Free Speech in Civil Society graphic

New York Times hires, then fires, editorial writer who befriended neo-Nazis – February 13, 2018

New York, NY

On February 13, 2018, The New York Times announced it had hired journalist Quinn Norton to be the paper’s lead editorial writer on technology. Later that day, however, the Times said she would not be joining its editorial team after all. This announcement came after a flurry of activity on Twitter revealed that Norton had previously referred to a writer for a neo-Nazi website as a friend and had tweeted gay and racist slurs.

Key Players

Quinn Norton is a freelance journalist who has been active since 2006, when she began writing about the Internet, hacking, the organization Anonymous, the Occupy movement, and issues surrounding intellectual property. She wrote for the magazine Maximum PC for five years, and has contributed to publications such as WIRED, Gizmodo, and The Atlantic.

James Bennet is editorial page editor of The New York Times. He supervises a staff that has experts covering issues ranging from business, international affairs, and criminal justice to education and legal affairs. Norton would have covered technology for the editorial board.

Further Details

On the morning of February 13, 2018, the Times announced via Twitter that Norton would be joining its editorial team, tweeting that she would be covering “the power, culture, and consequences of technology.” After the announcement, reported the Chicago Tribune, Twitter users began circulating old tweets in which Norton used gay and racial slurs. According to the Tribune, she tweeted and retweeted the n-word on more than one occasion. Norton’s connection to neo-Nazi Andrew Auernheimer resurfaced as well. Famous for his identity as an internet troll, Auernheimer, who is known on the internet by the name “weev,” now works for The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website which, according to the Tribune, is “known for attacking Jews, women, immigrants and people of color.” Norton had tweeted in October 2017 that “weev is a terrible person, & an old friend of mine.”

Only six hours after the Times’ initial announcement, Norton responded to it, tweeting, “As I said so many times to the @nytimes, no harm no foul. I’m sorry I can’t do the work I wanted to do with them. I wish there had been a way, but ultimately, they need to feel safe with how the net will react to their opinion writers.” In a separate series of tweets, she attempted to explain and justify many of her controversial tweets that had resurfaced throughout the day.

Bennet responded to the situation with his own statement, writing, “Despite our review of Quinn Norton’s work and our conversations with her previous employers, this was new information to us. Based on it, we’ve decided to go our separate ways.”


Norton no longer involved with The New York Times

After a firestorm on Twitter, Norton and the Times dissolved their agreement, and she did not join the editorial team. The editorial board announced on April 11 that it had hired writer Jeneen Interlandi to cover health, science, and education, but as of April 27 no one had been hired to fill the position Norton would have held.

External References

New York Times hired, then quickly unhired, writer who tweeted about befriending neo-Nazis, Chicago Tribune

The NY Times Fires Tech Writer Quinn Norton, and it’s Complicated, WIRED

After Storm Over Tweets, The Times anda New Hire Part Ways, The New York Times

Tweet by @NYTimesPR, February 13 2018

Tweet by @quinnnorton, February 13 2018

Quinn Norton Wikipedia entry

Prepared by Emma Vahey ‘20

Uploaded April 30, 2018

Free Speech on Campus graphic

California State University, Fresno – April 17, 2018

Professor’s anti-Barbara Bush Twitter tirade draws ire

Fresno, CA

Just an hour after the death of Barbara Bush was announced, an English professor at California State University, Fresno, wrote a series of disparaging tweets about the former First Lady, calling her an “amazing racist.” The tweet storm quickly went viral and generated backlash from social media users, who called on Fresno State to fire her. After an investigation, the university announced she would not be punished for her comments, since it felt she had made them as a private citizen, not as a representative of the school.

Key Players

Randa Jarrar is an award-winning novelist and a tenured professor of creative writing in the Fresno State English department. Her work has appeared in publications such as The New York Times,, and Guernica. She was on leave during the spring 2018 semester, when she posted a barrage of negative tweets about former First Lady Barbara Bush in the immediate aftermath of her death.

Barbara Bush was the wife of former president George H.W. Bush and mother of former president George W. Bush. She was known for championing the cause of literacy, both while her husband was in the White House and after he left office. She died at the age of 92 in her Houston home on April 17, 2018, after a long struggle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other ailments.

Joseph Castro is president of Fresno State. He was roundly criticized for not taking disciplinary action against Jarrar for her online comments.

Further Details

On April 17, the Bush family announced that the former First Lady had passed away after electing not to receive further medical care. Just an hour later, Jarrar tweeted that “Barbara Bush was a generous and smart and amazing racist who, along with her husband, raised a war criminal.” She further called Bush a “witch” and said she was dancing “happily on the grave of someone I despise,” according to the Los Angeles Times. She also said she couldn’t wait for the rest of the Bush family to “fall to their demise the way 1.5 million [I]raqis have.”

