Rhode Island College: Punishment of Professor for Refusal to Censor Speech

Category: Free Speech
Schools: Rhode Island College

At Rhode Island College, Dr. Lisa Church was threatened with disciplinary action after refusing to punish two mothers for making constitutionally protected comments that offended another mother at RIC’s cooperative preschool, of which Professor Church is the coordinator. The offended mother filed a “discrimination” complaint with RIC asking for “some action to be taken” against Church and others at the preschool. RIC college counsel Nicholas Long initially expressed reservations about the legality of proceeding with hearings regarding the complaint, but he later mysteriously reversed himself. RIC then advanced the formal hearing process, informing Church that she faced charges of “hostile environment racism.” FIRE wrote to RIC President John Nazarian twice, each time asking him to call off the unconstitutional proceedings, but Nazarian refused to stop the hearings. Although in the end Associate Dean Scott Kane decided that no formal action needed to be taken, Nazarian still refused to concede that the case was a First Amendment violation. As a result, the RIC faculty union filed a grievance challenging the university’s unconstitutional speech codes.

  • Freedom at RIC

    September 30, 2004

    With its decision this month to drop action against a professor who failed to regulate students’ conversation, Rhode Island College appears to have come down on the side of free speech.The case centered on Lisa Church, a professor of accounting and computer-information services, who did not punish two RIC students for having made racially insensitive remarks to another RIC student, at the college’s preschool. The professor was not on hand when the remarks were made, but was dragged into the affair because she is the preschool’s coordinator. RIC President John Nazarian insisted that the matter “was not an issue of […]

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  • RIC drops complaint against professor

    September 12, 2004

    Rhode Island College has dropped a discrimination complaint against a professor who refused to discipline two students who allegedly made racist remarks.The professor, Dr. Lisa Church, had told the school it should drop the complaint, made by a student, arguing she did not violate school discrimination policies or other standards.After conducting a closed hearing Sept. 3 – at which both Church and a student complainant testified – Associate Dean Scott Kane recommended the complaint be dropped. “It was determined at the first level of the process that the matter in question was not an issue of free speech, the First […]

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  • Professor faces deadline for hearing on discrimination complaint

    September 3, 2004

    A Rhode Island College professor called in for a hearing for failing to discipline two students who allegedly made racist remarks has not scheduled the meeting and wants the college to call off its probe.The deadline for Lisa Church to schedule the meeting that college administrators have requested is Friday.Church wrote to administrators this week, saying she does not think the meeting should take place. “I acted both reasonably and responsibly in refusing to consider any kind of punishment of anyone involved in the conversation,” Church said in the letter. “To have punished the participants in the conversation in any […]

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  • College discusses next move in discrimination case

    September 3, 2004

    Rhode Island College officials were discussing Friday how to proceed with a discrimination complaint against a professor who refused to discipline two students who allegedly made racist remarks.The professor, Dr. Lisa Church, wrote to administrators this week, saying she believes the college should drop the complaint and not conduct any meetings on the matter.A college spokeswoman said the school hoped to decide by Friday what would happen next, but was obliged to investigate every complaint filed. The discrimination complaint stems from an incident on Feb. 19, when two students, with children in RIC’s preschool, allegedly made racist remarks in conversation […]

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  • Attacking speech at RIC

    August 31, 2004

    A FRIEND of mine is in the middle of the bestseller Reading Lolita in Tehran. It’s the story of a teacher in Iran who meets in secret with seven students to read forbidden Western texts — all the time fearing raids by Islamic morality squads who are out to enforce ideological conformity and purge wayward professors.I’d like to believe that this ugly side of human nature — the will to force everyone to think and believe alike, for the common “good” — is a problem confined to the Islamic world, far from the land of liberty. But something akin to […]

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  • RIC hearing focuses on free speech

    August 27, 2004

    PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island College will hold a hearing to determine whether a professor violated college policy for refusing to punish speech that many consider protected by the First Amendment — and prompting a national civil liberties advocacy group to cry foul.   The professor at the center the controversy, Lisa B. Church, could face disciplinary action for her alleged failure to appropriately respond to a student’s complaint. But the college insists that at this point, the hearing is merely a fact-finding proceeding “and discipline is not the focus of the complaint filed in this instance.”   The complaint against […]

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  • Professor accused of not punishing students for racist remarks

    August 27, 2004

    A Rhode Island College professor has been called in for a hearing for failing to punish two students who allegedly made racist remarks, and her case is drawing the attention of civil liberties advocates.The professor, Lisa B. Church, could face disciplinary action for her alleged failure to appropriately respond to a student’s complaint, but the college says the initial hearing is merely a fact-finding proceeding.The complaint against Church, a professor of accounting and computer information services, was brought to the college administration by a student and mother at the college who claims that Church responded inappropriately when told about racist […]

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  • Fraternities Must Stand Up to Schools’ Squelching Free Speech

