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FIRE free speech criticisms unfounded

By Staff Editorial     3/19/09 7:00pm

If you can read this staff editorial, then you will understand why we cannot help but laugh at the "red light" the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has given Rice for the university's free speech policy (see story, page 1). As an organization that deals solely in media, we at the Thresher believe we are in the perfect position to chide FIRE for giving Rice the worst possible rating. FIRE is an organization that, for all intents and purposes, seems to lack credibility as a watchdog organization. We strain to believe that Harvard University, Emory University, Stanford University and the University of Chicago could join Rice in the "red light" category, while Southern Methodist University earns a "yellow light."

When you are looking for something, it is often said that you will find it. Such is the case with FIRE's assessment of Rice. They purport to give Rice a "red light" based on an Information Technology policy that prevents the transmitting of both sexually explicit material and language that panders to bigotry, discrimination and the like. The IT policy could, in the most technical and non-interpretive way possible, be construed as prohibiting LGBT groups from forwarding messages via Rice's resources. But this is most certainly not the case. Had FIRE done its homework properly, it would become eminently clear that the university as a whole does an impressive job of allowing dissemination in all forms, consistently overriding a rule that, yes, could be interpreted as silencing LGBT groups.

FIRE has looked too far at the policy, but not nearly close enough at the school. There was nothing to set this off, nor was there any reason to think that the IT policy was imminently threatening the student body. At the same time, however, we would like to thank the administration, as part of a private university, for not censoring the student body as a whole, including the Thresher. While it is within their power to deem otherwise, we can freely commend them on their positions regarding freedom of speech.

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