When critics began reacting angrily on Twitter, Jarrar boasted online of her six-figure salary and said she would “never be fired” from her tenured faculty position. She added, “what I love about being an American professor is my right to free speech, and what I love about Fresno State is that I always feel protected and at home here.” Jarrar tagged Castro in her tweet, emphasizing her confident claim that her job was safe. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, she also provided a phone number in one of her tweets and asked users to air their criticisms by calling it; the supplied number ended up belonging to a student suicide help hotline, which was soon flooded with spam calls.

By the end of the day, Jarrar had set her Twitter account to private, meaning that her content could only be viewed by users she approves. She also changed her Twitter bio to say, “Currently on leave from Fresno State. This is my private account and represents my opinions,” reported The Fresno Bee. The contact page on her website displayed the statement, “I do not read or respond to messages about Barbara Bush” next to a red heart emoji.

Initially, Castro distanced himself from Jarrar’s tweets, saying she had expressed “personal views and commentary” that, while “obviously contrary to the core values of our University,” had been made “as a private citizen, not as a representative of Fresno State,” reported the Fresno State News. According to the Chronicle, Twitter users pushed back against Castro, arguing that Jarrar’s boasting of her salary and tenure demonstrated that her statements were made as a faculty member. The Chronicle also reported that the day after the tweets, “thousands of emails, phone calls, and tweets” opposing Castro’s statement began pouring into the president’s office.


Fresno State president recants, provost announces investigation

At a news conference on April 18, Castro changed tack from his previous statement that Jarrar had commented about Barbara Bush as a private citizen, saying, “A professor with tenure does not have blanket protection to say and do what they wish. We are all held accountable for our actions.” He added, “All options are on the table.” Fresno State Provost Lynnette Zelezny said the university had begun to review Jarrar’s tweets. While she could not discuss the professor’s employment status, Zelezny said, the investigation would involve university lawyers, union representatives, and Jarrar herself. “We very much do want to hear the voices of others — we again want it to be in a climate of respect,” the provost said.

Fresno State announces no disciplinary action against Jarrar

On April 24, Castro announced the results of the investigation into Jarrar’s comments. The statement read, in part, “[W]e have concluded that Professor Jarrar did not violate any CSU or university policies and that she was acting in a private capacity and speaking about a public matter on her personal Twitter account. Her comments, although disgraceful, are protected free speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Additionally, although Professor Jarrar used tenure to defend her behavior, this private action is an issue of free speech and not related to her job or tenure. Therefore, the university does not have justification to support taking any disciplinary action.”

External References

“Cal State Fresno professor under fire for tweets attacking Barbara Bush,” Los Angeles Times

“How Low Can a Tenured Professor Go on Twitter? Fresno Case Could Be a Test,” The Chronicle of Higher Education

“Professor’s Tweet That Barbara Bush Was an ‘Amazing Racist’ Ignites a Fury,” The Chronicle of Higher Education

“This professor bragged she can’t be fired for bad-mouthing Barbara Bush. She might be right,” The Washington Post

“Professor celebrating Barbara Bush’s death deserves to be fired,” Fox News

“Professor’s tweet about Barbara Bush was ‘beyond free speech,’ Fresno State president says,” The Fresno Bee

“‘Your kids masturbate’ and other provocative lines from Fresno State professor’s talks,” The Fresno Bee

“The Politically Incorrect Randa Jarrar,” The New York Times

“The controversy over a professor’s tweet calling Barbara Bush a racist, explained,” Vox

“President Joseph I. Castro Statement Regarding Faculty Member’s Tweet,” Fresno State News

“After calling Barbara Bush an ‘amazing racist,’ a professor taunts critics: ‘I will never be fired,’” The Washington Post

Randa Jarrar’s personal website

President Joseph I. Castro Letter On Conclusion Of Review Regarding Professor

Prepared by Jesus Rodriguez ‘19

Uploaded April 30, 2018


University of Minnesota – October 20, 2016

Pro-Trump mural at University of Minnesota painted over with “Stop White Supremacy”

Minneapolis, MN

In October 2016, the College Republicans at the University of Minnesota (UM) painted a mural with the words “Build the Wall” during an annual event that allows students to decorate the Washington Avenue Bridge. The mural sparked intense debate and criticism on social media, and it was spray-painted over with the words “Stop White Supremacy.” The vandalism was condemned by UM President Eric Kaler and State Senator Kari Dziedzic.

Key Players

UM President Eric Kaler released a statement supporting Free Speech on UM’s campus and condemning the vandalism of the mural.

State Senator Kari Dziedzic represents District 60 in the Minnesota Senate. Dziedzic, whose district includes UM’s campus, expressed discomfort with the College Republicans’ mural, citing her status as the granddaughter of immigrants as well as her political opinion on immigration. However, she too condemned the vandalism and spoke out in support of Free Speech.

Madison Faupel, then-president of the UM College Republicans, released a statement rejecting accusations that the group is racist, xenophobic, and anti-immigrant.

