A national organization that promotes First Amendment rights on campus has labeled The Evergreen State College as one of the 10 worst in the country for free speech.
The Foundation for Independent Rights in Education (FIRE) said Evergreen made the list for censoring a professor who objected to an event designed to raise awareness of racial equality.
“Protest is good. Censorship is not,” FIRE officials wrote. “Disagreeing over how to stand up for diversity is not a good reason to intimidate or attempt to silence anyone.”
In a statement, Evergreen officials said the college “has always been a college that embraces difficult issues through dialogue and debate. We value the freedom of speech and expression of all our students, faculty, and staff. Throughout the events on our campus last spring our commitment to the freedom of speech of our faculty members, staff and students remained steadfast.”
The public liberal-arts college in Olympia became the focus of national media attention last spring after a biology professor, Bret Weinstein, questioned an event called Day of Absence, in which white students who chose to participate were asked to go off campus to discuss race issues, while students of color remained on campus.
Weinstein called the event “a show of force, and an act of oppression.”
He was confronted outside his classroom by at least 50 students, who called him a racist and demanded he be fired. Later, protesting students took over the campus library and held the president, George Bridges, there for several hours.
Evergreen later closed for three days after an anonymous caller threatened violence.
Adam Goldstein, the Robert H. Jackson legal fellow at FIRE, said the organization defends the rights of students to protest, “but what went wrong at Evergreen was when that protest escalated to both disruptive behavior and intimidation.”
Goldstein said he believed the students had an “intellectual disagreement” with Weinstein, but that shouting him down and demanding that he be fired is “an astonishing, illiberal way to handle a philosophical difference.” FIRE also believes the school administration handled the dispute poorly because it did not swiftly discipline students involved in the incidents, he said.
In interviews last year, some students said they believe they were unfairly portrayed in the national media as angry, vengeful and violent.