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Monday, February 16, 2009
Public College Presidents Put on Notice They Might Be Held Personally Liable for Illegal Speech Codes
As discussed in detail in a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is turning the heat up on public colleges' presidents and chancellors by warning them that they can be held personally liable by the courts if their institution's speech code violates the First Amendment.
FIRE has sent registered letters to officials at 266 public colleges telling them it regards their speech codes as problematic. The letters cite 1982 Supreme Court ruling, in the case Harlow v. Fitzgerald, which held that government officials have immunity from personal liability for their actions only "insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Having, through standard certified mail procedures, formally acknowledged receipt of the letters in their hands, the college officials can no longer claim ignorance if sued over their speech policies, the letters say.
Monday, February 9, 2009
His pick as the department's assistant secretary for civil rights, Russlynn Ali, is known mainly for her work with organizations focused on trying to reform K-12 education. As discussed in detail in an article on the Chronicle of Higher Education news blog, she is vice president of the Education Trust and executive director of its West Coast-based partner organization, Education Trust-West. Although both groups are focused on helping Hispanic, black, Native American, and low-income students, they do so by promoting high academic achievement, not by advocating civil rights.
Ms. Ali previously served as liaison to the president of the Children's Defense Fund and as chief of staff to the president of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education. Her last major stint focusing on civil-rights laws was a position as deputy co-director of the Advancement Project, a Washington-based advocacy group that describes itself as dedicated to promoting racial justice.
Despite her having much less of a reputation as a civil-rights advocate than as an education activist, William L. Taylor, chairman of the Citizens Commission on Civil Rights, told the Chronicle he welcomed the selection of Ms. Ali, saying "I think she is a strong advocate for children."