Silenced on campus

By HARVEY SILVERGLATE  |  June 26, 2013

UNIVERSITY OF RHODE ISLAND

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, University of Rhode Island Professor Erik Loomis tweeted that he would like to see National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre's head "on a stick." This incendiary comment set off a fierce debate and resulted in numerous calls for Loomis to be fired or arrested. In response, URI President David M. Dooley issued a statement condemning LaPierre's free speech, saying that the university "does not condone acts or threats of violence." But no rational observer would believe that Professor Loomis was outing a violent plan to actually kill LaPierre. As Loomis himself explained, "I think the last time 'head on a stick' actually meant murder was sometime around 1450."

Fortunately for the First Amendment, URI eventually did see the light. Two days after receiving a sternly-worded letter from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), President Dooley issued a follow-up statement clarifying URI's commitment to freedom of speech.

Harvey Silverglate, a civil liberties lawyer, is co-founder and current board chairman of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. He is co-author ofThe Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America's Campuses (The Free Press, 1998).The assistance of Juliana DeVries in preparing this piece is gratefully acknowledged.

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