FIRE blames newspaper's ad refusal on school's 'culture of fear'

PENNSYLVANIA — A free speech group blames “a culture of fear” at Bucknell Universityfor the student newspaper’s refusal to run an ad criticizing theuniversity.

Bucknellian Editor-in-Chief Lenore Flower informed the Foundationfor Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) in early September that the paperwould not be running the organization’s ad because of libel concerns.

Adam Kissel, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program,dismissed the editor-in-chief’s claim that the ad was potentially libelous,saying its claims were clearly the opinion of his organization.

“If third parties cannoteven criticize the university in an ad in the student newspaper, free speech isin dire straits at Bucknell,” Kissel said.

Flower called FIRE’s assertion “absolutely absurd,” and said she thoughtthe advertisement was inappropriate and would reflect poorly on the newspaper.She said she advised FIRE to change the wording or to write a letter to theeditor, a format she said was more appropriate for opinionated content.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education submitted the ad as partof a campaign to draw attention to schools on its Red Alert list — schoolsit says have the least amount of liberty on campus. The Bucknell ad criticizedthe school’s decision to shut down demonstrations by the Bucknell UniversityConservatives Club, naming Associate Dean of Students Gerald Commerford as oneof the administrators responsible and explaining his actions had caused FIRE toplace the school on that list.

The Bucknellian ran an article on the event in the spring,presenting arguments from both Commerford and the students.

“I think if FIRE had read the article themselves, they would have beenpleasantly surprised,” Flower said, adding that the article showsBucknellian reporters are not afraid of their administration, as FIREclaims.