Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Infobox Non-profit
Non-profit_name = Foundation for Individual Rights in Education
founded_date = 1999
founder = Alan Charles Kors, Harvey A. Silverglate
location = Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
origins =
key_people = Greg Lukianoff, President
area_served =
focus =
method =
revenue =
endowment =
num_employees =
owner =
Non-profit_slogan = Defending Individual Rights in Education.
homepage = []

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a non-profit group founded in 1999 and focused on civil liberties in academia in the United States. Its goal is "to defend and sustain individual rights at America's colleges and universities," including the rights to "freedom of speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience--the essential qualities of individual liberty and dignity". [cite web |url= |title=About FIRE |accessdate=2008-03-25 |author=Foundation for Individual Rights in Education]

One of FIRE's main activities has been criticism of university administrators whose activities have, in FIRE's view, violated the free speech or due process rights of college and university students and professors under the First Amendment and/or Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. FIRE lists over 170 such instances on its website. [cite web |url= |title=Case Archive |accessdate=2008-03-25 |author=Foundation for Individual Rights in Education]

FIRE was founded by Alan Charles Kors, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and Harvey A. Silverglate, a civil-liberties lawyer in Cambridge, Massachusetts. [cite web |url= |title=FIRE's Founders |accessdate=2008-03-25 |author=Foundation for Individual Rights in Education] Silverglate remains the chairman of FIRE's board,cite web |url= |title=Board of Directors |accessdate=2008-03-25 |author=Foundation for Individual Rights in Education] while Kors is Chairman Emeritus. Since March 23, 2006, FIRE's President has been Greg Lukianoff, who previously served as interim president.cite press release |title=FIRE Names Greg Lukianoff as President |publisher=Foundation for Individual Rights in Education |date=2006-03-23 |url= |accessdate=2008-03-25]

FIRE has no stated political affiliation. It has represented the causes of individuals with varied political viewpoints, ranging from conservative [cite web |url= |title=Bake Sale Battles Continue] and religious [cite web |url= |title=Christian Cleansing at UNC-Chapel Hil] student groups to other activists such as members of PETA [cite web |url= |title=Victory for Animals and Free Speech! |accessdate=2008-03-25 |author=People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals |authorlink=People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals] and Professor Ward Churchill. [cite web |url= |title=FIRE Letter to University of Colorado at Boulder Interim Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano, February 9, 2005 |accessdate=2008-03-25 |last=Lukianoff |first=Greg |authorlink=Greg Lukianoff |date=2005-02-09 |publisher=Foundation for Individual Rights in Education]


One of FIRE's primary focuses is opposition to "campus speech codes," its term for regulations on free speech. [cite news |first=John |last=Leo |authorlink=John Leo |title=Free Inquiry? Not on Campus |url= |work=City Journal |publisher=Manhattan Institute for Policy Research |date=Winter 2007 |accessdate=2008-03-25 ] FIRE often identifies these policies within college and university sexual or racial harassment policies.

FIRE has taken stances on campus sexual misconduct policies; for example, it denounced the American Association of University Women's report on sexual harassment as "fatally flawed" [cite press release |title=AAUW Sexual Harassment Report Is Fatally Flawed |publisher=Foundation for Individual Rights in Education |date=2006-01-26 |url= |accessdate=2008-03-25] and sided with the defendants in joining [cite press release |title=FIRE Joins Amicus Brief in "Friends" Writers' Case |publisher=Foundation for Individual Rights in Education |date=2005-02-10 |url= |accessdate=2008-03-25] an amicus brief in "Lyle v. Warner Brothers Television Productions et al".Clarifyme

FIRE has also voiced support for freedom of association by funding and operation of "expressive" student organizations, including campus religious organizations that may discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or religious belief in membership (for example at Tufts Universitycite web |url= |title=Tufts University: Refusal to Allow Evangelical Christian Club to Reject Homosexual Leadership |accessdate=2008-03-25 |publisher=Foundation for Individual Rights in Education] " [ Tufts University to Reconsider Status of Christian Group] ", Accessed March 31, 2008.] and at the Milwaukee School of Engineering) [cite web |url= |title=Milwaukee School of Engineering: Threat to Christian Group’s Freedom of Association |accessdate=2008-03-25 |publisher=Foundation for Individual Rights in Education] and fraternities that may engage in "off-color" [cite web |url= |title=Is Dartmouth Really Free? |accessdate=2008-03-25 |last=French |first=David |date=2005-05-10 |publisher=Foundation for Individual Rights in Education] or "misogynistic" [cite web |url= |title=Yale Caves into Its Women's Center's Speech-Repressing Demands |accessdate=2008-03-25 |last=Sarabyn |first=Kelly |date=2008-03-13 |publisher=Foundation for Individual Rights in Education] speech.

