Lake Superior State University Violates Free Expression Rights
April 9, 2008
Orders Professor to Remove Posted Materials from Office Door
SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich., April 9, 2008—Lake Superior State University (LSSU) has ordered a professor to remove materials dealing with issues such as Islamic terrorism, gun control, presidential politics, and the war in Iraq from his office door or face charges of "insubordination." After an anonymous person complained that the materials were offensive, LSSU officials told Professor Richard Crandall, a nearly 40-year veteran of teaching, to immediately remove the items and to practice his academic freedom with "responsibility"—while allowing other professors to maintain similar postings about the same issues on their office doors. Crandall has turned to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help.
"LSSU is displaying serious disrespect for faculty rights by demanding that Professor Crandall remove materials about public concerns from his office door," FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. "The political double standard in this case is striking."
Crandall has adorned his office door and the wall near his office primarily with conservative political cartoons and postings since he started teaching at LSSU in 1969. Items he has posted in recent years include a photograph of President Ronald Reagan, a political cartoon mocking Vice President Dick Cheney's 2006 hunting accident, and political cartoons about Islamic terrorism. Other professors at LSSU, including professors on Crandall's own floor, post on their office doors similar materials reflecting various ideological perspectives. In 2005, Crandall first heard that someone had complained that his displays were "hateful and bigoted," and on March 12, 2007, Provost Bruce Harger finally ordered Crandall to take down his display, threatening to charge Crandall with "insubordination" if he failed to comply. Crandall acquiesced but has turned to FIRE to restore his right to free expression.
FIRE wrote to then–LSSU President Betty J. Youngblood on July 23, 2007, reminding her that it is common for professors at LSSU and other universities to post materials—political and otherwise—on their own office doors. FIRE also noted that using a double standard to censor Crandall's postings was viewpoint discrimination prohibited by the First Amendment, which LSSU, as a state university, is required to uphold.
An outside law firm responded to FIRE on behalf of the university, insisting that LSSU has not infringed on Crandall's First Amendment rights and absurdly declaring that Crandall's displays would somehow threaten the civil rights of LSSU community members.
"LSSU's embarrassingly poor grasp of the law and its obvious viewpoint discrimination against Professor Crandall are clear indicators that, like too many of America's universities, LSSU is ready to abandon fundamental rights in the name of making some students or faculty feel ‘comfortable.' Yet the right to free expression exists to allow people to challenge the beliefs of others—even if this leads to discomfort," FIRE Vice President Robert L. Shibley said. "It's time for LSSU to acknowledge that Professor Crandall has the same right to express himself as any other LSSU professor."
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process rights, freedom of expression, and rights of conscience on our nation's campuses. FIRE's efforts to preserve liberty at Lake Superior State University and elsewhere can be seen at www.thefire.org.