Petri Dishes of Censorship

Thursday, February 1st, 2007 1:52 pm by Neal

(Hat tip: HR)

Don’t miss John Leo’s piece, “Free Inquiry? Not on Campus.”

Remember when the Right had a near-monopoly on censorship? If so, you must be in your sixties, or older. Now the champions of censorship are mostly on the left. And they are thickest on the ground in our colleges and universities. Since the late 1980s, what should be the most open, debate-driven, and tolerant sector of society has been in thrall to the diversity and political correctness that now form the aggressive secular religion of America’s elites.

The censors have only grown in power, elevating antidiscrimination rules above “absolutist” free-speech principles, silencing dissent with antiharassment policies, and looking away when students bar or disrupt conservative speakers or steal conservative newspapers. Operating under the tacit principle that “error has no rights,” an ancient Catholic theological rule, the new censors aren’t interested in debates or open forums. They want to shut up dissenters. …

Official censorship—now renamed speech codes and antiharassment codes—pervades the campuses. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) recently surveyed more than 300 schools, including the top universities and liberal arts colleges, and found that over 68 percent explicitly prohibit speech that the First Amendment would protect if uttered off campus. At 229 schools, FIRE found clear and substantial restriction of speech, while 91 more had policies that one could interpret as restricting speech. Only eight permitted genuine free expression. …

Campus censors frequently emulate the Marcusian double standard by combining effusive praise for free speech with an eagerness to suppress unwelcome views. “I often have to struggle with right and wrong because I am a strong believer in free speech,” said Ronni Santo, a gay student activist at UCLA in the late nineties. “Opinions are protected under the First Amendment, but when negative opinions come out of a person’s fist, mouth, or pen to intentionally hurt others, that’s when their opinions should no longer be protected.”

In their 1993 book, The Shadow University, Alan Charles Kors and Harvey Silverglate turned some of the early speech codes into national laughingstocks. Among the banned comments and action they listed: “intentionally producing psychological discomfort” (University of North Dakota), “insensitivity to the experience of women” (University of Minnesota), and “inconsiderate jokes” (University of Connecticut). Serious nonverbal offenses included “inappropriate laughter” (Sarah Lawrence College), “eye contact or the lack of it” (Michigan State University), and “subtle discrimination,” such as “licking lips or teeth; holding food provocatively” (University of Maryland). Later gems, added well after the courts struck down campus codes as overly broad, included bans on “inappropriate non-verbals” (Macalaster College), “communication with sexual overtones” (Lincoln University), and “discussing sexual activities” (State University of New York–Brockport). Other codes bar any comment or gesture that “annoys,” “offends,” or otherwise makes someone feel bad. Tufts ruled that attributing harassment complaints to the “hypersensitivity of others who feel hurt” is itself harassment.

Brockport, which banned “cartoons that depict religious figures in compromising situations,” “jokes making fun of any protected group,” and “calling someone an old hag,” helpfully described for students what does not constitute sexual harassment: “non-coercive interaction(s) . . . that are acceptable to both parties.” Commented Greg Lukianoff of FIRE: “The wonder is that anyone would risk speaking at all at SUNY Brockport.”

Read the whole thing here. It is an excellent piece, and the second half presents more case studies of campus censorship and the fight to stop it.

Kudos to John Leo. This is an excellent summary piece on the sad and shameful state of censorship in the great bastion of American liberalism — “higher” education.

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