The odds that Ron Paul would win the Republican Presidential primary this year were always pretty slim. But you wouldn’t know that from the overheated response one student supporter at Auburn University in Alabama got when he dared to place a sign supporting Paul’s candidacy in his dorm room window last fall. Perhaps fearing that a wave of Ron Paul mania would sweep uncontrollably over Auburn, the sign was only up for three hours before officials demanded that student Eric Philips remove the poster from his window, ostensibly for safety reasons. Philips recounts the shameful saga in a new video from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), where I work.
What sets Auburn’s censorship apart from other, similar episodes of sign censorship is the university’s sheer laziness about the whole situation. For instance, at Sinclair Community College in Ohio, protesters at a pro-life/religious freedom rally were told they could not hold up signs, period. At first, FIRE thought Sinclair’s insane ban on all signs at protests was politically driven, but it looks like it might not have been: campus police admitted that they had been banning protesters from holding up signs for more than 20 years. (Needless to say, there’s no support in the Constitution for such a ban.) And during the last election, the University of Texas at Austin banned all political signs in windows until students on all sides complained. It took UT Austin’s president a single day after the ban became public to “suspend” the ban indefinitely.
In contrast, Eric Philips, after taking down his Ron Paul sign at the command of Auburn authorities, simply walked around with his iPad taking pictures of all the things hanging in windows and off dorms with which Auburn seemed to have no problem. So much for that safety rationale! This is not CSI-level evidence gathering, but it amply demonstrated how “committed” Auburn was to the purported safety benefits of having windows free of hanging objects. FIRE then wrote Auburn, attaching the pictures and questioning its safety rationale. Auburn wrote back, effectively saying, hey, the total ban on window hangings is new, and this spring we’ll get more serious about it. Here’s how serious Auburn was in January. Here’s how serious Auburn was in April. For that last bit of evidence, Eric Philips didn’t even have to leave his room!
In the end, it appears that the only “safety” Auburn is demonstrably worried about when it comes to window hangings is the safety of its administrators’ political sensibilities.
Robert Shibley is Senior Vice President of FIRE (thefire.org).