America's Worst Colleges for Free Speech on Campus

With the beginning of the new school year, students and parents are flocking to newsstands to pick up the "America's Best Colleges" issue of U.S. News & World Report to see how their schools of interest stack up to the others. This year, they'll be getting another piece of information as well: a list of America's worst colleges for liberty on campus. Students who are planning to attend Brandeis University, Bucknell University, Colorado College, Johns Hopkins University, Michigan State University, and Tufts University should think twice before attending those schools if they care about their fundamental rights.

This is the second year in a row that FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (where I work), has placed a full-page ad right next to the U.S. News rankings to warn students about what can happen to their liberties on campus and the colleges where these travesties are most likely to occur.

The ad features the shocking story of Keith John Sampson, a student and employee at Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), who was found guilty of racial harassment for reading a book that celebrates how University of Notre Dame students defeated the Ku Klux Klan in a 1924 street fight. The apparent basis for Sampson's offense? The book has a picture of a KKK rally on the cover, and he chose to read it while sitting at a table during work breaks, thereby offending other employees.

That's right. Administrators at an American public university actually judged a book by its cover. FIRE was able to help restore Sampson's good name, but the case remains a disturbing example of the out-of-control political correctness that is rife on too many campuses.

While Sampson's story is appalling, IUPUI is not on FIRE's Red Alert list of the "worst of the worst" offenders against liberty in America because it did come around once FIRE and the ACLU got involved. Bucknell, Brandeis, Colorado College, Hopkins, Michigan State, and Tufts did not even do that -- and the stories there are nearly as shameful.

For instance, Bucknell University, the newest addition to the list, censored a conservative group's satire of President Obama's stimulus plan (the group passed out fake "stimulus dollars," which Bucknell apparently could not abide) and an "affirmative action bake sale" protest. After administrators shut down the affirmative action bake sale because -- get this -- the students were charging less than they said they would for doughnuts, the students reapplied to conduct the protest. However, they were told they could only discuss affirmative action in a debate format with the other side. Based on this principle, we can presumably expect President Obama to be surrendering the White House lectern to Michael Steele at his next press conference.