Further Details

The annual “Paint the Bridge” event allows student groups to promote their respective clubs by painting murals on a bridge that connects the East and West Banks of UM’s campus. The College Republicans incorporated the words “Build the Wall” into their mural, painted on Friday, October 20, 2016. That evening, a picture of the mural was posted on the Facebook page of NAVIGATE MN, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit organization that works to support undocumented students. In the Facebook post, the group wrote that the painting “echoes the anti-Mexican, anti-immigrant racist rhetoric” of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, reported the MinnPost. The next day, more than 150 immigration activists came to the bridge to protest the mural. After the mural was finished, it was graffitied multiple times, most notably with the words “Stop White Supremacy” in gold paint, reported the Star Tribune.

College Republicans President Madison Faupel defended the original artwork and the people responsible for creating it, saying, “We have received comments on the painting, falsely accusing us of being racist, xenophobic and anti-immigrant. Our party’s nominee supports building a wall on the Mexican border to stop the flow of illegal immigrants into this country. We understand that some students may disagree with this policy position. However, free speech is at the center of a functioning democracy, and the action taken against our panels runs contrary to free speech.”

The vandalism of the mural prompted State Senator Kari Dziedzic to comment on the controversy. “I don’t like vandalism. They have their free speech, and we have our free speech. But I think we can reach out and we can be louder,” she said. “As the granddaughter of Polish and Irish immigrants, I think we need to be building bridges … not walls. That’s kind of what America is. This is where people have opportunities. We don’t care what your background is, and we don’t care where you came from. We all came from someplace else.”

UM President Eric Kaler also released a statement concerning the mural to students and faculty members. It read, “The University of Minnesota supports a campus climate that welcomes all members of our community and our values of equity and diversity, but that also ensures the free flow of ideas, even those that are offensive to some,” reported the MinnPost. Kaler’s statement continued, “People in our community may disagree with the sentiment expressed. However, while the University values free speech, the subsequent vandalism of the panel is not the way to advance a conversation.”


Free Speech supported by the administration and vandalism condemned

Though immigration activists protested the College Republicans’ mural the day after it was painted, UM’s president sent a statement to students and faculty members in support of the group’s right to Free Speech. He also condemned the vandalism of the mural.

External References

‘Build the Wall’ mural at University of Minnesota sparks protest, MinnPost

Vandalism of pro-Trump mural offers free-speech lesson at University of Minnesota, StarTribune

Protesters object to ‘Build the Wall’ mural on Washington Avenue Bridge, call it xenophobic, Minnesota Daily

Prepared by Bridget McElroy ‘18

Uploaded April 10, 2018

Florida: Legislature Considered Requiring Schools to Display “In God We Trust” – 2018

Bill requiring public schools to display state’s motto “in a conspicuous place” died in State Senate

Tallahassee, FL

A law that would have required public schools to display prominently Florida’s motto, “In God We Trust,” earned bipartisan support in the state’s House of Representatives before dying in the state Senate’s Committee on Education in March.

Key Players

Rep. Kimberly Daniels, a pastor and Democrat representing Duval County, sponsored the bill in the House of Representatives. Lawmakers approved it on February 21, 2018, the same day that students gathered in the state capitol to demand stricter gun laws in the wake of a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Daniels drew criticism for remarking on the House floor, “it is not a secret that we have some gun issues that need to be addressed, but the real thing that needs to be addressed are issues of the heart,” reported NPR. She also claimed that the legislation was inspired by a message she received from God. “I believe it was God, and I heard a voice say, ‘Do not politicize what has happened in Florida and do not make this a thing of division,’” she told fellow lawmakers.

Further Details

Motivated by animosity toward the Soviet Union, federal lawmakers adopted “In God We Trust” as the official motto of the United States in 1956. Though the phrase first appeared on Florida’s flag as part of the state seal in 1868, it became the official state motto in 2006, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Sue Woltanski, a Monroe County parent and public schools advocate, testified before the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee that the bill was unnecessary, reported the Times. “Current statute satisfies the requirement to display the state motto which is, of course, on the state flag,” she said. She suggested the committee focus on “real education issues.” However, the subcommittee unanimously approved the bill, which was then passed by the full House of Representatives on a vote of 97-10, reported NPR.

Atheists of Florida, an organization of non-religious citizens, offered to provide signs to Florida’s public schools if the measure was approved, the Times reported. These signs would have also included the line “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” a clause in the First Amendment to the US Constitution. “We want to help educate about the First Amendment and the establishment clause, as well as about the diversity in our country,” the group’s executive director told the Times.


Bill Fails in Senate Committee

Though the bill earned bipartisan approval in the House of Representatives, it died in the Senate Committee on Education on March 10, 2018.