    October 11, 2004

    While there is no shortage of free-speech battles on college campuses, fraternities have the dubious honor of being at the center of many of the least-sympathetic controversies. From Halloween parties where brothers show up dressed as Ku Klux Klan members to fraternity newsletters that graphically relate a brother’s sexual exploits with named co-eds, fraternities sometimes express themselves in ways that are not exactly likely to win the battle for hearts and minds. However, although fraternities later may regret the actions of some of their brothers, they must not allow their rights to be stripped away by overzealous or opportunistic administrators. […]

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  • RIC faculty union challenges policy limiting speech

    October 2, 2004

    PROVIDENCE — Prompted by the recent furor over free speech at Rhode Island College, RIC’s faculty union has filed a grievance, asking that language it finds unconstitutional be removed from the college’s policies.   Sections of RIC’s equal-opportunity and affirmative action plan could have a chilling effect on free speech — the cornerstone of academic pursuit, said Prof. Daniel Weisman, a member of the union’s executive committee.   The college policy calls for “a positive climate where individuals may learn, teach and work free from discrimination”; and forbids “jokes or demeaning statements about a person’s gender, race/ethnicity, minorities, persons with […]

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  • Rhode Island College Union Files Free Speech Grievance

    October 1, 2004

    PROVIDENCE, R.I., October 1, 2004—In a welcome development for free speech on America’s campuses, the faculty union at Rhode Island College (RIC) has filed a grievance challenging RIC’s unconstitutional speech codes. Professor Jason Blank, president of the RIC/AFT Local 1819, filed the grievance in the wake of RIC’s decision to subject Professor Lisa Church to disciplinary hearings for her refusal to punish constitutionally protected student speech.   “This is an important moment in the ongoing battle against speech codes. The RIC/AFT has recognized that speech codes not only violate Constitutional and moral principles, but also prevent professors from effectively doing […]

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  • Breaking the Silence

    September 29, 2004

    Editor’s note: Last month, we ran an article entitled, “Backlash 101,” by GNN contributor Joshua Holland, editor of USC’s progressive paper, The Trojan Horse. Holland argued that heavily-funded conservative groups were taking advantage of an anti-political correctness backlash to make political gains among impressionable college students across the country. Not everyone agreed with Holland’s analysis. Minnie Quach, a program officer at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a group mentioned by Holland as having ties to powerful conservatives, contacted us with an alternative view. Here Quach argues that Holland painted a much too simplistic picture of the political […]

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  • Freedom of speech: RIC ends the inquisition, not the debate

    September 22, 2004

    BROOKLYN, N.Y. ON SEPT. 9, Rhode Island College tried to weasel out of an embarrassing free-speech controversy, in which it had tried a professor for doing nothing more than refusing to violate the First Amendment. And though RIC’s decision not to proceed with “further formal action” against the professor was welcome, it did nothing to convince civil-liberties watchdogs that free speech is secure at RIC. The professor, Lisa Church, was coordinator of RIC’s cooperative preschool. In February, a pupil’s mother went to her and alleged that in a private conversation another parent (both are students at RIC) had expressed racist […]

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  • Free Speech Victory at Rhode Island College

    September 10, 2004

    PROVIDENCE, R.I., September 10, 2004—Rhode Island College (RIC) Associate Dean Scott Kane stated in a decision released yesterday that he believes no “further formal action” is required in the college’s trial of Dr. Lisa Church, a professor who refused to censor constitutionally protected speech. “While the decision is welcome news for Professor Church and her family, RIC still has not recognized the unconstitutionality and injustice of its actions. RIC was clearly trying someone for ‘discrimination’ for refusing to punish another person’s speech,” said David French, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which wrote to RIC on […]

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  • An Open Letter to President John Nazarian and Rhode Island College

    September 3, 2004

    Dear President Nazarian and the Rhode Island College Community:   Today marks the deadline for Professor Lisa Church to set up a meeting with Rhode Island College officials about her handling of an incident that has been much in the news in recent days. As you know, Dr. Church refused a request to punish two mothers for offensive remarks they allegedly made at RIC’s cooperative preschool. The offended person, a student and mother at RIC, charged Dr. Church with “discrimination” for her failure to punish the people who allegedly made the remarks. Despite Dr. Church’s reasonable attempts to handle the […]

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  • Rhode Island College to Try Professor for Refusing to Punish Protected Speech

    August 24, 2004

    PROVIDENCE, R.I., August 24, 2004—Rhode Island College (RIC), a public college in Providence, is planning a hearing this week to determine whether a professor violated college policies banning “hostile environment racism” and “intimidation” for refusing to punish speech protected by the First Amendment.   Professor Lisa B. Church, who was a coordinator for RIC’s cooperative preschool program, was not even present when two adult participants in the program allegedly made comments that another adult participant considered racially “offensive.” Professor Church refused to punish the offending participants based on a third-person report of constitutionally protected speech, or to make the private […]

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