University of Massachusetts Amherst: Student Group Charged Unconstitutional Security Fee for Controversial Speaker
The Republican Club at UMass Amherst was pressured to accept $444.52 in extra security fees by the university's police department after it became known that students were planning to protest and disrupt its lecture event featuring conservative columnist Don Feder. Though the Republican Club reluctantly accepted the fees, the speech was nonetheless disrupted by protesters, and Feder was unable to finish his lecture. After pressure from FIRE, including a column in The Boston Globe pointing out that forcing groups to subsidize the activities of their protesters is unconstitutional, the UMass Amherst administration relented and relieved the group of the extra fees, though it deceptively claimed it had originally assessed the extra fees because of a larger expected audience than originally anticipated for Feder's lecture.
- "Victory for First Amendment Rights at UMass Amherst: Administration Rejects Censorship of Newspaper," April 23, 2009: Under pressure from FIRE, University of Massachusetts Amherst has rejected the student government's official censorship of The Minuteman, a conservative campus newspaper that mocked a student government official. In addition, FIRE has learned that UMass Amherst has held accountable at least one of the people who stole copies of The Minuteman out of the hands of a student while a campus police officer watched and did nothing.
- "Free speech silenced," Boston Herald, April 16, 2009
- "Letter from UMass to 'The Boston Globe': "No real controversy in UMass event"," The Boston Globe, April 13, 2009
- "Letter to FIRE from UMass Associate Counsel Brian W. Burke," April 9, 2009
- "FIRE Letter to University of Massachusetts Chancellor Robert C. Holub," March 24, 2009
- "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.
- "Victory for First Amendment Rights at UMass Amherst: Administration Rejects Censorship of Newspaper," by Adam Kissel, April 23, 2009
- "FIRE Vice President Pens Op-Ed for ‘The Boston Globe’: ‘Why no one should be silenced on campus’," by Luke Sheahan, April 9, 2009: Today's Boston Globe features an op-ed from FIRE Vice President Robert Shibley on the disruption of Don Feder's speech at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. This incident is indicative of a larger problem on college campuses, where students have begun to resort to disruption and violence to preempt speech with which they disagree. All too often, university policies actually make this "heckler's veto" possible, denying students the opportunity to hear speakers with diverse views. As Robert's column persuasively points out, the real casualty of the heckling 'arms race' fostered by such policies is the possibility of getting a truly liberal education.
- "Four FIRE Cases on Security Fees Top Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle," by Adam Kissel, March 31, 2009
- "Between the Lines: Intolerant of Dissent,"
by Cathy Young, The Valley Advocate, May 21, 2009
- "Before you know it, your speech could be offensive,"
by Cathy Young, RealClearPolitics, April 22, 2009
- "UMass-Amherst abandons free-speech rights,"
by Pete Chagnon, OneNewsNow.com, April 21, 2009
- "Why no one should be silenced on campus,"
by Robert Shibley, The Boston Globe, April 9, 2009