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University students deserve human rights

By Wendy McElroy
web posted August 4, 2003

University campuses are strongholds of left liberalism where constitutionally protected rights, such as freedom of speech and religion, are routinely violated.

This September, make sure the students you care for pack protection of their civil liberties in with clothing and reference books. This is essential for students who are male, white, conservative, openly Christian, or from affluent families.

Male. Speech codes -- or anti-harassment codes that function in the same manner -- are rampant on campuses. Since "women" are a group offered protection against "offense," the codes especially restrict the speech of males. Students accused of "sexual misconduct" -- from a crime as serious as rape to telling off-color jokes -- can face the university equivalent of a "star chamber" -- a secret proceeding -- in which they have no judicial rights even though the outcome could ruin their academic careers.

White. Whites are not only disadvantaged by admission policies that explicitly discriminate in favor of "minorities," they are also targeted by "hate speech" policies. A white CalPoly student was punished last month for posting an ad in the "public" multicultural center for a speech by a well-known black conservative; the speech compared welfare dependence to living "on the plantation." An offended black student called the police.

Conservative. The University of Miami recently denied recognition to a conservative club on the grounds that, since a Republican club already existed, another conservative group would be redundant. Yet liberal groups, including a Democratic club, abounded. Without such recognition a student group cannot use the tax-paid facilities to meet on campus.

Openly Christian. The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill recently threatened to remove all privileges and funding from the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship because adhering to Christian doctrine was a requirement for those assuming group leadership. Last year, Rutgers did "de-list" an IVCF group who refused to accept non-Christian leaders because it would violate their right to meet based on "shared belief."

Affluent. The University of California is pioneering a proposal that undergrads with family incomes exceeding $90,000 should pay as much as $3,000 more to attend despite the fact that those families would have paid more in taxes to support its nine "public" campuses.

How do you protect the rights and dignity of a student for whom you care?

One place to start is with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education that has been defending the victims in such cases ... and doing so with resounding success.

FIRE's most recent project directly addresses "the urgent need for students and parents to understand the legal and moral status of student rights on our nation's campuses and to understand the means to defend and assert these rights." It does so in the form of five books: three of which are currently available.

The free online guides offer the theory, history and legal precedents surrounding five specific areas of rights violation. But more than this. They offer specific and subtle advice on how to handle violations of those rights. Subtle because the guides carefully distinguish between obligations of private and public (state-funded) universities in relation to student "rights."

The Guide to Religious Liberty on Campus advises, "Consider Tufts University, Grinnell College, Williams College, Ball State University, Whitman College, Middlebury College, Randolph-Macon Women's College, the State University of New York at Oswego, Wichita State University, Castleton State College, and Purdue University." These are just some of the "schools that have sought to either ban outright or heavily regulate the activities of religious students or religious student groups."

The Guide to Religious Liberty explains that, if a public university permits any "expressive organization" -- those organized around a specific belief -- then it must allow religious ones on the same basis: equal access to campus facilities and funding, freedom from interference and due process. If a private university has a stated policy on religious toleration, then it may have a contractual obligation to sponsor religious groups on the same footing as others.

The Guide to Student Fees, Funding and Legal Equality on Campus explains, "Many students attending public colleges and universities are surprised and sometimes outraged to learn that school rules require them to fund groups that advocate ideas they find morally or politically unacceptable" -- from feminism to communism, from environmentalism to transgendered rights. Students ask, "How can universities force me, as a condition of getting an education here, to fund groups with which I morally disagree?"

This second guide explains whether mandatory funding is legal and how objecting students can defend themselves against the practice.

The Guide to Due Process and Fair Procedure on Campus states, "Students should know their rights and liberties ... If an innocent person is charged with wrongdoing, what protections should that innocent person have against being wrongly or arbitrarily punished and dishonored?"

The guide details precisely which judicial rights accused students retain and what they should do to protect themselves against arbitrary punishment.

The remaining two guides -- on free speech and on thought reform -- will be available by the end of September 2003.

The guides are essential to the civil liberties and human dignity of every university student. Let the students you care for know how to defend themselves against injustice.

Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including the new book, Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century (Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002). She lives with her husband in Canada.

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