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Small Raleigh school joins legendary campuses on annual list of free-speech violators

St. Augustine’s College barely trails Harvard and Yale for the “honor” of being named the most vigorous punisher of unsanctioned speech

When it comes to suppressing free speech on campus, St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh ranks alongside some of the nation’s most venerated academic institutions, including Yale and Harvard, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

The historically African-American college came in No. 6 on FIRE’s annual list of the 12 worst colleges and universities for freedom of speech. The organization’s 2012 list was posted earlier this week.

St. Aug’s earned the spot for its response to Facebook posts by senior Roman Caple last year. The brouhaha began after tornados ripped through southeast Raleigh last April, causing damage to buildings and long-term power outages on campus. Via his Facebook posts, Caple dissented with school officials’ decision to hold class after the tornado even though some students were still without electricity, and encouraged his fellow students to debate administrators at a public meeting.

For his “attempt to create chaos,” school officials refused to allow Caple, a first-generation college graduate, to march in commencement ceremonies with his classmates. He was instead forced to receive his cap, gown and diploma from a security officer. According to FIRE, Caple filed a lawsuit against the school and received a settlement.

At No. 6, St. Aug’s comes in behind No. 5 Yale and No. 4 Harvard. Yale made the list for multiple reasons, including its censorship of the message on the annual freshman class T-shirts created for the Harvard-Yale football game. Harvard earned its spot, in part, for requiring freshmen to sign a morality pledge promising to exercise “civility” and “kindness … on a par with intellectual attainment.”

FIRE’s No. 1 offender is the University of Cincinnati, which is facing a federal civil rights lawsuit for imposing a “free speech zone” on its campus. The public school requires students wishing to picket or rally to confine their demonstrations to an area that amounts to one-tenth of 1 percent of the campus or face possible police action.

FIRE is a national, nonprofit educational foundation that monitors rights issues on college campuses. FIRE’s list of the 12 worst colleges and universities for free speech is in its second year.

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