William Felkner: Ideological Corruption on Campus
Robert Shibley, vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), slammed Brown and URI for their blatant attempts to squelch First Amendment rights in Friday’s Providence Journal:
Brown University was home to one of the most mysterious cases that the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has ever seen — mysterious because the university never explained why it decided to trample on its students’ freedom of religion. Brown’s Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) was suspended in September 2006 for “non-compliance” with university policy. When the RUF asked what it had failed to comply with, the strange saga began.
After FIRE repeatedly reminded Brown University that it, too, must obey the U.S. Constitution, all charges and restrictions against RUF were removed. To date, no explanation has been given.
Next we turn our eyes to URI, where FIRE found the Student Senate, backed with institutional power, trying to force the College Republicans to write an apology for offering a $100 WHAM scholarship (white heterosexual American male). After a few letters and some embarrassing press, they finally got it: “no state authority can force people to say things they don’t believe.”
The timing is entirely coincidental, but my first piece on the Manhattan Institute’s new Web site, Minding the Campus, tells a similar story to Mr. Shibley’s — this time in another of our state sponsored schools, Rhode Island College.
My previous run-ins with the college suggest that RIC isn’t at all new to exercising its dictatorial rights. Remember Lisa Church — the teacher taken to task for not punishing a parent for using “colorful” language? Or perhaps the infamous “keep your Rosaries off my ovaries” fiasco?
With those incidents, I decided to support the college for protecting students’ right to be offensive (if rather dumb). In “I Pray Sacrilege Is Protected,” I draw the line from the RIC “Jesus Cartoon” to 1943’s West Virginia v. Barnette, which instructed that “no officer, high or petty, shall prescribe orthodoxy to a profession.” In other words, professors (who, some would say, are both high and petty) may not require a politically, religiously, or otherwise restricted right of thought. They can’t tell us what to think and say.
An RI Supreme Court Case, Lee v. Weisman, involving prayers stripped from public graduations, takes us back to RIC, which is still confused about which parts of the First Amendment it wants to or can restrict.
Politicians make back-room deals and close out the citizens for money and votes. The representatives of higher education act on behalf of an ideological currency. The first corrupt the political process, the second the minds of American students.
William Felkner is the president of the Ocean State Policy Research Institute.