External References

SB 1158

HB 839

Florida lawmakers consider requiring schools to post “In God we trust”, Tampa Bay Times

Florida vote to post ‘In God we Trust’ in schools prompts a question: Whose God? Penn Live

Atheist group says it will offer alternative ‘In God We Trust’ signs to Florida schools, The Hill

Florida Lawmakers Advance Bill Requiring Schools To Display ‘In God We Trust’, NPR

Prepared by Will Haskell ‘18

Uploaded April 9, 2018


Brandeis University – October 2017

University postpones play after complaints about its depiction of black characters

Waltham, MA

Brandeis University postponed the on-campus performance of a play about comedian Lenny Bruce, called “Buyer Beware,” after students and alumni criticized its depiction of black characters and the Black Lives Matter movement. The author decided to have it produced professionally off-campus instead.

Key Players

Lenny Bruce was an American comedian and social critic who was active from 1947 until 1966, when he died at age 40 from a drug overdose. He was well-known for incorporating contentious topics like politics and sex into his comedy routines, which often took the form of stream-of-consciousness diatribes. He was also considered a Free Speech advocate, who was arrested on multiple occasions for alleged obscenity in his performances. After a trial in 1964, he was convicted of obscenity in a New York court for the first time and was sentenced to four months in a workhouse. He was freed on bail during the appeals process, however, and died before the appeal was decided, never having served any of his sentence. He was posthumously pardoned in 2003 by then-Governor George Pataki of New York.

Michael Weller is a 1965 Brandeis graduate who wrote “Buyer Beware” and more than 40 other plays. He was being honored with the university’s Creative Arts Award, and wrote this play while completing a residency at Brandeis, where the Lenny Bruce archives are housed. He dismissed criticisms of the work, saying in an interview that students “just don’t know how to read a play.” He added that he “was trying to show a broad cross-section of people under a lot of pressure.”

Further Details

“Buyer Beware” was originally scheduled to premiere at Brandeis on October 2, 2017, and run through October 6. According to The Brandeis Hoot, the play is about “the modern atmosphere of college protest movements at Brandeis.” “Buyer Beware” depicts a white Brandeis student named Ron listening to recordings of Bruce’s stand-up and repeating lines that contain the n-word and other racial slurs. The fictional Ron wants to perform a routine in the manner of Bruce’s comedy, but he is threatened with academic probation by the Brandeis administration. At the end of the play, Ron performs his stand-up despite student protests.

Andrew Child, a Brandeis theater student opposed to “Buyer Beware,” told The Boston Globe that he felt the play’s portrayal of its black characters was “ridiculous and vicious.” In an interview with WBUR, he said, “There are black characters who are written clearly by an older white person who doesn’t really understand the nuances of the Black Lives Matter movement. The white male protagonist, his whole story line was fleshed out and well thought out and carefully constructed.” According to the Globe, Child and other students familiar with the movement thought “Weller’s portrayal of Black Lives Matter read like an angry, Breitbart-esque caricature.”

Brandeis released a statement which explained that theater faculty members had “considered the challenging issues” the play raised, and concluded that “more time was needed to produce the play appropriately, and that its performance on campus should go hand-in-hand with more robust educational programming.” The statement also quoted Weller, who said that “rehearsals of the play, and growing sentiment among some students in the theater department, might not be conducive to the creative atmosphere desired for a premiere presentation of a new work.” Weller decided to have the play produced off-campus.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) wrote a letter to Brandeis, expressing its concern over the university’s decision to “censor” the play. It read, in part:

“Americans have since recognized the injustices dealt to Bruce. He was the last comedian to be criminally prosecuted for obscenity in the United States. Today, Bruce is revered as a champion of free speech and First Amendment principles — so much so that he was posthumously pardoned by New York Governor George Pataki in 2003. His life story serves as a cautionary tale of what happens when we censor artistic expression.

“Given this history, the undersigned are sensitive to the possibility that Bruce’s words may again be censored. Our unease is amplified by the fact that such censorship may occur at Brandeis University, named after the staunch free speech advocate and United States Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. Our concern is all the greater insofar as the university is the institutional custodian of the Lenny Bruce archives and much of Bruce’s legacy.”

FIRE’s letter was signed by Bruce’s daughter, Kitty, who founded the Lenny Bruce Memorial Foundation, and a group of other “free speech advocates with a resilient interest in comedian Lenny Bruce’s life and legacy.”


University Postpones Play, Author Chooses to Premiere it Off-Campus

Brandeis announced that the performance of “Buyer Beware” would be postponed. Michael Weller, the author, withdrew the work and decided to have it performed by professional actors.

