College codes limit free speech

Some 77 percent of public universities and 67 percent of private colleges and universities restrict free speech through speech codes, reports FIRE in its 2009 report. 

  • The University of the Pacific defines harassment as “conduct (intentional or unintentional) that has the effect of demeaning, ridiculing, defaming, stigmatizing, intimidating, slandering or impeding the work or movement of a person or persons or conduct that supports or parodies the oppression of others.”
  • Penn State University requires its students to agree that “I will not engage in any behaviors that compromise or demean the dignity of individuals or groups,” including any “taunting,” “ridiculing,” or “insulting.”
  • No parodies! No ridiculing!

    The hot new trend is “bias incident reporting,” getting students to report classmates’ “biases” to campus authorities. 

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    Comments

    1. CharterMom says:

      So I guess Saturday Night Live, the Colbert Report, The Daily Show, Leno, David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, etc are all banned? Not to mention rap music or a lot of rock music….

    2. It is inevitable that these will be used eventually against faculty critics of administrators.

    3. Nowhere is free speech more imperiled than on the campuses of American universities. It has been this way for years.

    4. > No parodies! No ridiculing!

      This, of course, is *not* what these codes prohibit.

      Rather, the codes prohibit a class of attacks that are strictly personal in nature. That leaves a wide range of topics open for parody and ridicule.

      Indeed, what makes people like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert clever and funny is that they *don’t* resort to stereotyped character assassinations based on personal attack or innuendo – rather, they focus on specific, depersonalized utterances and behaviours that would be utterly ridiculous no matter who committed them.

      It is unfortunate that such a large percentage of the population does not know the difference.

    5. Evan James says:

      Stephen, the codes prohibit whatever administrators say they prohibit. That’s how censorship works. Precisely because there is room to interpret what the rules actually forbid, they grant administrators the power to abuse those interpretations in favor of their desired politial outcome.

    6. Mrs. Lopez says:

      I believe Stephen Downes is Canadian, so he would probably not appreciate our constitutional right to Freedom of Speech.

      I do wonder, though, how “bias reporting” could be considered a “class of attacks that are strictly personal in nature”, Mr. Downes. Someone could possess a perceived bias without committing any attack, let alone a personal one. Also, some of the schools specify that violations against the speech code may be “intentional or unintentional.” How does one unintentionally commit attacks that are so personal?

      These things are so general and open to interpretation, as Evan James points out, that they can be applied to just about anyone who happens to fall out of step with the current accepted political dogma.

    7. Richard Nieporent says:

      Evan, you correct. In addition, at a public university, these speech codes are in violation of the First Amendment. The last time I checked I could not find in the Bill of Rights the right not to be offended. The whole purpose of having a First Amendment is to protect a person’s right to speak, whether or not what they say is deemed to be offensive. Clearly, if only inoffensive speech was protected, then there would not be a need for the First Amendment. In is sad that the supposed bastion of Free Speech, the University, goes around censoring students. Unfortunately, too many universities are far better at re-education than education.

    8. Richard Nieporent says:

      That should have said “Evan, you ARE correct.” Next time I will use preview first!

    9. what makes people like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert clever and funny is that they *don’t* resort to stereotyped character assassinations based on personal attack or innuendo

      That’s a joke right? A better question is

      what makes people like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert clever and funny?

      The answer is nothing. Jon Stewart is an ignorant hater.

    10. My biggest problem with FIRE is that they only protect the right to speech that they agree with. They have used terminology very similar to that quoted (demeaning, ridiculing, defaming, stigmatizing, intimidating, slandering )in their call for universities to halt such things as diversity training, socio-political viewpoints that challenge white heterosexual males, etc.

    11. They have used terminology very similar to that quoted (demeaning, ridiculing, defaming, stigmatizing, intimidating, slandering )in their call for universities to halt such things as diversity training, socio-political viewpoints that challenge white heterosexual males, etc.

      I do hope that the difference between individual students’ actions and the actions of an educational institution are clear to everyone else here. FIRE does not go after the leftist actions of individual students on campus, only after the actions of campus employees that are descriminatory or restrictive. Since most of these actions are left-wing in nature, FIRE comes out looking like a right-wing group. If you puruse their archives over the years, you will find that they have stood up against discrimination or restriction of a right-wing nature on campuses when it is brough to their attention.

    12. Richard Nieporent says:

      How dare they be intolerant of intolerance! According to your logic Margo/Mom you are discriminating if you speak out against discrimination.

      My biggest problem with FIRE is that they only protect the right to speech that they agree with.

      That is absolutely wrong. They will take on any free speech case whether the person is on the left or the right of the political spectrum. They even defended the free speech rights of Ward Churchill.

    13. “It is unfortunate that such a large percentage of the population does not know the difference.”

      It is unfortunate that you’re incapable of recognizing that sufficiently vague language ALWAYS invites arbitrary and selective enforcement, especially when (as in the case of college speech codes) that’s exactly why it’s written that way to begin with.

      Oh, and Mrs. Lopez, being Canadian does not excuse this degree of willful blindness. Differences certainly do exist in the details, but free speech is not a uniquely American concept.

    14. “what makes people like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert clever and funny?”

      Because they’re labelled that by those who feel the same way. I bet plenty of Germans thought Hitler was funny. Being ‘funny’ is by no means a defense for being close-minded.

      “what makes people like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert clever and funny is that they *don’t* resort to stereotyped character assassinations based on personal attack or innuendo ”

      They do something other than stereotyped character assassinations? Is Jon Stewart on another show besides the Daily Show that I’ve missed?

    15. Ben Stein reports that Richard Nixon was actually quite funny.

    16. Alex Bensky says:

      I suppose it would be a violation of the code at Penn State to read Mark Twain and Jonathan Swift aloud. Swift might offend Irish or English, depending on how you take “A Modest Proposal.” And Twain…good lord, he used the n word to describe Jim and the caricatures of Southern whites are downright nasty.

      I guess that a drama club putting on “The Man Who Came to Dinner” would likewise be banned…or to put it better, verboeten. After all, it’s about a vain, egotistical person who has no regard for the viewpoints or needs of other people, selfishly concentrating on what he likes, and Penn State aministrators would likely find it aimed at them.