FAU Called "The Worst Place in America to Attend College"; Professors Fight Back UPDATED

Categories: Broward News


Last week, the Daily Caller, a right-wing news website, called Florida Atlantic University "the worst place in America to attend college."

The main reason for the condemnation was the school's "speech code."

See also:
- FAU President and Trustees Keep Saying Ridiculous Things


The "speech code" is some language on the school's website, under the heading "Free Speech and Campus Civility." It is a remarkably bland pronouncement about the balance between lively debate and mutual respect.

(We don't think it even qualifies as a "speech code." The school does have 20-page "handbook of free speech issues," found here, prepared by school lawyers. CORRECTION: The school does have a speech code, including sanctions, in the FAU student code of conduct, and quite properly forbids 1) "Acts of verbal, written (including electronic communications or internet activity) or physical abuse, threats, intimidation, harassment, coercion, or other conduct which threaten the health, safety or welfare of any person" and 2) "Interference with academic freedom and freedom of speech of any member or guest of the University.")

Still, the "speech code" was picked up on by the watchdog group FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), which denounced it as "Speech Code of the Month" for August 2013 and awarded the school "FIRE's poorest, 'red light' speech code rating."

FIRE highlighted one sentence from the "code," warning of its potential for abuse:

What we do insist on, however, is that everyone in the FAU community behave and speak to and about one another in ways that are not racist, religiously intolerant or otherwise degrading to others.

FIRE is truly nonpartisan and has defended everyone from the InterVarsity Multi-Ethnic Christian Fellowship to leftist professor Ward Churchill and may have gone overboard in this instance, most likely triggered by the word "insist."

(In a Facebook comment, Christopher Ely, associate professor of history at FAU's Honors College, pointed out that while the word is "troubling," the preponderance of the statement's language shows that "the poorly chosen word 'insist' is not actionable." "But for form's sake," he continued, "I hope it will be switched to something like 'We support and encourage.'")

It was FIRE's "Speech Code of the Month" award that prompted the Daily Caller's hysterical headline. The website's "Education Editor," Eric Owens, described the so-called code as "draconian" and dismissed its language in support of free speech as "platitudes."

Owens then went on to rehash the string of scandals the school's endured this year: "Owlcatraz," "Jesus Prof," "Traceygate." (All of them well documented here at New Times.)

That's when Professor Michael Harrawood, Associate Professor of English in FAU's Honors College, took Owens to the woodshed, in the comments thread of Owens' blog, nailing him for his distorted account of FAU's annus horribilis.

Here's how it went down:

Michael Harrawood • 2 days ago

I'm very glad you're continuing this coverage, Eric, although along with most FAU faculty, I'm sorry to hear my university named the worst place to go to college. (As compelling a case as you make, and as embarrassing a spring as we've had here, I bet we could find much worse.) Your account of the Stomp on Jesus episode, along with the Channel 5 news clip, errs in a significant way: the student was never "punished" for expressing discomfort with the class exercise. He stayed after class and threatened the instructor with physical assault. The instructor reported the threat, which was witnessed and documented, and that's why the student got questioned. Discomfort with the exercise is, I'm told, the point of the exercise itself.

I hope you'll keep up the coverage of the free-speech policy. I would hesitate to call the FAU Board of Trustees "Marxists," or to assume this new policy is a tactic from the Politically Correct liberals, as some of your comments suggest. But you're right that the stakes are very high on this issue.

Eric Owens > Michael Harrawood
• 2 days ago

If there was a threat by the student, why did FAU apologize profusely, twice, including once in a groveling YouTube video? That's a very strange way for administrators to act if they are punishing someone who threatened to assault some one. Don't you think?

FAU's administration has a serious, serious problem. People need to be fired. A lot of people.

As for the commenters at The Daily Caller, their thoughts are their own.

Michael Harrawood > Eric Owens
• 2 days ago

Eric. Are you asking me? You're the journalist. The student's threats are a matter of public record. There was another student present who emailed an apology to the instructor. This has been reported by pretty much everybody except you. Your last comment above raises an interesting issue for a college teacher. To what extent can a misinformed thought be genuinely one's own?

I think many faculty and students at FAU share your feeling about the admin and BOT. I'm a little solaced by the retirement of Saunders and Angela Graham-West, and hope this will represent a move away from the bullying and coercive tactics the university admin seemed to have adopted last year.

The thing is that you have a great story here, without the rhetorical flourishes. That video apology was horrible, a terrible mistake, and it effectively threw an underpaid and overworked instructor under the bus. (You surely know that the Stomp exercise is from a textbook, is canonical, and has been done in classrooms for more than 30 years. The instructor didn't make it up.)

