University of Massachusetts at Amherst: Suppression of ‘Racist’ Speech
The University of Massachusetts at Amherst campaigned to persecute nine students who were seen in photographs containing a caricature of one of them as the "Grand Wizard" of the Ku Klux Klan. At a post-election party following the Student Government Association (SGA) elections, Patrick Higgins, a student defeated in a race for SGA President during which he was labeled a "racist," was in attendance. Another student, in an effort to mock the charges of racism, drew a caricature of Higgins as a member of the Ku Klux Klan on a dry-erase board. A photo was taken of the caricature and later circulated around campus. After controversy erupted, UMass Amherst Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Michael Gargano threatened a range of punishments, from community service to expulsion, charging nine students involved with "harassment conduct less than a physical attack." Ultimately, despite FIRE's letter to the university pointing out the violation of free expression, the students were forced to resign from their positions of leadership on the SGA.
- "Repression and Double Standards at UMass Amherst," October 15, 2004: Last spring, the University of Massachusetts Amherst defended the free speech rights of a columnist who celebrated the death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman. Now the university is persecuting nine students who were seen in photographs containing a caricature of one of them as the "Grand Wizard" of the Ku Klux Klan. The mere existence of the drawing, which mocked spurious accusations of "racism" in a student government election campaign, led UMass to charge the nine students with "harassment" and threaten them with penalties ranging from criminal charges to expulsion.
- "FIRE Letter to UMass Amherst Chancellor John V. Lombardi, October 7, 2004," October 7, 2004
- "Under Pressure from FIRE, UMass Amherst Revises 2010's Speech Code of the Year," by William Creeley, February 14, 2011: Under pressure from FIRE, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst has revised its policy governing rallies on campus. In January, FIRE named the policy the 2010 Speech Code of the Year. The policy also helped earn UMass Amherst a spot on FIRE's recent "12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech" feature for The Huffington Post. The policy confined "controversial rallies" to the Student Union steps between noon and 1 p.m., required student groups to register their rally five days in advance, and mandated that members of the group act as security for the event. The revised policy requires registration 24 hours before an event, allows rallies during class hours, and does not require students to serve as security for the rally.
- "Freedom Watch: UMass Amherst parodies itself,"
by Harvey Silverglate, The Boston Phoenix, March 11, 2005
- "Send Out the Clowns,"
by Harvey Silverglate, The Boston Phoenix, October 28, 2004
- "Double standard on free speech?,"
by Cathy Young, The Boston Globe, October 25, 2004
- "Satirical UMass Students Victims of 'Double Standards,' Says FIRE,"
by Jim Brown, Agape Press, October 21, 2004
- "UMass failing constitutional test,"
by David French, Boston Herald, October 16, 2004
- "Under the Radar: Political Correctness Never Died,"
by Cathy Young, Reason, July 1, 2004