Students get FIREd up for free speech at lecture

The President of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Greg Lukianoff, spoke at Cal Poly yesterday about the importance of free speech and students’ first amendment rights while enrolled at a university.

"Some of the stuff that you can get in trouble for on campus is absolutely ridiculous," Greg Lukianoff said in his presentation Feb. 7 on speech codes at universities. "They want to shut people up who oppose them." Amanda Sedo — Mustang Daily

FIRE is a non-profit group which was founded in 1999 to help defend the rights of students in universities across the nation. It utilizes a ranking system for universities from red to green, based on five different topics relating to student rights on campus.

Cal Poly was once  a “red light” school but recently moved up to a “yellow light” ranking, said Sean Pringle, a civil engineering freshman and member of the Cal Poly College Republicans club who organized the event.

“We (wanted) to get as many people as possible to come to this event as well as motivate the administration to help the campus achieve ‘green light’ status,” Pringle said.

Laura Freberg, a psychology professor and adviser to the Cal Poly College Republicans, said it is only a matter of time before Cal Poly becomes a ‘green light’ school.

Sixty-seven percent of the top colleges in the United States have “red-light” speech codes, according to Lukianoff.

“Speech codes can be incredibly arrogant and widely unconstitutional,” he said. “Who on earth thinks they can regulate attitudes? A little bit of pressure from students can beat speech codes.”

Freberg said she hopes Cal Poly will continue to improve in it’s speech codes.

“My understanding is that to become a ‘green light’ school there needs to be no consequences for students utilizing their free speech but the school is reluctant to do that,” Freberg said. “I know it can happen in the near future.”

Freberg said it is important to note that this event was not about political parties.

“There’s a misconception that because Republicans are sponsoring the speech that FIRE is a right wing organization,” Freberg said. “But they are all neutral ACLU-type people.”

Lukianoff shares a message that is important to every student here at Cal Poly, Pringle said.

“I think that the diversity series that has been going on (in the Mustang Daily) really complements this presentation,” Pringle said. “The first amendment takes no sides; it’s not a conservative or liberal thing.”

Lukianoff, who attended American University and Stanford Law School, has an extensive background in the legal system. Before joining FIRE in 2001, he was involved with the ACLU of northern California, and was a manager of the EnvironMentors Project in Washington, D.C.

Freberg said she has known Lukianoff for a long time and always enjoys listening to him speak.

“A critical part of the college experience is grappling with ideas that are often offensive,” Freberg said. “One of the things that (Lukianoff) stresses is if someone offends you, use your own free speech to have a dialogue.”

Offenses against free speech happen throughout the country at universities, even at Cal Poly.

In 2003, FIRE was involved with a case against Cal Poly student, Steve Hinkle. Hinkle was tried and found guilty of disrupting a campus event after posting flyers on a bulletin board in the MultiCultural Center, which some students found offensive. FIRE stepped in and Cal Poly finally cleared the incident from Hinkle’s record.

Business administration junior Lindsay Carr said the FIRE presentation is something that all students can appreciate.

“It affects all of us, you know,” she said. “I think many students would be surprised to know how many times peoples’ rights have been violated, and I think it’s important to understand that our rights still exist when enrolled at a university.”

Michael Dewitt, a biomedical engineering freshman who attended the lecture, encourages others to do the same.

“After this presentation I realized that all of this stuff is a lot more pertinent to us than I originally thought,” Dewitt said. “It is absolutely relevant to every single student. I feel like every student should have to listen to a presentation like this and realize more about the rights that we should have on campus.”

Lukianoff has spoken about students’ rights on national television shows, such as CBS Evening News, The O’Reilly Factor and Dr. Nancy. He has also had articles published in the Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe,  the New York Post and more.

  • John

    “At Tufts University in 2000, FIRE defended a Christian group that had been de-recognized by the university for refusing to allow a homosexual student to take a leadership position in the group…In 2003 and 2004, FIRE acted on behalf of Cal Poly student Steve Hinkle, who was punished for posting a flier on a public bulletin board announcing a College Republicans-sponsored speech by a black social critic.”

    Missing from the article is this kind of information; while the first amendment is something that should be treasured and guarded against, there’s definitely a case to be made that this kind of support borders support of hate speech; also notable, is the existing tie FIRE has to the College Republicans – his speech here was no coincidence or happenstance.

    • Ian

      To say that not allowing a homosexual to take a leadership position in a privately organized and run religious organization on a college campus is anywhere near meeting the definition of hate speech is a ridiculous statement, and certainly not grounded in any part of the US constitution. As is equating, the posting of a book’s cover on a campus flier (like the Hinkle issue).

      But more importantly Mr. Lukianoff is a First Amendment lawyer with years of experience. And the most basic glance at his history would show you he has worked for the ACLU and other civil rights groups, that probably lean left, as well as his writing for the Hunffington Post. Certainly not groups that support many of the beliefs of the College Republican members as a whole.

Show