You also didn't report that after she hit the student with her car, Saunders demanded apologies from the student and from the Jupiter Campus. The student and her peers, all undegrads at the Wilkes Honors College, stood strong. But the Jupiter admin wrote and published an equally groveling apology to the president, posted it on the Honors College home page and emailed it to the whole FAU community. Effectively throwing our students under the bus. There was a faculty pushback against this, another email expressing faculty support of the students, both of which involved threats of closing down the college and many of us losing our jobs. This also is in the press and a matter of public record.

Eric Owens > Michael Harrawood
• a day ago

Michael -- It's shoddy to say that the threats are a matter of public record. Try this: some version of the events may include threats. Other versions definitely do not.

The facts are that FAU apologized profusely and suspended Poole, not the offended student. That student was, in fact, absolved. Was he not? So, you have no argument there.

If it is true that the offended student threatened anyone, however, then that just means that on top of everything FAU is also hilariously spineless.

There is no questions that FAU continues to be a terrible place. It makes for good stories, though. Boring universities that just educate and don't have tinfoil-hat profs and presidents hitting students with fancy cars are much less exciting.

Michael Harrawood > Eric Owens
• a day ago

Eric. Thanks for this exchange.

Shoddy? If it is true. . . ? Dude, this information is out there: you just haven't looked for it. Spin this any way you want: but you haven't reported the whole story here. There's your shoddy right there.

I'm on your side of the spineless argument. So are most faculty and students here. I don't know about hilarious. But it does not follow from this that 'FAU continues to be a terrible place'. In writing this, you've gone for a quick-kill snarky column where you had an opportunity to go after the facts. It's absurd (and snarky) to assume that these events define an institution where thousands of students, mostly from the middle and lower-middle class, matriculate through a curriculum flung across several campuses. They get jobs, build lives and careers based on what they learn here. I don't know of another institution with as ambitious a mission. I don't know of another with a residential Honors College built into the middle of a commuter campus system. The Wilkes Honors College, where I teach, has a particularly high placement rate for graduate and professional programs, and was particularly honorable in resisting a bullying administration. At my college, as in most of the university, faculty and students take our work very seriously and love what we do.

You're right also that this last year produced more than its fair share of comedy -- depending on which side of the fender you're on. And I'm hoping you'll continue to follow the free speech business. The real story is better than the one you're reporting here. I'm asking you to do the work up front and get a better idea of what's going on and what the stakes are. The truth is that all big institutions work too much in the dark, and those of us on the ground need journalism that throws light on these issues. Nobody needs to hear how we're all 'hilariously spineless.' There is a local column here online called The Fireant [sic] that you might want to check out as a resource. If you haven't already, I mean.

Eric Owens > Michael Harrawood
• a day ago

Michael -- I, too, have appreciated the exchange. I am particularly keen to see how this fascist "free speech" policy works out. My email address is attached to all of my articles, but it's erico@dailycaller.com. Please keep me updated, for good or ill.

We have little to add, at this time, to Harrawood's excellent commentary. (We do like Owens' snarky little "fascist" throwaway, typical of the frat-boy privilegistas at the Caller.) We do appreciate Harrawood's kind reference to our column. We would like to buy him a drink.

UPDATE: For more on Owens' work as the Daily Caller's "Education Editor," specifically his "snickering and winking about child sexual abuse and outrageous breach of trust," see this.

Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.

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The conversation I had with Michael Harrawood was about the validity of the facts used as support in the Daily Caller's piece. It is a different thing to argue that those facts are not enough to judge the quality of a university.

I never said or implied that FAU is/was a bad place to attend college. The Daily Caller article was an opinion piece. This was evident from the tone set forth in the title and lead paragraph.

Michael Harrawood can make the argument that it is short-sighted to judge an entire university based upon a handful of horrible decisions. But that is not what I was talking to Mr. Harrawood about. Mr. Harrawood attacked the facts laid forth in the Daily Caller's piece as being "lies" and "untruths."

I concede that there is/was one piece of support in the Daily Caller piece that used ambiguous language to make it look like the school was seeking to discipline the student who threatened Professor Poole for exercising his rights, but the statement - as written - is/was technically valid. I don't like that type of journalism, but one cannot say that the article was full of lies - which is what Harrawood did in our conversation.

