Tufts University: So Close, But Yet So Far
December 27, 2007
by Greg Lukianoff
As we wrap up 2007 FIRE is proud to have scored victory after victory at universities across the country, but if there’s one case that frustrated me more than any other this year it is the ongoing saga at Tufts University. As loyal Torch readers know, in April Tufts found a conservative student publication guilty of harassment and creating a hostile environment for publishing political satire. Despite explicitly promising to protect controversial and offensive expression in its policies, the Tufts Committee on Student Life decided to punish The Primary Source for printing two articles that offended African-American and Muslim students on campus.
So does this paint Islam in a nice light? No. Is it one-sided? Yes, but that was kind of the point. The students were responding to what they thought was a one-sided and overly rosy depiction of Islam during Islamic Awareness week. But is it unprotected harassment!? One certainly hopes not, or else “harassment” just became a truly lethal threat to free speech—an “exception” that completely swallows the rule.
Tufts apparently [...] failed to inform you that TPS was found guilty of harassment not only for the December parody, which mocked race-based admissions, but also for an article appearing in TPS’ April 11 issue ...The article relies on quotes from the Koran, and factual assertions including: “Author Salman Rushdie needed to go into hiding after Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeni declared a fatwa calling for his death for writing The Satanic Verses, which was declared ‘blasphemous against Islam,’” and “The seven nations in the world that punish homosexuality with death all have fundamentalist Muslim governments.”
While most of these statements are flatly true (our own research indicates there are, in fact, eight Islamic countries that punish homosexuality by death), Tufts nonetheless found that the article constituted harassment because it allegedly “targeted members of the Tufts Muslim community for harassment and embarrassment, and “Muslim students felt psychologically intimidated by the piece.” To FIRE’s knowledge, such a ruling is unprecedented: a university that clearly promises its students a commitment to robust free speech has found a student paper guilty of harassment for publishing verifiable facts. If publishing factual statements constitutes “harassment,” then “harassment” has become the exception that swallows the rule of free speech.
While FIRE was very pleased that the punishment against The Primary Source
were revoked, the veryfinding of harassment—particularly for the printing of verifiable facts—was the primary reason FIRE was so concerned about the case in the first place. That is why Tufts remains on FIRE’s Red Alert List
All that remains for Tufts University to do is to overrule the findings against The Primary Source
. We recently asked President Bacow again and received a totally inadequate response
. If President Bacow really believes what he said about the importance of free speech, he simply must overturn that finding.
So, perhaps possessed by the holiday spirit, I’m going to break from usual Torch
style and simply put this directly to President Bacow
Dear President Bacow,
You have made such progress towards ending the violation of the rights of The Primary Source
and vindicating campus free speech. You revoked the punishment, and you publicly declared the primacy of free speech and its principles at Tufts University, but for some reason you have allowed the guilty finding against The Primary Source
to remain. Please overturn this finding. Nothing would make me happier in this holiday season than to be able to take Tufts University off of our Red Alert List
, our list of schools which we must warn students against attending due to unresolved and serious threats to fundamental campus liberties. If you truly believe in the essentiality of free speech at Tufts University, the finding simply must be overturned.
I hope President Bacow will take this final step and leave this embarrassing incident behind him in 2008.