External References

University statement related to the Creative Arts Award and ‘Buyer Beware’

Brandeis cancels play about Lenny Bruce after protests, The New York Times

Brandeis cancels staging of play after students oppose its “wallpaper” minority characters, WBUR

Brandeis cancels play amidst protests over racism—and gets more backlash, The Boston Globe

An open letter to Brandeis regarding the cancellation of Lenny Bruce-inspired play, ‘Buyer Beware,’ FIRE

Brandeis cancels campus play amid student protest, The Boston Globe

Lenny Bruce, wikipedia

Play canceled following student and alumni dissent, The Brandeis Hoot

Prepared by Graham Piro ‘18

Uploaded April 9, 2018

State Judiciary Committee prohibits citizens from wearing shirts, buttons, or stickers with political messages at hearings – 2018

Connecticut: Judiciary Committee Bans Political Messages at Hearings (2018)

Hartford, CT

Lawmakers in Connecticut decided to prohibit members of the public from wearing shirts, buttons, or stickers that express political messages inside the hearing room. This decision drew sharp criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Key Players

David McGuire serves as the executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut. The organization released a statement in which McGuire expressed concern about the committee’s decision. “The Connecticut capitol is supposed to be the people’s house. When people walk into that house to lobby their legislators, they don’t leave their First Amendment rights at the door,” he said.

Further Details

In February 2018, the Connecticut Judiciary Committee, a committee on which state Senators and Representatives jointly serve, announced during a hearing that political messaging on shirts, buttons, or stickers would not be permitted inside the hearing room. On March 23, 2018, the committee heard testimony regarding House Bills 5540 and 5542, which would ban ghost guns and bump stocks, respectively, in an effort to reduce gun violence in Connecticut. The hearing attracted a large crowd of both supporters and opponents of gun control, including members of Moms Demand Action, Connecticut Against Gun Violence, Newtown Action Alliance, and Connecticut Citizens Defense League. Many members of these organizations wore shirts or buttons that expressed their opinion on gun control. Committee members asked that attendees turn their shirts inside out and refrain from displaying their signs in the room.

The ACLU of Connecticut strongly criticized this decision, noting that “wearing a shirt, button, or sticker at a legislative hearing is a basic component of today’s political discourse. Buttons, shirts, and stickers do not interfere with other people’s abilities to lobby, testify, or otherwise participate in democracy. Buttons, shirts, and stickers with political messages help people to make their views known—something that legislators should encourage, not dismiss.”

In a related but separate matter, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky on February 28, 2018. This case examined whether or not states may prohibit clothing with ideological messaging inside polling places. According to the petitioner’s brief, there are nine states in addition to Connecticut that have similar laws in place regarding political messaging at voting locations. The Court’s decision is pending.


Political Messages Banned From Judiciary Committee Hearings

Since February 2018, shirts, buttons, and stickers with political messages have not been permitted in Connecticut’s judiciary hearings.

External References

ACLU Statement

Lawmakers receive mixed message on bump stocks, ghost guns, CT Post

Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky, SCOTUS Blog

Prepared by Will Haskell ‘18

Uploaded April 9, 2018

Drexel University – December 29, 2017

Drexel University professor resigns after death threats

Philadelphia, PA

Professor George Ciccariello-Maher resigned from Drexel University after a year of alleged death threats over his controversial tweeting. Following his resignation, he joined New York University’s Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics as a visiting scholar.

Key Players

George Ciccariello-Maher was a tenured associate professor of politics and global studies at Drexel University in Philadelphia, until his resignation late in 2017. He claimed in an op-ed in The Washington Post that he had received death threats for his provocative tweets, especially after various conservative media outlets ran segments on them. It was allegedly because of these threats that Drexel decided to place Ciccariello-Maher on leave in October 2017, citing concern for the safety of the professor and Drexel’s students.

Further Details

Ciccariello-Maher’s tweets were often critical of whiteness, and especially white masculinity. In December 2016, he tweeted, “All I want for Christmas is white genocide.” In an email to Inside Higher Ed (IHE), he explained that this was a “satirical tweet about an imaginary concept … invented by white supremacists.” According to The Washington Post, the threats against the professor began after this tweet. A few months later, in April 2017, he tweeted, “Some guy gave up his first class seat for a uniformed soldier. People are thanking him. I’m trying not to vomit or yell about Mosul.” After receiving blowback, Ciccariello-Maher clarified that he had not meant to criticize the soldier, but instead question how many Americans make symbolic gestures of support for Army members while ignoring military abuses and lack of healthcare for veterans, reported IHE.

After the Las Vegas mass shooting in October 2017, he again took to Twitter. “White people and men are told they are entitled to everything. This is what happens when they don’t get what they want,” he tweeted. He also criticized current gun control measures for not being sufficient to prevent mass shootings. According to the Post, conservative media outlets—including the Daily Caller, Breitbart, and Milo Yiannopoulos’ website—widely cited his tweets. Soon after, IHE reported that Drexel had placed Ciccariello-Maher on leave.

The university released a statement explaining its decision: “The safety of Drexel’s students, faculty, professional staff and police officers are of paramount concern to Drexel. Due to a growing number of threats directed at Professor George Ciccariello-Maher, and increased concerns about both his safety and the safety of Drexel’s community, after careful consideration the university has decided to place Professor Ciccariello-Maher on administrative leave.” The university had previously condemned his tweet concerning white genocide.

