Newark, NJ- Remember "REVENGE OF THE NERDS?" Well, at stately Rutgers University in southern New Jersey, life is imitating art and the battle may well be moving into the courtroom.
As part of its ongoing campaign to return Rutgers to its pristine academic state, a group of faculty, students, and alumni have filed suit against the school. The "Rutgers 1000" claims its first amendment rights were violated in the spring of 1998 when Rutgers Magazine refused to accept an advertisement from the group for publication. The ad was a call for alumni signatures and donations to support the group's fight to withdraw Rutgers from Big East and NCAA level athletics.
The magazine refused the ad, citing its policy that "Rutgers Magazine does not sell space for letters, opinion articles, or advocacy advertising of any sort." But ACLU attorney Flavio Komuves argues that the policy itself violates both federal and state constitutions. "Political advocacy," says Komuves, "is entitled to the highest degree of constitutional protection." Komuves adds that the university has no justification to discriminate against such advocacy.
To prove its public case, the Rutgers 1000 web site links to university publications which scream of advocacy, albeit for the administrations policies. There's even a solicitation for donations to raise money for athletic scholarships.
In a letter to the university publication The Daily Targum, RU English Professor and Rutgers 1000 member William Dowling pointed out that while "No publication has to accept ads it doesn't want to accept. So long as a group has alternative means to express its opinions, First Amendment freedoms are preserved." But university officials have refused to the group's request for access to alumni mailing list, making it impossible for them to reach out to alumni directly.
The Rutgers administration has been under fire for several years concerning its policy of athletics over academics. The Rutgers 1000 primary goal during this period has been to protect the school's academic reputation. Unfortunately, as it is with most cases of mutual exclusivity, the side with the most power usually wields the larger sword. And in this case in particular, the Rutgers administration is using a questionable internal policy (the refusal to print "advocacy ads") to squash the obvious rights of Scarlet Knights past and present who disagree with a questionable external policy (the raising of the schools athletic pedestal over its academic podium). Whether or not you agree with the Rutgers 1000 position, it is apparent that the university is setting policy as it suits itself, and it looks like they forgot that diversity is one of the things that made the university system great.
The ACLU case is currently in the disclosure phase, but in the meantime, you can contact both sides to voice your opinion. If you actually do contact Rutgers University, you might remind them of the following factoids.
Universities are institutions of higher learning.
Learning begats knowledge.
Knowledge is power.
Abuse of power is a symbol of ignorance.
The Rutgers 1000 can be contacted via mail or email: