Political Double Standard at Lake Superior State University
April 9, 2008
by Adam Kissel
In a press release today, FIRE adds Lake Superior State University to the list of schools where double standards for political expression are the norm. (Compare to the ludicrous situation at Colorado College.)
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." Professor Richard Crandall, a nearly 40-year veteran of teaching, has adorned his office door and the wall near his office 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 former 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 similar materials on their office doors, reflecting their own various ideological perspectives. About a year ago, Provost Bruce Harger ordered Crandall to take down his display, threatening to charge Crandall with "insubordination" if he failed to comply. Crandall acquiesced and is awaiting a restoration of 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. We 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.
FIRE Vice President Robert Shibley says it best in our press release: "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."
I challenge LSSU to declare which of Crandall's postings actually violate the civil rights of people walking by. So far as I know, LSSU has only suggested that everything (except uncontroversial materials like notices of office hours) must go. If Crandall really enjoys the First Amendment rights to which he is entitled, LSSU may only act to remove specific postings if they actually meet the very high existing standards for violations of the law. But if I were Crandall, I would fear posting anything without an explicit, written guarantee that LSSU will follow the Constitution in this matter. I further challenge LSSU to provide such a guarantee; otherwise, Crandall and all faculty members at LSSU must continue to fear the political double standard on their campus.