Following these developments, Ciccariello-Maher authored an op-ed in the Post, titled “Conservatives are the real campus thought police squashing academic freedom.” In it, he defended his tweets, saying that they were based on years of research that indicated white males are “subject[ed] to a potent cocktail of entitlement to economic and political power, and to dominate nonwhite and female bodies.” He continued, “professors like me are being targeted by a coordinated right-wing campaign to undermine our academic freedom—one that relies on misrepresentation and sometimes outright lying, and often puts us and our students in danger.” Ciccariello-Maher also described the death threats he and his family had been receiving, and claimed he was not the only professor to receive this type of criticism and threats from the right. He concluded by criticizing Drexel for “bowing to pressure from racist internet trolls” and therefore sending “the wrong signal: That you can control a university’s curriculum with anonymous threats of violence.”

The professor continued to teach his courses via video conference after being placed on leave. “I have 800 unread voicemails in my inbox right now that have been building up over the past few weeks,” he told CNN. “Threats that involve my child are, of course, the ones that are the most frightening to me.” The administration decided he would need a police escort in order to come to campus. In November 2017, a group of his students walked out of his classroom, carrying signs that read, “Bring Back GCM” and “Where’s Our Professor?” reported CNN.

Ciccariello-Maher announced his resignation on Twitter on December 28, 2017. He included a picture of a Facebook post in which he wrote that he was resigning because of harassment from “right-wing, white supremacist media outlets and internet mobs” and “death threats and threats of violence directed against [him and his family].” He characterized the current tension surrounding free speech on college campuses by saying, “We are at war, and academia is a crucial front in that war,” adding that “the Right is targeting campuses with thinly veiled provocations disguised as free speech.” He also urged tenured faculty to defend all faculty from attacks from the “racist Right” and white supremacists, and concluded by praising his students and calling on campuses to become “unsafe spaces for white supremacists.”


Ciccariello-Maher resigns from Drexel, joins NYU institute

After receiving death threats concerning his tweets and being placed on administrative leave, Ciccariello-Maher resigned from Drexel University. According to The Philly Voice, he joined NYU’s Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics shortly thereafter as a visiting scholar.

External References

Controversial professor placed on leave, Inside Higher Ed

Death threats are forcing professors off campus, CNN

Professor who tweeted, ‘All I want for Christmas is white genocide,’ resigns after year of threats, The Washington Post

George Ciccariello-Maher Statement of Resignation on Twitter

Ex-Drexel prof behind ‘white genocide’ tweet gets appointment at NYU, Philly Voice

Professor who called for ‘white genocide’ says he’s been hired by NYU, The Washington Examiner

Drexel professor resigns amid threats over controversial tweets, CNN

Conservatives are the real campus thought police squashing academic freedom, The Washington Post

Prepared by Graham Piro ‘18

Uploaded April 9, 2018

State Senate rejects Free Speech bill due to its lack of protections against harassment – 2018

Kansas: Senate Bill 340 (2018)

Topeka, KS

In March 2018, lawmakers in the Kansas Senate narrowly rejected Senate Bill 340, also known as the Campus Free Speech Protection Act. This bill would have prohibited the use of Free Speech zones at public colleges and universities. It also would have required universities to pay all security costs related to campus events, including those that feature student-sponsored guest speakers. Critics of the bill claimed it weakened a public university’s ability to protect LGBT individuals from student-on-student harassment.

Key Players

Senator Ty Masterson, a Republican who represents the suburbs of Wichita, introduced the bill. While there has not yet been a major Free Speech incident at a public college or university in Kansas, Masterson told the Associated Press (AP) that his bill was intended to prevent a “political arms race” on campus.

Further Details

In addition to prohibiting the use of Free Speech zones, SB 340 would have prevented public colleges and universities from disinviting guest speakers. According to The Kansas City Star, only one speaker has been disinvited from a college campus in Kansas. In 2016, Kansas Supreme Court Justice Carol Beier was disinvited from Newman University, a private Catholic college located in Wichita, after anti-abortion activists launched a social media campaign opposing her invitation. SB 340 applied only to public colleges and universities and therefore would not have affected this incident if it had been in place at the time.

SB 340 also would have prohibited universities from requiring student organizations to pay security costs that stem from a guest speaker’s appearance on campus. Mark Johnson, a lecturer at the University of Kansas, noted that the law would operate as a “cost-shifting mechanism.” He told The University Daily Kansan that “Right now, the University could impose the cost of security, like hiring off duty cops … on the sponsoring organization.”

Though the Kansas Board of Regents did not take a position on this legislation, Director of Communications Matt Keith said that SB 340 would not alter any state university politics. “It primarily reiterates that universities must abide by the first amendment, which they already do,” he told the Daily Kansan. “Generally speaking, no additional measures will likely need to be taken to ensure students’ right to freedom of speech, as state universities already respect and value that right.”

Seconding this opinion, the editorial board of The Kansas City Star noted that SB 340 “does seem like another solution in search of a problem,” while maintaining that “it’s vital that university speech codes not limit student speech.”

