Campus Free Speech Organization FIRE Is Protecting the Rights of Students Online

Empty college classroom
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The Foundation for Individual Right in Education (FIRE) says that it will defend the rights of college students in online college classes to ensure that academic freedom and freedom of expression are protected during the Chinese virus pandemic.

The free speech organization vows to continue to defend the rights of students as universities transition toward greater use of technology to ensure that basic civil liberties are not compromised.

FIRE’s statement arrives on the heels of recent “Zoom bombings” — a type of cyber attack in which Zoom video conferencing meetings are hacked by unwelcome visitors.

The video conference app — which has surged in popularity due to an increase of virtual meetings across the country in response to the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic — has garnered an influx of complaints from users who have had their virtual meetings hijacked.

The incidents have even elicited a response from New York Attorney General Letitia James, who sent a letter to Zoom “with a number of questions to ensure the company is taking appropriate steps to ensure users’ privacy and security,” according to a spokesperson.

Now, FIRE has issued “reasonable steps” for students, faculty, and administrators to take in order to protect their virtual classrooms while ensuring that the First Amendment rights of students are upheld.

“Reasonable steps may include controlling students’ microphone access; imposing reasonable, viewpoint-neutral requirements on student use of virtual backgrounds; and asking students to disable their camera,” said the organization in a recent statement.

“Faculty, or the administrator of the virtual classroom if not the professor, may restrict the ability of unauthorized individuals to access and disrupt class sessions using the platform’s security settings, protecting their and their students’ right to a disruption-free environment,” FIRE added.

The organization went on to state that “faculty should recognize that students attending classes from their residences or remote locations may have limited control over their immediate physical surroundings, and should take reasonable steps to accommodate students in the manner that best approximates an in-person classroom experience.”

“Like faculty, students’ expressive rights in the virtual classroom should mirror those afforded to them when attending class on campus,” added FIRE. “Students must be given the opportunity to participate in online learning free from discrimination, harassment, and other undue interference with their educational pursuits.”

“As is always the case, students must not be subjected to discrimination by their professors based on their viewpoint or opinion, which strikes at the core of both the First Amendment and liberal education,” the organization affirmed.

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, and on Instagram.

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