The past year has been a busy one for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, which advocates for free-speech and due-process rights on campuses. Colleges’ responses to Covid-19 too often put them at odds with those principles, and the group says 2020 brought an unprecedented number of requests for its help.
In a new report, “Covid on Campus: The Pandemic’s Impact on Student and Faculty Speech Rights,” the group recounts incidents at more than 20 colleges to give “a clearer picture of what institutions have done wrong [and] how they can do better.” Among them are accounts of resident assistants being told not to speak to reporters, a Juniata College professor who was reprimanded for stating on Facebook that in-person classes could result in deaths, and Collin College’s efforts to muzzle L.D. Burnett, a history professor who describes in a new Chronicle Review essay how the college stonewalled FIRE’s requests for records about her case.
The report also highlights challenges to free expression raised by colleges’ abrupt embrace of virtual tools like Zoom and ProctorU, the U.S. government’s efforts to force international students to take in-person classes or leave the country, and the potential reach of China’s ambiguous national-security law, which threatens to chill speech even in American classrooms.