Speaker Brings the FIRE to Discussion on Student’s Rights

by Gary James, News Editor

November 19, 2008

Amid rumors that college administrators have coerced Delts to abdicate their leadership roles in student groups and disassociate with their former housemates, last night’s talk by Adam Kissel proved timely.

The Wabash Conservative Union hosted a talk by Adam Kissel Wednesday night in Hays 104. The event, originally titled Identifying Though Reform on Campus, centered on several cases of administrative or institutional control of student or faculty speech. In lieu of recent events, the Conservative Union and Kissels decided to extend the talk to a forum on Student Rights.

Kissel is the Director of the Individual Rights Defense Program for the Foundation for Individual Rights and Education. He graduated from Harvard University and the University of Chicago, where he served as Student Liaison to the Board of Trustees and earned an A.M. from the Committee on Social Thought. Before joining FIRE, Kissel was a director of the Lehrman American Studies Center. He has authored more than 150 original articles, and he co-wrote a Faculty Rights Handbook in 2007 with his colleague Sharon Browne.

“I have been asked to speak about thought reform, when someone is pressuring you, in violation of your rights, to believe a certain way, act a certain way, or think a certain way that otherwise you wouldn’t have without the coercion,” Kissel said. “I’m a student of rhetoric so pressuring and persuasion up to a certain point is a healthy part of academic discourse. But there is a certain point when it goes too far, and that’s called thought reform, or indoctrination.”

Kissel used the example of a student at Voldasta State University in Georgia, who was forced to remove all of his protests signs opposing a new parking garage he thought would be bad for the environment. When the student created a Facebook group of what he thought the area would look like after the garage was built, he was withdrawn from school by the president because he referred to the garage as a memorial site. FIRE was able to get the student readmitted to the school.

He related his talk to Wabash by analyzing possible differences between a gentleman and a citizen. Kissel argued that codes like the Gentleman’s Rule should not mean that administrators rule over students but that students rule over themselves; that gentlemen should be allowed to continually improve themselves.

“Education is part of becoming the best person, the best gentleman, the best human being that you can be,” Kissel said. “So when you fall short it’s just to be expected, especially if you’re a freshman who just got here. Maybe you don’t know even what a Gentleman is or what manliness is. In education, I think there needs to be an awful lot of leeway to help you when you fall short to understand how you fall short and why you might want to act in a different way than the way you’ve acted.”

Members of the Wabash Conservative Union were happy Kissel could come to the school and speak about a pertinent issue.

“Students are frustrated and what has come to light in recent weeks demonstrates the issue of student rights on campus is very real for us now,” said Wabash Conservative Union President Sean Clerget. “Adam Kissel coming to campus this week could not have been more appropriate. The change of topic was very important due to recent events on campus. Concerns about freedom of association both in living units and student clubs prompted the change. We wanted to allow a forum where students, faculty, staff, and administration could come and ask questions about what has been happening on campus, and about what their rights actually are.”

 


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