The University of Oregon is one of the worst colleges in the country for free speech, according to a list released Wednesday by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
The Philadelphia-based nonprofit tracks free speech and academic issues on campuses across the country and released its picks for the 10 worst campuses for free speech.
Founded in 1999, the organization described itself as nonpartisan with a mission to "defend and sustain individual rights at America's colleges and universities."
The UO declined to comment on its inclusion on the list, which came more than three months after the school suspended a professor for wearing blackface to an off-campus party.The list also includes Georgetown and Harvard University and other public and private higher education institutions.
The list comes as free speech on college campuses continues to be a nationwide talking point, weeks after alt-right firebrand and former Breitbart columnist Milo Yiannopoulos scheduled speech at UC-Berkley was canceled and prompted some violent protests.
"Colleges continue to find excuses for censoring speech on campus," Greg Lukianoff, foundation president and CEO, said in a statement. "This list shows that any expression--even expression as innocuous as a chalk message for a political candidate or a discussion of one's own health--is seen by some colleges as fair game for suppression. This type of censorship is not only unhealthy for institutions where debate and discussion should be paramount, but also dangerous for a free society."
UO made the cut in part for its response School of Law Professor Nancy Shurtz's blackface Halloween costume last year. Shurtz, a tenured law professor of 30 years, wore blackface as part of a costume at a party she hosted at her Eugene home. Following the costume, UO suspended Shurtz and conducted an investigation that found she violated the school's discrimination policy.
Shurtz said she had intended to start a conversation about the lack of diversity in American medicine with her costume, which she said was meant to recognize Damon Tweedy's memoir "Black Man in a White Coat."
The UO's investigation released in December prompted several editorials in national media outlets slamming the university for overstepping its bounds in publicly disciplining a faculty member on a free speech issue.
In a story on the Huffington Post describing each of the 10 schools' free speech failures, Lukianoff said Shurtz's costume did lead to a campus debate. "The costume did, in fact, spark discussion--much of it criticizing the professor's judgment," he wrote. "That's the proper response to offensive speech: more speech."
He continued, "UO's move puts the cart before the horse and risks justifying punishment whenever expression motivates rigorous debate on campus."
Bill Harbaugh, a UO economics professor and president of the faculty senate who has been a frequent critic of his employer in the past, said the school likely isn't one of the 10 worst in the nation on free speech, but perhaps in the bottom 20.
But Harbaugh said the foundation's ranking doesn't account for what he called one big free speech overreach from recent weeks. UO's in-house attorney, Kevin Reed, filed a record request this month for Harbaugh's emails over the past year relating to "freedom of speech or academic freedom," a move Harbaugh described as unprecedented.
Harbaugh did credit UO President Michael Schill for one recent policy move that is a win for free speech on campus: stepping away from a controversial proposal to restrict speech under certain time, place and manner restrictions.
Last month, the nonprofit made some waves during Betsy Devos' confirmation hearings for Secretary of Education. DeVos donations to the organization were cited in a Politico story.
The nonprofit has sued the federal government to challenge the burden of proof victims of sexual assault face in university administrative hearings. The foundation, which also focuses on due process issues, has argued the standards are unfair to students accused of sexual assault, sparking backlash from Democrats and women's groups.
-- Andrew Theen
Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.