The Kansas National Education Association raised concerns about potential unintended consequences of the law. One representative told the Star that SB 340 could limit an administration’s ability to protect students. The bill expressly prioritized the free exchange of ideas over civility on campus. Specifically, it asserted that “although an institution should greatly value civility and mutual respect, concerns about civility and mutual respect shall never be used by an institution as a justification for closing off the discussion of ideas, however offensive, unwise, immoral, indecent, disagreeable, conservative, liberal, traditional, radical or wrong-headed those ideas may be to some.”

If it had been signed into law, SB 340 would have prohibited universities from enacting anti-harassment policies that go beyond federal, state and local protections. While schools are expected to implement a policy regarding student-on-student harassment, the bill defined such harassment as conduct that is unwelcome and “discriminatory on a basis prohibited by federal, state or local law.” According to the Eagle, “the federal government and Kansas have no law barring harassment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Concerns about the ability of school administrators to protect LGBT students from harassment inspired much of the opposition to the bill. Democratic Senator Anthony Hensley, minority leader in the Kansas Senate, told the Eagle that under the bill’s provisions, schools “can’t effectively discipline students who would harass others because of their gender identity or sexual orientation and I think that is a real big problem.” In turn, Masterson defended his bill, arguing, “until the state recognizes that as a class, why would you allow public institutions to expand beyond what the state would allow?” reported the Eagle.

Davis Hammet, the founder of Loud Light, a Kansas-based organization dedicated to fostering civic participation among young people and minorities, called SB 340 a “pro-discrimination bill.” He told the Eagle that this legislation would create “a really toxic campus climate, a dangerous campus climate.”

While the bill was recommended for passage by the Committee on Federal and State Affairs, it was eventually defeated by a tie vote. Democrats unanimously opposed the bill, while the Senate’s Republican caucus was divided.


Tie Vote in Senate Kills Free Speech Bill

Concerns about the bill’s impact on student-on-student harassment policies inspired a 20-20 vote in the Kansas Senate, which effectively killed it. Lawmakers critical of SB 340 noted that the bill would not protect LGBT students from harassment by their peers.

External References

SB 340

Campus free speech bill advances in Kansas Senate, The University Daily Kansan

Do Kansas college campuses really need free-speech zones? The Kansas City Star

Kansas Lawmakers Consider Bill to Protect Speech on Campus, U.S. News and World Report

This bill limited college anti-harassment policies. Kansas senators just killed it, The Wichita Eagle

Newman cancels talk by Supreme Court justice after anti-abortion backlash, The Wichita Eagle

Prepared by Will Haskell ‘18

Uploaded April 2, 2018

State Senate approves bill that prohibits public colleges and universities from disinviting speakers – 2018

Kentucky: Senate Bill 237 (2018)

Frankfort, KY

Lawmakers in Kentucky are considering a bill aimed at promoting Free Speech on the campuses of public colleges and universities. The bill was approved by the state’s Senate and is now under consideration by the Committee on Education in Kentucky’s House of Representatives.

Key Players

Senator Will Schroder, a Republican, is the lead sponsor of SB 237. He told WKMS that this legislation is partially inspired by a conversation he had with a student at Northern Kentucky University. The student reportedly told Schroder that pro-life speech was being suppressed on campus, citing an incident in which crosses and a sign associated with a pro-life demonstration were destroyed. While answering his colleagues’ questions about SB 237, Schroder acknowledged that name-calling and hate speech would be protected under the bill, reported WKMS.

Further Details

This bill would prohibit the use of Free Speech zones on campus and declare all “generally accessible, open, outdoor areas of the campus” to be traditional public forums. Moreover, the bill would bar public colleges and universities from disinviting speakers on the grounds that their “anticipated speech may be considered offensive, unwise, immoral, indecent, disagreeable, conservative, liberal, traditional, or radical….”

Critics of SB 237 have argued that the bill would weaken a school administration’s ability to police campus activity. Senator Ray Jones, a Democrat, opposed the bill. “You know free speech is important, but there is a public safety concern,” he told WKMS.

Senator Reggie Thomas, also a Democrat, raised concerns about the bill’s prohibition on disinviting divisive speakers. “If you read that language literally, that invites hate speech to come on campuses and be spewed and spoken,” he said, according to WMKY. Specifically, Thomas cited a 2014 incident involving former U.S. Senate candidate Robert Ransdell, a neo-Nazi, at the University of Kentucky. Ransdell was “removed from the stage after uttering racially-inflammatory remarks,” reported WMKY. Thomas raised the concern that such action by university administrations would not be permitted if SB 237 became law. Schroder responded to this concern by noting that administrators have “protections . . . if they anticipate something extreme that is going to place the listening audience in danger,” reported WMKY.

A spokesman from the University of Kentucky said that this bill would not impact its existing practices related to Free Speech, according to WMKY.


