipeline, and we’re confident that after this announcement more students and faculty members will come forward to challenge speech codes in court.”

“Many universities maintain their speech codes not just because they may actually believe in a mythical ‘right not to be offended’ on campus, but because they believe that there is no ‘downside’….In this amoral calculus, free speech loses,” Lukianoff noted.

“FIRE has therefore decided that we need to change the incentive structure to one that favors freedom of speech on college campuses rather than the suppression of dissent.”

FIRE's initial lawsuits were filed against:

Chicago State University (CSU):  Some faculty are suing the administration for trying to shut down a blog that is critical of CSU’s policies. The Chicago Tribune reports that CSU’s attorneys claim the website violates school policies and unlawfully uses university trademarks

Citrus College in Glendora, CA:  An official told a student in 2013 that he would be expelled if he did not stay inside the school’s free-speech zone while gathering signatures for a petition against the National Security Agency (NSA).

Iowa State University:  Students affiliated with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) had their t-shirt design rejected by university staff. According to court documents, this was because the shirts seemed to link the school with illegal drug activity.

Ohio State University: Court documents claim that members of Students Defending Students could not wear their shirts saying, “We get you off for free,” after officials associated the phrase with prostitution and objectifying women. Students, though, claim that this phrase continues to be a long-standing joke from the 1970s.

However, university officials previously targeted by FIRE claim that the group inaccurately portrays their free speech policies.

In March, Joan Smith, chancellor of the Yosemite Community College District (YCCD), wrote in the Modesto Bee about an incident in which YCCD paid $50,000 and changed its speech code after Robert Van Tuinen, a U.S. Army veteran and Modesto Junior College (MJC) student, gave FIRE a series of videos documenting that he was not allowed to distribute copies of the U.S. Constitution on campus on Constitution Day in 2013.

“Unfortunately, the way our legal system works, sometimes institutions of higher education are forced to settle, even when they are being misrepresented, to avoid spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees,” Smith said. “Either way, it’s a losing proposition for the college.”

But FIRE responded with a June video stating that the case was part of a larger problem, and that two MJC professors had also been censured for criticizing the school administration.

“Even after censoring Van Tuinen, having its act caught on camera and watched by hundreds of thousands of viewers, being sued, and ultimately agreeing to revise its policies and pay a $50,000 settlement, MJC apparently couldn’t see what it had done wrong,” declared Peter Bonilla, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program.

“For that matter, even after having its unconstitutional policies and practices thrust into the spotlight, MJC took more than two months after being sued to agree to suspend its free speech zone policies—on whose constitutionality there really was no question.”


No comments: