University of Rhode Island: Student Senate Attempts to Compel Speech
At the University of Rhode Island, the College Republicans came under fire for advertising a "scholarship" during "Conservative Coming Out Week," in order to satirically protest scholarships awarded on the bases of race, gender, or nationality. Even though the College Republicans never awarded the "scholarship" to anyone, the Student Organizations Advisory and Review Committee (SOARC) decided that just advertising the award violated URI's anti-discrimination bylaws. The committee directed the College Republicans to either publicly apologize or face derecognition, which would deny the club the ability to reserve meeting space or apply for funding. Despite a letter from FIRE informing the Senate of the constitutional ban on compelled speech and a directive from URI President Robert Carothers to drop the mandatory apology, SOARC stood by its decision and voted to derecognize the College Republicans. After much media scrutiny, the Senate voted to drop the mandatory apology, and allow the College Republicans the recognition they deserve.
- "Victory for Freedom of Expression at the University of Rhode Island," April 26, 2007: The Student Senate of the University of Rhode Island (URI) acknowledged its constitutional obligations last night by rejecting a proposal to derecognize the College Republicans. This decision overturns last week’s committee vote to derecognize the group after its members refused to apologize for advertising a satirical “scholarship” for white, heterosexual, American males. Heeding pressure from FIRE, national media, URI’s administration, and a concerned public, the Student Senate decided that the group would not have to apologize, but rather explain its intentions to those who applied for the “scholarship.” No longer compelled to say something they do not believe, the College Republicans are satisfied with this resolution.
- "URI Student Senate Letter to FIRE, April 24, 2007," April 24, 2007
- "Letter from Rhode Island ACLU to URI Student Senate President Neil Leston, April 19, 2007," April 19, 2007
- "University of Rhode Island Student Senate Dumps College Republicans," April 18, 2007: With dramatic disregard for students’ constitutional rights, a committee of the University of Rhode Island (URI) Student Senate voted on Monday to derecognize the College Republicans. For months, the Student Senate has demanded that the group publicly apologize for advertising a satirical $100 “scholarship” for white, heterosexual, American males—an award that was never actually given out. The College Republicans refused to apologize for their protected expression and instead contacted FIRE for help. FIRE is now calling upon URI President Robert Carothers, who has already informed the Senate that it could not compel student speech, to reverse the decision to derecognize the group.
- "FIRE Letter to URI President Robert Carothers, April 17, 2007," April 17, 2007
- "SOARC Letter to College Republicans Regarding Sanctions, April 16, 2007," April 16, 2007
- "University of Rhode Island President Forbids Student Senate from Imposing Unconstitutional Sanctions," April 12, 2007: University of Rhode Island (URI) President Robert Carothers has intervened to stop the Student Senate from imposing unconstitutional sanctions on the URI College Republicans, who sponsored a satirical $100 “scholarship” for white, heterosexual, American males. The Senate prohibited the group from disbursing the money, but the Senate later demanded that the College Republicans apologize publicly in the student newspaper for even advertising the scholarship. FIRE wrote to the Student Senate to explain that the First Amendment prohibits any organization that derives its authority from a public university from compelling students to make statements against their will. When the Student Senate ignored its constitutional obligations, FIRE urged President Carothers to intervene. In a recent memo, President Carothers boldly told the Senate that its demand for an apology “does not meet constitutional standards as laid forth in the First Amendment,” and directed that “you may not impose any sanctions on the College Republicans, or any other student group, that requires them to make public statements which are not their own.” We now wait while the Senate decides whether to heed the president’s directive.
- "Memo from URI President Robert Carothers to Student Senate, April 6, 2007," April 6, 2007
- "FIRE Letter to URI President Robert Carothers, March 28, 2007," March 28, 2007
- "Student Senate Memo to College Republicans, March 27, 2007," March 27, 2007
- "FIRE Letter to URI Student Senate President Neil Cavanaugh, March 13, 2007," March 13, 2007
- "URI College Republicans' WHAM Scholarship Application," November 16, 2006
- "This Month in FIRE History: Student Senate Attempts to Compel Speech," by Claire Jenkins, April 30, 2010
- "Under FIRE: Campus speech regulations once again,"
by Stanley Fish, The New York Times - “Think Again” Blog, April 30, 2007
- "Satiric scholarship creates First Amendment firestorm,"
by Joe Murray, The Evening Bulletin, April 27, 2007
- "Campus Watch: They dared to joke,"
New York Post, April 24, 2007
- "College GOP group derecognized for anti-PC stunt,"
by Payton Hoegh, CNSNews.com, April 20, 2007
- "University of Rhode Island student groups duel over free speech,"
by Melissa Drosjack, FOXNews.com, April 20, 2007
- "Republican student group’s decision to sponsor satirical, whites-only scholarship starts row,"
by Associated Press, International Herald Tribune, April 18, 2007
- "GOP group protests apology demands over whites-only scholarship,"
by Associated Press, The Boston Globe, April 18, 2007
- "Carothers: Senate can’t ‘impose sanctions’ on College Republicans,"
by Andy Blais, The Good Five Cent Cigar (University of Rhode Island), April 18, 2007