After approval by the Senate, bill awaits consideration by House of Representatives

On March 13, 2018, SB 237 was approved in the Senate by a vote of 27-11. Nine Democrats and two Republicans voted against the bill, while 25 Republicans and two Democrats approved it. The bill will now be considered by the House Standing Committee on Education.

External References

SB 237

Does Free Speech Need More Safeguarding On Campus? GOP Lawmaker Says Yes, WMKY

Kentucky Senate Approves Free Speech Measure, KPR

Prepared by Will Haskell ‘18

Uploaded April 2, 2018

State senate considers Free Speech bill killed by state’s House of Representatives – 2018

South Dakota: House Bill 1073/Senate Bill 198 (2018)

Pierre, SD

Lawmakers in the South Dakota House of Representatives killed a bill that aims to protect freedom of speech on college campuses. However, identical legislation remains under consideration in the state senate. The pair of bills, proposed in January 2018, would eliminate Free Speech Zones on campuses and require public colleges and universities to publish annual reports that detail the steps taken to foster intellectual diversity. The bills’ sponsors were inspired to introduce the legislation after a 2015 incident involving the cancellation of a film that was to be shown at the University of South Dakota (USD).

Key Figures

Representative Michael Clark, a Republican, is the lead sponsor of HB 1073. “The first amendment belongs to everybody, regardless of their station in life,” Clark told The Argus Leader. “I swore an oath to protect these rights with my very life if I must … with House Bill 1073, I honor that oath.” Concerned by recent protests on college campuses across the country, Clark hopes that the bill’s public reporting component will allow lawmakers, as well as the general public, to scrutinize the behavior of university officials. “Students need to be able to question assumptions and debate ideas,” he told Campus Reform. “There are many concerns with how politically one-sided campuses have become; we simply are asking colleges to report on what they are doing to promote intellectual diversity on campus and create a marketplace of ideas, which is what we all should be striving for.”

Further Details

Both HB 1073 and SB 198 would eliminate Free Speech Zones by declaring “any outdoor area of a campus of a public institution of higher education” to be a public forum. While the bills would permit certain time, place, and manner restrictions on speech, students would be permitted to “spontaneously and contemporaneously assemble and distribute literature.” However, the right of counter-demonstrators to “materially and substantially prohibit the free expression rights of others on campus” would not be protected under this legislation.

HB 1073 was co-sponsored by 15 lawmakers in the House of Representatives and 15 state senators, all Republican. The bills were endorsed by the South Dakota College Republicans, as well as the state’s Republican Party, The Argus Leader reported.

Much of the debate concerning Free Speech at South Dakota’s public institutions of higher education is focused on an incident involving the film “Honor Diaries,” a 2013 documentary that explores human rights abuses in Middle Eastern countries. In March 2015, USD administrators cancelled a planned screening of the film, which had drawn criticism from Muslim advocacy groups, reported the Leader. University officials maintained that the cancellation was not an infringement on Free Speech. The showing “was cancelled because the format and setting did not allow for appropriate discussion following the screening,” USD Provost Jim Moran told the Leader. “Whenever USD hosts speakers or films that are controversial the goal is to promote education and better understanding of the people and issues involved.”

Unlike state legislators, university officials in South Dakota oppose the bill, which they feel could spark unnecessary and costly litigation. “The bill is redundant and unnecessary,” the president of USD’s student government association told the Leader. “It is an attempt at a solution to a problem that does not exist. There is no great student issue with the current policies and practices of free speech at USD.”

Moreover, USD officials contend that the legislation is premised on an outdated university policy. While the university did previously utilize Free Speech Zones, it has changed its policy and expanded Free Speech protections to all outdoor areas on campus already. “I think it’s very noble to support free speech by all sides of an issue,” USD Director of Communications Tena Haraldson told the Leader. “I just think that already happens.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota also regards the bill as unnecessary. “It’s already the law. It’s already what the Constitution requires,” a policy advisor for the organization told the Leader.

While outgoing Governor Dennis Daugaard (who must step down because of term limits in the state) has not yet decided whether to support the bill, Representative Kristi Noem, a Republican candidate to succeed him, has endorsed the legislation. “Given the rising level of censorship and the concerning limits placed on students’ exposure to differing perspectives, it’s important the Legislature act to permanently protect intellectual diversity on taxpayer-funded campuses,” Noem told the Leader.


Killed in House, bill remains under consideration in South Dakota Senate

On February 2, HB 1073 was killed by South Dakota’s House Judiciary Committee. The bill divided Republican committee members, with some voting to support the bill and others to keep it from being taken up on the house floor. SB 198 was referred to the Committee on Education.

External References

HB 1073

SB 198

Lawmakers table campus free speech bill, its twin lives on in S.D. Legislature, The Argus Leader

University of South Dakota movie incident looms large in campus free speech debate, The Argus Leader

SD rep wants colleges to come clean about campus free speech, Campus Reform

Campus free speech bill based on outdated policy, USD spokeswoman says, The Argus Leader

Prepared by Will Haskell ’18

Uploaded March 21, 2018