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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.