The group also targets situations where students and faculty are adjudicated outside the bounds of due process afforded to them by Constitutional law or stated university policy. [cite journal|first=John |last=Miller |title=Pariahs, Martyrs — and Fighters Back |date=2005-10-24 |publisher=National Review ]

University ratings

FIRE maintains a blog, "The Torch", [cite web |url= |title=FIRE's The Torch |accessdate=2008-03-25 |publisher=Foundation for Individual Rights in Education] and a detailed listing of universities in the United States, called "Spotlight". The site gathers together each university's various harassment and hate speech policies, as well as any "Advertised Commitments to Freedom of Speech". On the basis of these and media reports, FIRE then assigns each institution a color code: green ("no serious threats to free speech"), yellow ("some policies that could ban or excessively regulate protected speech") or red ("at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech"). In April of 2007, Jon B. Gould, an author and George Mason University faculty member, criticized FIRE's rating methods, claiming that FIRE had grossly exaggerated the prevalence of unconstitutional speech codes. [cite news |first=Jon B. |last=Gould |title=Returning Fire |url= |work=The Chronicle of Higher Education |date=April 2007 |accessdate=2008-03-25 ]

As of March 2008, FIRE rated most institutions "red"; of the eight universities of the Ivy League, two were rated "green" (Dartmouth and the University of Pennsylvania), four were rated "red" (Brown, Cornell, Harvard and Princeton) and the final two (Yale and Columbia) were rated "yellow". [cite web |url= |title=Welcome to FIRE's Spotlight |accessdate=2008-03-25 |publisher=Foundation for Individual Rights in Education]


FIRE's president since March 2006 is Greg Lukianoff, who previously served as interim president after the retirement of David French.

FIRE was co-founded by Alan Kors and Harvey A. Silverglate, who were FIRE's co-directors until 2004. Kors served as FIRE's first president and chairperson. Its first executive director and, later, CEO, was Thor Halvorssen. [cite news |first=John |last=Strausbaugh |authorlink=John Strausbaugh |title=A Maverick Mogul, Proudly Politically Incorrect |url= |work=The New York Times |date=2007-08-19 |accessdate=2008-03-25 ] As of 2008, Silverglate was still active with the organization as chairman and served on the Board of Directors, while Kors was no longer listed as an active board member. Also included among FIRE's directors were molecular biologist Richard Losick, feminist scholar Daphne Patai, and author Virginia Postrel.

As of 2008, FIRE's Board of Advisors included the following notable people: [cite web |url= |title=Board of Advisors |accessdate=2008-03-25 |publisher=Foundation for Individual Rights in Education]

*T. Kenneth Cribb, president of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.
*Nat Hentoff, author and columnist.
*Roy Innis, National Chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality.
*Wendy Kaminer, lawyer and social critic.
*Leonard Liggio, author and law professor.
*Herbert London, president of the Hudson Institute.
*John Searle, Professor of Philosophy, University of California at Berkeley.
*Christina Hoff Sommers, author and Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.


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, although the student was permitted to remain a member of the group. FIRE defended the group on religious freedom grounds, arguing that members of student groups that have an expressive purpose should be allowed to organize and operate religious groups based on that expressive purpose.

FIRE has also criticized Columbia University's sexual misconduct policy [" [; New Procedure for Handling Sexual Misconduct Charges at Columbia University Is Challenged] ", Karen Arenson, "The New York Times". New York: 5 October 2000. Accessed 27 March 2008.] ; according to FIRE, the policy "lack [ed] even the most minimal safeguards and fundamental principles of fairness". [" [ Outside Groups Attack New Misconduct Policy] ", Nick Schifrin, "Columbia Spectator", October 5, 2000. Accessed March 31, 2008.] [" [ Columbia University Unable to Defend Policy in Public] ", "Foundation for Individual Rights in Education", Press Release, March 13, 2001. Accessed March 31, 2008.] That controversy led to the resignation of Charlene Allen, Columbia's program coordinator for the Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Education, whose policies were at the center of the controversy. Allen's resignation was considered in part due to FIRE's activism [" [ Allen Resignation Met with Surprise] ", Tallie Lieberman, "Columbia Spectator", April 30, 2001. Accessed March 31, 2008.] .

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. Some students at the campus Multicultural Center found the flier "offensive." Hinkle politely offered to discuss the flier, but to no avail. After he left, a student called the university police, whose official report stated that officers had responded to complaints about "a suspicious white male passing out literature of an offensive racial nature." The Cal Poly Judicial Affairs Office, after a seven-hour hearing in February 2003, found Hinkle guilty of "disruption of a campus event," as several students in the Multicultural Center public area claimed that they were having a meeting at the time, although no sign, announcement, or record of that event existed. Despite repeated attempts by FIRE to get Cal Poly's admin to correct the problem, FIRE necessarily had to bring suit in Hinkle's name. Eventually, Cal Poly settled out of court. The sequence of events is fully detailed in a FIRE press release, issued May 6, 2004. [" [ Major Victory for Free Speech at Cal Poly] ", "Foundation for Individual Rights in Education", Press Release, May 6, 2004. Accessed October 6, 2008.]

