Letter to the Editors: OC Republicans and Libertarians Respond to Letter

James Kuntz

To the Editors:

Despite his concerns, Owen Henry is mistaken in suggesting (1) that the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education receives funding solely from conservative organizations and (2) that the FIRE exclusively defends conservative individuals and causes.

In regard to finances, Owen is correct that the FIRE receives funds from conservative organizations, such as the Sarah Scaife Foundation and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. He is also correct in assuming that such funding would represent a substantial conflict of interest and increase the risk of a political bias within the FIRE, if these were the FIRE’s sole sources of funds. However, in 2010, approximately 68 percent of the FIRE’s funding came from more than 1,600 individual donors — not foundations — from all over the political spectrum; the accusation that the FIRE is serving some foundation agenda simply does not hold water. Moreover, Mr. Greg Lukianoff, who spoke in West Lecture Hall on March 24, is himself a lifelong Democrat, a former intern for the ACLU of Northern California, and former development manager of the EnvironMentors Project. In this way, Owen’s claim that the FIRE possesses a conservative political agenda based on its funding is false and based only on his misinformed construction of evidence.

Moreover, Owen is also mistaken in suggesting that the FIRE is exclusively concerned with defending conservative cases, and “attack[ing] what they see as liberal bias[es] on college campuses nationwide.” If you simply look at the case list on the FIRE’s website, there are cases in which the FIRE defends a Forsyth Technical Community College writing instructor who offered anti-Iraq war remarks in a class discussion; a Brooklyn College professor who was very critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians; Catholic University students who wanted to start a campus chapter of NAACP; and one of it’s biggest cases in the past few years, that of environmentalist student T. Hayden Barnes at Valdosta State University. If any trend can be ascertained in the types of cases the FIRE takes on, it would be that the Foundation defends individual students and/or faculty members against larger institutions that possess tangible political power and employ a fleet of lawyers.

The OC Republicans and Libertarians oppose Owen’s claim that “the OC Republicans and Libertarians […] cast what is clearly an organization with a political agenda as an organization solely dedicated to defending [student free speech rights].” The FIRE is no more politicized than any other non-profit organization, with a “staff, Board of Directors, and Board of Advisors [comprised of] individuals from across the political spectrum.” FIRE employs individuals all over the political spectrum, since, as Vice President Robert Shibley contends, “freedom of speech on [college] campuses is important to everyone in America, not just conservatives or liberals.”

Proud to be a Yeoman but even prouder to be an American,

–James Kuntz, College Junior Vice President of Oberlin College Republicans and Libertarians