Remember Steve Hinkle? The Cal Poly student tried to post a flyer for an upcoming speech by a conservative black author at the multicultural center; black students who felt “offended” and “disrespected” told him he couldn’t post a flyer without permission; one student called the campus police. After a seven-hour hearing, Hinkle was found guilty of disrupting a “campus event” — an unscheduled, unannounced Bible study session that hadn’t yet begun. “He was ordered to write letters of apology to the offended students, risking penalties up to expulsion if he refused,” reports FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education).
Cal Poly says Hinkle was punished for conduct, not for being a white, male Republican. But FIRE has the transcript of the disciplinary hearing. The offended students admitted they objected to the content of the flyer, which advertised the speaker’s book, It’s OK to Leave the Plantation. Here’s Hinkle questioning Student 6, who called the police.
SH: And you said I asked you, “Why can’t we sit down and talk about it?”
SH: Okay. And you told me, “Take the flier elsewhere or I will call public safety”?
S6: Yes. I said, “Take that elsewhere or I will call public safety.” And then that’s when you tried to debate, even more debate, and I went and called public safety because I wasn’t, I wasn’t up for it. It was just, the timing was horrible.
The hearing officer asks if Hinkle’s demeanor was threatening or abusive.
S6: You’re talking about Steve’s demeanor? Was his demeanor threatening?
RG: M-hmm, or abusive?
Here’s Cornel Morton, Cal Poly’s vice president of student affairs, who’d complained FIRE had quoted him out of context.
CM: Well, it’s clear that we have an identifiably young white male who has been self-identified as a member of the College Republicans group. And although the College Republican group, I’m certain, is not exclusively white or male, there are some implications. And on the other side of this we had a group of students of color, at least identifiably, largely students of color, and the mix, unfortunately, and the collision of experience, that is, the collision of your experience with theirs, on that day at that time was placed inside a larger context, as you recall. And namely these fliers that were posted and the concern that some had about the nature of the speaker’s message and all the rest …. And then to learn later after some investigation that the College Republicans had sponsored the speaker. I think that chemistry, if you will, without question, had racial implications, not reduced solely or purely to a matter of race. But again, I think we would be naïve if we did not acknowledge at least that; we would have to acknowledge that.
It seems like Morton is acknowledging that Hinkle was disruptive by virtue of being a white Republican in the not-so-multi-cultural center. Apparently, Cal Poly officials think that black students have a right to be sheltered from contrary political beliefs or believers. A polite invitation to discuss a conflict is taken as disruption.
Update: It’s not harassment just because someone feels offended, says the Office of Civil Rights.
Some colleges and universities have interpreted OCR’s prohibition of “harassment” as encompassing all offensive speech regarding sex, disability, race or other classifications. Harassment, however, to be prohibited by the statutes within OCR’s jurisdiction, must include something beyond the mere expression of views, words, symbols or thoughts that some person finds offensive. Under OCR’s standard, the conduct must also be considered sufficiently serious to deny or limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the educational program. Thus, OCR’s standards require that the conduct be evaluated from the perspective of a reasonable person in the alleged victim’s position, considering all the circumstances, including the alleged victim’s age.
OCR says its rules don’t require universities to adopt speech or conduct codes that infringe on First Amendment rights.
Update: OCR is fuzzy on free speech, writes Eugene Volokh.