FIRE’s Work Lauded in Newspapers Nationwide
December 12, 2005
[Jihad] Daniel, who repairs printers at William Paterson University and also takes courses toward a master’s degree there, was reading his e-mail before work on March 8 when he came upon a message sent in connection with Women’s History Month announcing the showing of a film, “Ruthie and Connie: Every Room in the House.”Mr. Daniel, 63, who has been a Muslim since the 1970’s, had no interest in the film. He believes his religion condemns homosexuality. So following the instructions, he sent a reply to the e-mail address of Arlene Holpp Scala, chairwoman of the department of women’s studies.“Do not send me any mail about ‘Connie and Sally’ and ‘Adam and Steve.’ These are perversions,” he wrote. “The absence of God in higher education brings on confusion. That is why in these classes the Creator of the heavens and the earth is never mentioned.”
“I said, ‘You’re kidding me, aren’t you?’” he said. “I didn’t harass anyone. I didn’t threaten anyone. I said, ‘Don’t send me any more e-mails because I’m a religious person and God does not condone that kind of behavior.’”
At that point Mr. Daniel might have packed it in, but he figured a letter in his file saying he was guilty of harassing behavior was no small price to pay. And he had been taking courses in media communications and decided that what he had learned about the First Amendment applied to him as much as it did to the founding fathers. Yes, he was just the guy who fixed the printers, but he didn’t see how he had done anything wrong.He decided to appeal and found an ally in the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which has found no shortage of free-speech cases on college campuses.
This stuff never seems to go away on college campuses, but Mr. Daniel said he just wanted to go back to attending class and fixing printers. “This was not about having my 15 minutes of fame,” he said. “I’m not ego-tripping. I just thought from the start this whole thing was ludicrous.”
In September at George Mason University in Virginia, a student and Air Force veteran, Tariq Khan, stood near a military recruiters’ table on campus with a “Recruiters lie” sign taped to his chest and handed out leaflets. Another student assaulted him and took away his sign; the campus police then arrested Khan for violating a university policy that bans distribution of leaflets without prior approval from administrators. Charges were eventually dropped after Khan's case was taken up by the American Civil Liberties Union and by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.FIRE, co-founded by Boston civil rights attorney Harvey Silverglate and University of Pennsylvania professor [Alan Charles] Kors, is a nonpartisan organization that champions free expression on college campuses. When the organization was launched in 1998, its main focus was “political correctness” from the left—attempts to curtail speech regarded as racist, sexist, or otherwise injurious to diversity. Such censorship still endures. But alongside it, FIRE is seeing more cases in which speech is suppressed by political correctness on the right.
Back in 1992, civil libertarian Nat Hentoff wrote a book titled, “Free Speech for Me—But Not for Thee.” Unfortunately, that sums up the typical approach on the right and the left. It’s not always easy to defend freedom of speech when the speech deeply offends you. But that’s the true test of commitment to liberty.
The idea of evaluating prospective teachers based on their “professional dispositions” has been around for at least two decades. But it became much more important in 2002, when the organization that accredits education schools changed its focus. It decided that examining a school’s curriculum and the kind of educational experiences it offered was not enough to make sure schools turned out graduates who were ready for the classroom.“We reoriented our system so that we could primarily make accreditation decisions on data revealing how much candidates had the knowledge and skills required to teach,” says Arthur E. Wise, president of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. “This was a very big change.”In the 2002 edition of its guidebook on professional standards, the accreditor detailed the kind of learning it expects, including the kind of professional dispositions it believes students need. Dispositions, the booklet says, are the “values, commitments, and professional ethics that influence behaviors toward students, families, colleagues, and communities.” They “are guided by beliefs and attitudes related to values such as caring, fairness, honesty, responsibility, and social justice.”It is the term “social justice,” and the many ways in which education schools have defined it, that seems to have sparked most of the complaints.