"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, January 6, 2012

Free Speech

I am continually appalled that restrictive speech codes still persist at American universities.  I had thought that the Sixties liberal, post-modernist, PC establishment was retiring, passing on, freeing up academic discourse.  Better freedom by default than no freedom at all.  Not true.  They are still there in force.

In an article in today’s Washington Post, Greg Lukianoff, President of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said the following:

Overly broad harassment codes remain the weapon of choice on campus to punish speech that administrators dislike. In a decade fighting campus censorship, I have seen harassment defined as expressions as mild as “inappropriately directed laughter” and used to police students for references to a student government candidate as a “jerk and a fool” (at the University of Central Florida in 2006) and a factually verifiable if unflattering piece on Islamic extremism in a conservative student magazine (at Tufts University in 2007). Other examples abound. Worryingly, such broad codes and heavy-handed enforcement are teaching a generation of students that it may be safer to keep their mouths shut when important or controversial issues arise. Such illiberal lessons on how to live in a free society are poison to freewheeling debate and thought experimentation and, therefore, to the innovative thinking that both higher education and our democracy need. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/clear-campus-rules-needed-on-harassment/2012/01/01/gIQATjHfdP_story.html

A few days ago I wrote a post on this blog entitled Bullies and in it I argued for a much more non-interventionist policy regarding ‘harassment’.  I said that bullies are a fact of life and human society, and the sooner we learn how to deal with them the better.  I went on to say that most girls can easily deflect unwanted advances – the fragile male ego is well-known, and one well-placed poison dagger will deflate it as quickly as a pin stuck in a balloon.  I argued that adolescent taunts would not go away because of state regulation, and that chatter in boys’ and girls’ rooms would still rag fatties, dorks, and dogs.  Moreover, although the subject of the taunting would change, the outsider, the outlier, the different would always be pushed and shoved to the extremity of the social circle; so better get used to it, toughen the skin, hone your parries, put up your dukes, and get on with things.

The PC policing of lower grades is destructive, not only because of the reasons I have cited above, but because it introduces an interventionist, PC regime as early as kindergarten. It is mind control from the earliest possible moment.  Pretend that we are all equal, all look alike.  Pretend that there are no social norms for beauty, cool, athletic ability, intelligence.  Perhaps in the worst chicanery possible, the PC police do a self-serving double whammy – 1) All people are equal; and 2) All people are different and we should celebrate their diversity.  There is the theory of Multiple Intelligences which, in its ‘inclusiveness’, declares that all children are equal and show their ‘intelligence’ in different ways.  That boy over there is as dumb as a stone, but he can color within the lines.  That girl with the curls can do advanced algebra, but what a klutz on the ball field. Let’s celebrate them all, say school administrators.  The chatter in the boys’ room and the girls’ room, however, persists.  No fooling them.  What is interesting is not how talented Roger and Bettina are but how dumb he is and how absolutely, ridiculously uncoordinated she is. 

This is all bad enough, but when it persists into a university environment, it is far, far worse.  Adolescents will find easy ways around the restrictions, and the carping and bitching will be just as juicy and ripe outside the school environment as in; but if there is no escaping these strictures on freedom of speech at the university, and the cabal of unreconstructed aging teachers, complaisant and complicit administrators.

It is one thing to forbid little kids to call each other names; it is another altogether to restrict inquiry into religion, sexuality, politics, and history.  Once you start restricting free speech related to ‘harassment’, PC creep sets in, and legitimate intellectual inquiries into ‘sensitive’ subjects get unfair scrutiny and few dollars.  Larry Summers, former President of Harvard was roundly turned out of office because he had the temerity to suggest that there might be reasons other than discrimination for women’s underrepresentation in certain academic disciplines. 

Perhaps the most insidious invasion of the university environment comes from the Federal Government with the same retrograde beliefs as university administrators but with the power to wreak havoc.  Here is another excerpt from the Post article focusing on the issue of ‘harassment’ and free speech:

The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which enforces Title IX on college campuses, tried in 2003 to put a stop to the “government made me do it” excuse for speech codes. It issued a letter to every college receiving federal funds — so, virtually all — making clear that harassment requires a serious pattern of discriminatory behavior, not just mere offense. Since then, the number of campus speech codes has slowly begun to decline.

But last year the OCR backpedaled. The agency issued a 19-page letter in April dictating to colleges the procedures they must follow in sexual harassment and assault cases. Among its many troubling points, including a requirement that sexual harassment cases be adjudicated using the lowest possible standard of evidence allowable in court, is the fact that the letter makes no mention of the First Amendment or free speech. This ignores the role that vague and broad definitions of harassment have played in justifying campus speech codes and censorship over the past few decades. By mandating so many procedural steps colleges must take to respond to allegations of sexual harassment while simultaneously failing to mandate a consistent, limited and constitutional definition of harassment, the OCR encourages those on campus who are already inclined to use such codes to punish speech they simply dislike.

The author of the article has a sane suggestion – follow the Supreme Court’s ruling:

The Supreme Court offered its only guidance on the thorny issue of student-on-student harassment in the 1999 case Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education . The justices recognized the necessity of carefully defining what constitutes “harassment” in the educational context, lest everyday interactions be rendered a federal offense. The court defined harassment as discriminatory conduct, directed at an individual, that is “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive” that “victim-students are effectively denied equal access to an institution’s resources and opportunities.”

The issue of free speech is one of the most important today, and one of our most fundamental rights.  The erosion of free speech through the collusion of social engineering-minded educators and an interventionist federal government is cause for serious concern.  The invasion of privacy through the Patriot Act and other restrictive covenants of ‘National Security’ further corrode and erode this basic freedom.  Never in my life did I ever think I would hesitate before researching an article for fear that Big Brother is watching.  I do now, and I feel frustrated and angered because of it.

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