Patrick Stout reports that the FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) gave WIU a poor grade for free speech, but he does not discuss FIRE’s biased funding sources: while they claim to be nonpartisan, they are funded by extremely right-wing groups, such as The Bradly Foundation and the Koch Brothers.
The FIRE’s analysis doesn’t accurately reflect the lived reality at WIU. As someone who’s been part of the WIU community for over a generation, I know that WIU both supports and represses free speech. In the last few years, the university has become repressive in ways that are not reflected in FIRE’s rating system.
The FIRE is part of a growing conservative movement that uses “free speech” to hide an agenda that promotes hate. FIRE’s benefactors, the Koch brothers, were motivated by their father’s anger at Brown vs. Board of Education (1954), which supports racial equality in public education. The Kochs have built a vast network to indoctrinate Americans against equality and they have targeted educational institutions.
The FIRE has targeted the rights of women, people of color, and many others.  Anne McClintock in the Jacobin, says, “The organization has attacked Title IX for years, fronting the rhetoric of free speech as camouflage for its broader political agenda.” The FIRE’s work makes campus a more permissive place for sexual perpetrators and a more dangerous and hostile place for women and other targets of sexual harassment and assault. The FIRE tends to defend the voice of perpetrators, while further silencing victims.
Outside of what they glean from our policy manuals, The FIRE appears unaware of how we both practice and repress free speech at WIU. When I have helped plan marches and rallies, the administration has readily cooperated—even when they did not agree with or endorse the message of these events. When the Westboro Baptist hate group came to campus, the university briefly acknowledged Westboro’s right to free speech, and then supported a student-led Rally for Love held nearby.  
The FIRE omits from analysis WIU’s recent program eliminations, which might be the most powerful form of censorship. When WIU cut departments in 2016, they first targeted Women’s Studies and African American Studies (along with Philosophy and Religion). Some of the most silenced and underrepresented voices in this country inform the material of Women’s Studies and other critical disciplines. When WIU eliminated tenure track faculty lines in Women’s Studies, they silenced critical feminist perspectives. If FIRE cared about silenced and lost voices, they would issue a “red light” warning over WIU’s elimination of Women’s Studies.
By firing tenured professors, WIU has weakened free speech. U.S. university leaders created the tenure system so that powerful funding sources—the state, corporations, wealthy donors, etc.—couldn’t force the firing of a professor because they disagreed with what she taught, researched, or said. At WIU, many fired tenured professors (as well as instructors) had exercised their free speech in ways that critically questioned administrative decisions. If the FIRE cares about campus free speech, they should be alarmed that the tenured professors in the College of Arts and Sciences who gathered in a small office to write a resolution against the 2015 layoff list (including me) are now fired.
Like many of my WIU colleagues, I’ve repeatedly experienced backlash against my free speech. For example, when I recorded a pro-choice commentary for Tri States Public Radio in 2015, various administrators indicated that they did not support my commentary and that I was jeopardizing my tenure application.  I was also told that TSPR phones wouldn’t stop ringing with complaints. I was discouraged from writing any more feminist commentaries. That’s censorship, but you won’t find it in the FIRE’s analysis.
A university education requires the free exchange of ideas. WIU must work even harder and more courageously to support the free expression of diverse perspectives, especially when those perspectives come from women, people or color, the poor, etc., but FIRE is not an authority on this: their funding is biased, their agenda is hateful, and they don’t know our campus.

Holly Stovall
Macomb