Colorado College Joins Worst Offenders of Liberty on FIRE's Red Alert List
May 15, 2008
Thanks to its disregard for protected speech, obvious display of double standards, and lack of a fair judicial process, Colorado College has earned the dubious distinction of being placed on FIRE's Red Alert list. Institutions on the Red Alert list are unrepentant offenders against basic rights that are guaranteed either by the U.S. Constitution or the schools themselves, and they have policies and/or practices that demonstrate a serious and ongoing threat to present and future students.
Although given numerous opportunities to reverse the finding that student Chris Robinson and another student, who wishes to remain anonymous, violated the school's "violence" policy for posting a flyer parodying a Feminist and Gender Studies flyer, Colorado College has refused to remove the guilty finding from the students' records and reaffirm its commitments to free speech for all viewpoints on campus. Even public outrage and widespread negative publicity have not deterred Colorado College administrators from their deluded finding of guilt for "the juxtaposition of weaponry and sexuality" that they believe was displayed violently in the flyer. And to top it all off, the school managed to make a mockery of the appellate process—the same administrator who originally found the students guilty was also the final judge of their appeal!
The controversy at Colorado College started earlier this year, when the "Feminist and Gender Studies Interns" distributed a flyer called "The Monthly Rag," which included a reference to "male castration," an announcement about a lecture on "feminist porn," and an explanation of "packing" (pretending to have a phallus). As a parody of "The Monthly Rag," Robinson and the second student distributed a flyer in February called "The Monthly Bag" under the pseudonym "The Coalition of Some Dudes." The flyer included references to "tough guy wisdom," "chainsaw etiquette," the shooting range of a sniper rifle, and a quotation about "female violence and abuse [of men]" from the website batteredmen.com.
Almost immediately after the flyers were posted, Colorado College President Richard F. Celeste sent out a campus-wide e-mail declaring that "The Monthly Bag" included "threatening and demeaning content, which is categorically unacceptable in this community." The students, who came forward within an hour and accepted responsibility for distributing the flyers, were quickly subjected to a three-hour hearing and charged with "bias" and violating the college's values of respect and integrity.
FIRE wrote to Celeste, pointing out that any punishment would contradict Colorado College's own policies and advertised commitments to free expression, including a policy that states, "On a campus that is free and open, no idea can be banned or forbidden. No viewpoint or message may be deemed so hateful that it may not be expressed."
Three weeks later and after an abusive trial in a kangaroo court, Vice President for Student Life/Dean of Students Mike Edmonds wrote to the students, stating that they had been found guilty of "violating the student code of conduct policy on violence" for their "juxtaposition of weaponry and sexuality." Their punishments included having the "violence" finding placed in their student files and being required to hold a forum to "discuss issues and questions raised" by their parody.
After the guilty finding, FIRE launched a national media campaign, exposing the ridiculousness of Colorado College's handling of the situation—and the backlash against the administration was intense. Still, this public embarrassment has not convinced the school to reverse the absurd punishment. President Celeste and Dean Edmonds have pretended not to realize that having a guilty finding for "violence" and "the juxtaposition of weaponry and sexuality" on a student's record can destroy their chances for future employment or post-graduate education. FIRE hopes that by placing Colorado College on its Red Alert list, prospective students will be warned that they are considering attending a school that has such poor respect for their basic rights and freedoms as American citizens and members of the school's community.