My comment was directed at Professor Harrawood for his laziness, vulgarity, and hypocrisy. Harrawood could have (in our conversation) states a counter opinion as to what qualities or traits qualifies a university as good or bad. He didn't do that. Maybe he was frustrated. Maye he was busy. Maybe he was lazy. Seeing as he called me an asshole, I'm going to assume he is lazy. A real wordsmith who wasn't lazy could do much better than "asshole." And as far as hypocrisy goes, I kind of wish that I was a student of Harrawood's. if he asked me work a works cited list or accused me of plagiarism, I would tell him: "Why should I do all of that extra writing? Why don't you do your homework?"

Thank God for Turn It In and the Google.


I hope I didn't hold your hand too tightly there. I didn't know I had to spell things out for you. Perhaps you can read - and you do so a lot, but it appears that the higher thinking skills remains elusive. You'll get there one day Mr. Ant.



I am a Florida resident and FAU is a very fine school with excellent credentials and standards. who better to know the school that the ones that teach it the very foundation of the school. if you just attended then you only saw one side of a very fine school. if you only knew the ones who sweat and lose sleep to keep the doors open and to maintain their standards. while the students party on weekends and ASSUME the doors will be open on Monday. students know nothing of how to run a university, hell you students barely hang on to your gpa's ( it takes work ) keep your mind on TASK AT HAND


I take back my snarky rhetorical question. The piece about the guy who was issued a trespass warning and kicked out the Black Sabbath concert because he was attempting to obtain signatures for PUFFM was an original story. It was cutting edge journalism. Pulitzer prize material. I mean that. Honestly. Keep up the good work.


Michael Harrawood is a joke. A friend who I went to FAU with during my undergrad years posted the original article by the Daily Caller and it got Mr. Harrawood's panties all bunched up. He railed on about the Daily Caller and how this article was full of lies. I asked Mr. Harrawood to please cite the statement/sentence in the article that was invalid. Harrawood replied: "Do your own homework." He also referred to me as an asshole. I had no idea that he was a professor at FAU. I think it is hilarious and ironic that Mr. Harrawood is a professor at FAU and that he was unwilling to do what he requires his students to do in their assignments (i.e. support their argument with evidence). Harrawood is a clown. If he is the professor who is defending FAU, the university is certain to receive more criticisms about its quality in the future. I'm glad that I earned my English degree without having to take any of his classes. #wearefau

Brian Bartlett
Brian Bartlett

should have been there when Naskapi was the dorm of choice...

fire.ant topcommenter


Mr. Cheese 

Your dispute with Dr. Harrawood (your account of which is the only one we have) was not the subject of our blog post. Still, as we quite agree with his description (your version of it, anyway) of the Owens column in the Daily Caller, we will take up his cause.

Dr. Harrawood would be correct to say the Owens column is filled with lies -- in the plural. Here's why: Owens repeatedly states as fact that which is not, and to do so is to lie. Here's three instances:

1) Owens presents as fact: “In March, the administration tried to punish a student who expressed discomfort with a professor’s assignment to stomp on a piece of paper bearing the word 'Jesus.'” That is is only one version of events. To present it as fact is to lie. There is nothing “ambiguous” or “technically valid” about it, as you assert.

More significantly, as it goes to the core of Owens' argument, he presents as fact that  2) FAU “has now adopted a draconian new 'Free Speech and Campus Civility' policy” and 3) “the broad and ambiguous policy forbids all kinds of speech and expression.”

Neither statement is true.

The language on the school's student affairs web page is a statement of principles, not a “code.” If it were a code, it would be -- as Dr. Ely stated, as noted in our article -- “actionable” and would include sanctions. It is not the former and lacks the latter. So twice again, Owens lies. (One might argue, as you probably would, that Owens is only reporting what FIRE said about the so-called code. But clearly, he presents both points as fact.)

Owens, and FIRE, and you should do your homework. We have, and it has lead us to make a correction. There is an FAU speech code, though not, as we originally wrote, in the school lawyer's "handbook of free speech issues.”

The code, and the sanctions for violating it, is contained in the FAU student code of conduct (http://www.fau.edu/handbook/Boca/student_code.php) and quite properly forbids 1) “Acts of verbal, written (including electronic communications or internet activity) or physical abuse, threats, intimidation, harassment, coercion, or other conduct which threaten the health, safety or welfare of any person” and 2) “Interference with academic freedom and freedom of speech of any member or guest of the University.”

So there you have it: the Daily Caller's Owens is a serial liar, Dr. Harrawood is quite correct to label them liars, and your “higher thinking skills,” superior though they may be, have been misapplied.



