The Value of Anonymous Speech


Last year, faculty and staff met to discuss the implementation of a shared governance survey as part of the Campus Advocacy Group’s efforts to more fully understand the decision-making process at Adams State University (ASU). For more on what happened to this group, please read The Killing of CAG (That “Rogue Group”).

During the meeting, one prominent administrator questioned the wisdom of having anonymous surveys rather than identified ones. “Why all this anonymous speech?” The administrator wondered aloud, “why not just say what you mean to everyone’s face?”

Truly, in a climate of equitable treatment for all and with workplace protections for speech, identifying the speaker seems to be ideal in order to fully understand their perspective. After all, in an age of digital communication with many hours of screen time each day, face-to-face communication is quickly becoming a scarce commodity and candid speaking a lost art.

But at ASU, equitable treatment remains elusive for so many and job security is virtually non-existent in an “at-will employment” state such as Colorado. Here at Watching Adams, we are regularly contacted by faculty and staff within the university who are too fearful to speak up, even in an online forum, by putting their name to their words. It could be considered cowardly if it weren’t so incredibly rational for self-preservation.

As former faculty member Danny Ledonne has become the latest and greatest whipping boy in ASU history for raising his voice in self advocacy and for broader concerns about equity within the institution, many rightfully hesitate to speak up after witnessing the tarring and feathering of a longtime and established member of the ASU community. See Danny’s Scarlet Letter for more on this. So to quote from the recent ACLU lawsuit filed on Ledonne’s behalf:

“Without intervention from this Court, employees and students at Adams State University, and members of the Alamosa community at-large, will be deterred or chilled from expressing opinions critical of Adams State University or its administration for fear that they will be unceremoniously banned from campus on the pretext that their conduct is “disruptive,” makes people “uncomfortable,” or represents “a threat” to the campus or its students.”   – N. Reid Neureiter, representing the ACLU Foundation for Colorado

And herein lies the value of anonymous speech. To those without the power to hire and fire or to punitively shift resources and allocate budgets, anonymous speech is among the only tools available for criticism, dissent or discourse. It allows for those without the privilege of job security within the institution to nonetheless have a forum for their point of view. And Watching Adams is intended as just such a forum.


The Watching Adams Comments page has become the most popular page on the site.


In the past week, the Watching Adams Comments page has become a hotbed of activity on the subject of the ACLU lawsuit, President McClure’s administration, and related topics. Predictably, some rhetoric has gotten heated but all commentators have fallen within the site’s guidelines and all comments have been posted. Because it is anonymous speech, readers are able to glimpse what is perhaps the most true and candid snapshot of the ASU climate in real time.  Whatever one’s opinion, it is welcomed and given equal standing because anonymous speech is frequently the most genuine, unvarnished, and sincere form of expression – free of repressive contingencies and absent any reactionary consequences.

We need anonymous speech, not in every situation, but certainly for difficult topics in which power imbalances prevent honest discourse.