The New York Times recently published a profile of the American Civil Liberties Union’s gradual turn away from being the pre-eminent defender of freedom of speech in the United States.
The change in the organization is punctuated by Ben Wizner, the head of ACLU’s free speech, privacy and technology project. Referencing the rise of the Foundation for Individual Rights In Education’s nonpartisan, uncompromising defense of free speech on campus, Wizner tells the Times,
FIRE does not have the same tensions. At the A.C.L.U., free speech is one of 12 or 15 different values.
Too often, free speech at the ACLU seems like McDonald’s Shamrock Shake–something brought out for a few days a year to appease hardcore fans, even though the franchise itself has long moved on.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education reports that Columbia University is apparently refusing to publicly defend its controversial sexual misconduct policy. The new policy completely strips persons accused of sexual misconduct of any meaningful rights and has garnered a lot of unfavorable publicity for the university.
On February 23, the Columbia University chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union organized an event to discuss the policy. Along with opponents of the policy, such as Columbia Law professor Vivian Berger, the ACLU invited Charlene Allen, the administrator in charge of Columbia’s Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Education, as well as representatives from the campus group that pushed for the new policy, Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER). SAFER declined the invitation, but Allen agreed to participate. Shortly before the event, however, Columbia issued a statement that Allen would not participate after all. Fox News recently aired a story about the policy, and again Columbia refused to comment on the policy.
FIRE’s Harvey Silvergate said,
Columbia cannot bear the public scrutiny. They didn’t show up at the ACLU event, nor for the television program, because there is no principled defense for their policy. How can they justify the stripping away of the due process protection deemed necessary for hundreds of years. HOw can they justify the stripping away of the due process protections deemed necessary for hundreds of years in a free and decent society? The policy is worthy of the kangaroo courts of the former Soviet Union, the current People’s Republic of China, or Spain under Franco. It is not worthy of a world-class class university in a free country.
A good insight into the sort of thinking that went into this policy was given last year by SAFER co-chair Sarah Richardson. Asked by a reporter about the rights of individuals accused of a crime, Richardson asked, “Why are we so concerned about the rapist?” Guilty until proven innocent is at the core of SAFER’s claims and the “justice” meted out by the Sexual Misconduct Policy.