For Immediate Release, Sept. 26, 2003
Contact: Sara Russo 202-969-2467
Southern Methodist University Censors Students by Shutting Down “Affirmative Action Bake Sale”
Students for Academic Freedom Calls for School to Adopt Academic Bill of Rights
Students for Academic Freedom issued a call today for Southern Methodist University to adopt an Academic Bill of Rights to insure that all political viewpoints are allowed free expression on campus.
The necessity of an Academic Bill of Rights has been demonstrated by recent events at the school. On Tuesday, September 23rd, the SMU administration ordered the Young Conservatives of Texas, a student organization, to shut down their “Affirmative Action Bake Sale” because several students had complained to University officials that they found the event “offensive.”
“This is exactly wrong, and SMU officials ought to be ashamed of themselves,” stated the Dallas Morning News in an editorial published Friday. “If you have students threatening violence over a political protest, you send campus security in to protect the free speech rights of the protesters. You don’t deny the protesters their right to make their opinion heard. True, the Supreme Court famously held that one doesn’t have a First Amendment right to yell ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater, but that’s not remotely what the bake sale at SMU amounted to. SMU owes the Young Conservatives an apology. Closing down the bake sale sends a terrible message to students: If you don’t like the ideas at a political protest, you can get school authorities to gag the protesters by threatening violence.”
First held at UCLA, an affirmative action bake sale consists in selling baked goods at different prices based on the buyer’s race and gender. White males are asked to pay the highest price, while women and racial minorities are given a discount. The sale is meant as a protest of affirmative action policies which discriminate among applicants based on these same criteria.
Despite having completed all necessary procedures to hold the event, the Young Conservatives of Texas were approached by campus administrators who asked them to discontinue their protest. When the students initially declined, they were ordered to cease the sale on the grounds that it violated a non-discrimination clause in the student handbook which prohibits discrimination based on race or gender.
“This was not an issue about free speech,” student center director Tim Moore told the Dallas Morning News, which published an editorial decrying the university’s actions. “It was really an issue where we had a hostile environment being created that was potentially volatile.”
“This case illustrates a clear violation of the principles of academic freedom,” said Sara Russo, National Campus Director of Students for Academic Freedom. “The SMU administration intervened on one side of a highly controversial political issue, thereby violating the posture of organizational neutrality which all institutions of higher learning should uphold.”
Students for Academic Freedom is a new national initiative dedicated to restoring academic diversity and educational values to America’s institutions of higher learning. The organization recommends that colleges and universities adopt an Academic Bill of Rights to ensure that these principles are respected. The Academic Bill of Rights is available on the organization’s website. “An environment conducive to the civil exchange of ideas being an essential component of a free university, the obstruction of invited campus speakers, destruction of campus literature or other effort to obstruct this exchange will not be tolerated,” states one clause in the Academic Bill of Rights which would have protected the students from SMU’s censorship of their activities.