FIRE supported Linda McCarriston, a poet, professor and self-described socialist at the University of Alaska Anchorage, in a case in which the University was investigating her for a poem she had published on sexual abuse involving Native Alaskans. In explicit response to FIRE's intervention, University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton ordered that the investigation cease on constitutional grounds, stating that "there was nothing to investigate"; he was formally commended for defending academic freedom by Democratic governor Tony Knowles and by unanimous vote of both houses of the Alaska legislature. [" [ There is nothing to investigate] ", Elizabeth Wright, "Issues & Views", 2001. Accessed March 31, 2008.]

FIRE joined with a number of other civil liberties groups in the case of "Hosty v. Carter", involving suppression of a student newspaper at Governors State University in Illinois, [" [ Amicus Briefs] ", "Feminists for Free Expression". Accessed March 31, 2008.] and has been involved in a case at Arizona State University where it condemned the listing of a class as open only to Native American students. [" [ Arizona State Ends Class Limited to Native Americans] ", Scott Jaschik, "Inside Higher Ed", October 7, 2005. Accessed March 31, 2008.]

FIRE sparred with the University of New Hampshire in 2004 over its treatment of student Timothy Garneau, who was expelled from student housing after he wrote and distributed a flier joking that female classmates could lose the "Freshman fifteen" by taking the stairs instead of the elevator. After FIRE publicly criticized the decision, Garneau was reinstated. He had been living in his car for three weeks. [" [ The Eighth Annual Muzzle Awards: Dishonorable mentions] ", Dan Kennedy, "Boston Phoenix", July 1, 2005. Accessed March 31, 2008.]

In 2007, FIRE took issue with a document from a Resident Assistant training session at the University of Delaware's Office of Residence Life Diversity Facilitation Training. The brief handout, compiled and presented by Dr. Shakti Butler, included a controversial definition of the word "racist". The author noted that it "applies to all white people (i.e., people of European descent) living in the United States, regardless of class, gender, religion, culture or sexuality". [ [ University of Delaware Requires Students to Undergo Ideological Reeducation] (FIRE Press Release, October 30, 2007)] [ [ Victory at University of Delaware] (FIRE Press Release, November 2, 2007)] "This gem of wisdom suggests that by virtue of birth alone, not conduct," wrote Walter E. Williams about this "racist nonsense" which was eventually dropped, "if you're white, you're a racist". [ [ Academic Cesspools] by Walter E. Williams, October 17, 2007] [ [ Academic Cesspools II] by Walter E. Williams, November 7, 2007]

FIRE sent a letter [ [ FIRE - FIRE's letter to University of Florida Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Telles-Irvin, November 29, 2007 ] ] to the President of University of Florida on November 29, 2007, expressing outrage that the Vice-Chancellor had sent a mass email which condemned a showing of the movie "" and called for an apology from those responsible. [ [ Phi Beta Cons on National Review Online ] ] The state Attorney General had threatened legal action due to possible freedom of speech violations. Two weeks later, the Vice-Chancellor and President signed a follow-up statement retracting the call for apology. [ [ News - - ] ]

FIRE criticized Brandeis University on both free speech and due process grounds in early 2008 over its treatment of veteran politics professor Donald Hindley. Provost Marty Krauss informed Hindley in October 2007 that comments he made in his Latin American politics class violated the school's anti-harassment policy. Kruass placed a monitor in Hindley's class and ordered him to attend racial sensitivity training. [ [ Brandeis Professor says his Right to Free Speech Violated, Boston Globe, 7/1/05] ] FIRE, along with Brandeis' own Committee on Faculty Rights and Responsibilities, has criticized Krauss for never explicitly telling Hindley what specific in-class comments constituted harassing speech and for not granting Hindley a process by which to appeal the decision. According to Brandeis' student press, Hindley is rumored to have used the epithet "wetback." Student-witnesses say Hindley's use of the term was germane to the scholarly discussion. [ [ Student Reveals Nature of Hindley Complaint, The Hoot, 11/16/07] ]

In 2007, a university janitor, Keith John Sampson was disciplined by IUPUI for reading a book during his break entitled, "Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan". The affirmative action officer Lillian Charleston referred to the book as "historically and racially abhorrent" [1] . FIRE was quick to criticize the college [2] . The chancellor finally apologized to Sampson months after the incident after mounting criticsm from the press, FIRE, and other free speech groups. [4] .

Campus Freedom Network

FIRE now has a Campus Freedom Networkcite web | url = | title = Going Back to School? Join the CFN | author = Luke Sheahan | publisher = FIRE | date = August 28, 2008 | accessdate = 2008-08-28 ] . (


External links

* [ FIRE's main site]
* [ FIRE's guides]
* [ FrontPage Magazine article]
* [ SourceWatch entry on FIRE]
* [ MediaTransparency FIRE donor list]

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