@captainofthecheese I have known Mike for years and out spoken YES ! which is one of the things I like about him. I will always defend his right to dis agree with my facts or findings. Mr. Harrawood has always provided fact and internet backup with a lot of things he and I debated  over the years. The fact that he told you to do your homework tells me he felt you really missed something  in the story and didn't want to insult you so he merely said check your facts. is it possible he was to busy at that time to hash this out with you at the time ?If I know mike he was probably waiting for you to see something he saw and was waiting for you to come back and debate some more. ( friendly of course ). Let me tell you sometimes Mike and I fight like hell in debate form, and we piss each other off. But he has never called me a asshole, and he could have a few times!. FAU should be thrilled to have a professor that stands for principle, not the job and not the student. He made you think and write guess hes doing the job he was hired to do educate and teach our young to ask questions and he accomplished that with you :) did you ever sit and just talk with the man, I think you'll find he has a very good English education and reads a lot. it sounds like you were intimidated that he didn't agree with you.


Mr. Ant,

I received an email with your reply. I work, so I didn't get a chance to read personal emails as often as I would like to.

#1.) "In March, the administration tried to punish a student who expressed discomfort with a professor's assignment to stomp on a piece of paper bearing the word 'Jesus.'"

If the word "who" was replaced with the word "for," then you (are you an impartial journalist?) and Michael Harrawood would be correct (i.e. that the Daily Caller piece had lied). But as you can surely see - being an avid reader and all, that was not the case.

Perhaps you were talking about the word "stomp." I would then say that the semantics between the word "step" (as used by the professor) and "stomp" (as conveyed by the student) is what philosophers refer to as a "red herring." I do agree that there is a different connotation to "step" versus "stomp," but whether one purposefully steps or stomps on something the underlying action is not respectful.

(*Quick side-note: I agree with Professor Poole and encourage his assignment. The only thing that I would have done differently would be to show a video of other students participating in the controversial exercise instead of asking his students to voluntarily participate in an exercise that they were not properly prepared to take part in.)

"That is only one version of events. To present it as fact is to lie."

Being a reader, I am sure that you are fully aware that the above statement is logically problematic. An example that you might understand would be to say that man "A" proclaims that the sky is the color blue while man "B" contends that the sky is in fact the color green. Using your logic, to say that the sky is blue would nevessarily be a lie.

#2.) "FAU 'has now adopted a draconian new free-speech and campus civility policy."

You read a lot. You should know that the term "draconian" has become a common quasi-hyperbolic term that writers use to grab people's attention. If you earnestly believe that the Daily Caller was suggesting that FAU's administration had begun killing students for exercising their first amendment rights, then your contention that the DC had lied would be correct. You would also be an idiot; but at least you'd be one of the smarter turnips.

#3.) "The broad and ambiguous policy forbids all kinds of speech and expression."

First of all, any experienced educator or administrator working in higher education can tell you that just because the student handbook or code of conduct says one thing that university administrations or boards of trustees do not often implement speech codes that directly contradict both state law and their own official policies. If you don't believe me, in the immortal words of FAU Honors English Professor Michael Harrawood, do your own homework and look it up yourself.

And because I can imagine how time consuming and mentally exhausting regurgitating other journalists' work can be, I have provided a link to a story that popped up in my news feed this week (after your email was sent to me).



Mr. Harrawood is a hypocrite, not a joke. I apologize for my misuse of vocabulary.

I merely asked Mr. Harrawood to point out what part of the article was "lying." He refused to cite any part of the article. He also became inflammatory. This is why I refer to him as a hypocrite. If I were to say that to him in one of his classes, I would most certainly receive a "F" of the assignment and possibly be thrown out of school for violating the honor code (plagiarism). If your friend is as wise as you claim, he is better than that. He represents the university that I graduated from. Because of this, I expect better.

fire.ant topcommenter

@captainofthecheeseMr. Cheese: 

 You seem to have a private language.

1) The clear implication of Owens' statement is that the student was punished *for* merely "expressing discomfort." 

Further, the sky is commonly understood to be blue, not green. Ask around.  Or if you prefer, indulge in solipsism.

2) "Draconian" is commonly understood to mean "severe," not "murderous." And this, http://www.fau.edu/civility/, as previously explained, is neither "draconian" nor a "policy," as it has no enforcement mechanism of any sort. It is a public relations gimmick and feel-good wish list

3) This point of yours is garbled but I think I catch your drift, and quite agree. Here's the situation: FAU's code of student conduct addresses free speech issues in a reasonable manner. However, the school is burdened with a rogue administration and Board of Trustees.

Do let us know when the Daily Caller and Owens rush to the defense of the SJP students.

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