Sunday, February 13, 2005

Free speech on college campuses

On the Constitutional Law message board, my professor linked an article about a professor that had been investigated for harrasment based on messages that he had on his door. These messages included "Regime change starts at home," "stop the war," and "How many Iraqi children did we kill today?" The question posed was whether this was protected speech or whether the material violated the schools anti-harrasment policies. I wrote (slightly modified here):

"Is this protected speech or does the material violate equality embodied in the college's anti-harassment policy?"

Both. It's constitutionally protected speech and yet it probably violates the college's anti-harrasment policy.

I say "probably" because I haven't read the specific policy, but most anti-harrasment policies are overbroad and ambiguous, restricting things like speech which would "diminish the worth of any individual" based on a protected status.

Universities, supposed bastions of free speech, suffer from the stultifying effects of political correctness embodied in such overbroad anti-harrasment policies as above. A virtual cottage industry has sprung up around defending the free speech rights of students and professors from their own university's policies. It seems anymore you are less free to speak on the grounds of a university, than off them.

FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, was formed to protect the freedom of speech of students and professors. Their various guides to free speech on campus (located at are invaluable resources if you want to know your rights and learn about the effect of various supreme court decisions on free speech.

FIRE has K-State listed as a "Red light" school for free speech, based of our schools various policies (see for details). Policies which restrict speech just because it might tend to demean or offend someone are abhorrent to the open atmosphere that should take place on campuses.

Some unsavory speech has to be allowed to most fully protect the free speech of everyone else. If someone has an idiotic or hateful idea, then let them speak it. That's the great thing about free speech: it tends to reveal the idiots and hatemongers rather quickly.

Real and substantive harrasment does, and always will, occur. But this inevitability should not be used as a blanket excuse to justify infringing upon the free speech rights of everyone with vaguely worded anti-discrimination and -harrasment policies surrounded in airy rhetoric about protecting individuals from being "diminished" or "demeaned."


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