With the presidential race between John McCain and Barack Obama the focus of national attention, political speech on our nation's campuses has come under sharp attack. In recent weeks, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has investigated open and blatant attacks on political expression at colleges and universities across the country, from a previously unreported case at Oklahoma, to better-known cases at Illinois and Texas, to cases at smaller schools across the country. This alarming trend towards silencing political expression has prompted FIRE to release a Policy Statement on Political Activity on Campus today.
At the University of Oklahoma, students and faculty were notified last month that "the forwarding of political humor/commentary" using their university e-mail accounts was prohibited. In response to a letter from FIRE, the university has modified its stance, stating that the prohibition is only applicable "to the extent discussions are attributable to the University as endorsing or opposing a political candidate." However, the university has not communicated this change to the community at large, leaving many under the impression that such private e-mail forwards are forbidden. At the University of Illinois, the university Ethics Office issued a newsletter warning faculty against engaging in political expression on campus, including attending political rallies, wearing buttons, and even placing bumper stickers on cars. After widespread criticism and a letter from FIRE, President B. Joseph White issued a clarification, assuring faculty members that the university would allow them to engage in such expression.
"Political expression is exactly the speech the First Amendment was designed to protect. Our nation's colleges and universities do their students and faculty a grave disservice when they stifle the ability to engage the crucial issues of the day," said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. "While colleges and universities may not institutionally endorse candidates, they have a societal duty to foster and encourage debate and discussion about those issues most important to our nation. Any blanket ban on 'political speech' betrays one of the academy's most important functions."
In addition to the situations at the University of Oklahoma and the University of Illinois, FIRE has monitored bans on political expression at several other institutions in the past few weeks.
Go read the whole thing--and keep in mind that this will get worse if Democrats run the presidency and both houses of Congress.