No speech for ‘fascist bastard’

Halfway through a speech opposing gay marriage, Jonathan Lopez’s community college instructor told him to stop, calling him a “fascist bastard,” the Los Angeles student charges.

When Lopez tried to find out his mark for the speech, the professor, John Matteson, allegedly told him to “ask God what your grade is,” the suit says.

Lopez also said the teacher threatened to have him expelled when he complained to higher-ups.

In addition to financial damages, the suit, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, seeks to strike down a sexual harassment code barring students from uttering “offensive” statements.

I have a feeling the speech instructor is in trouble on this one. So is the speech code.

Update: Volokh links to Lopez’s complaint.

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Comments

  1. Mrs. Lopez says:

    This student offended people. That’s the highest offense in the kingdom. He should’ve chosen a safe topic with which everyone can agree…

  2. That teacher needs to be fired. The student pays money to the school to get an education, not to get called names. Putting the blame on the student and saying he should have chosen a “safer” topic is silly. Obviously, the topic was acceptable for the assignment that was given, or the student wouldn’t have been giving the speech in the first place. The article doesn’t mention whether there were other students defending gay marriage, or what the topics of the other speeches were. The teacher is an intolerant nutjob who needs to take some classes for anger management as well as for professionalism.

  3. The prof. even told the students they could leave if they were offended and when nobody left he shut the class down and told everyone to get out. What a creep.

  4. It’s hard to say without knowing the actual content of the speech, as well as the assignment. If the assignment, for instance, called for students to give a speech explaining a factual step by step process for doing something (just trying to think of a typical assignment) and the student instead used the forum to offer opinions supported by invective and name-calling, well, perhaps the prof is on solid ground. I recall a class I took once in which a student used his class presentation time to make a sales pitch for his company. The prof allowed him to continue (despite the fact that this had nothing to do with the assignment). Members of the class were irate–not only that this jerk was trying to pull this off instead of putting in the work that we all had, but also that we had to sit and listen. The prof got a bit huffy with us and said we didn’t know what kind of grade the guy was getting–but I personally thought it would have been appropriate to interrupt the guy and tell him to stop wasting our time.

  5. I’d like to know what he said. Merely telling us what his speech was about, and asking to judge on that basis, is dishonest. What did he actually SAY?

  6. For once I agree with Margo/Mom and Stephen Downes. What did Jonaathan Lopez say, and how irritatingly? Okay, the instructor should not have called the student a “fascist bastard” no matter how aggravating Jonathan Lopez was, but instructors are only human.
    I agree that the speech code is likely in trouble, unless “offensive” is defined quite narrowly.

  7. Volokh discusses the legalese for those interested including a link to the comlaint with supporting documents.

  8. I agree, it’s hard to say without knowing what the speech said and what the assignment was.

    It may be a situation where the teacher opened the door to this problem by giving the students too few parameters on subject matter. I’m all for debate and students challenging ideas and drawing on things they are passionate about, but not if it gets in the way of what they are learning.

    There are a few hot button issues, abortion for example, that I always tell students to avoid in open-topic essays. People on both sides get so fired up that it can be counterproductive to learning the writing process. Any comment about their argument becomes can be taken as deeply personal because it can be miscontrued as an attack on their beliefs.

  9. Mrs. Lopez says:

    “Putting the blame on the student and saying he should have chosen a “safer” topic is silly.”

    Mia,I agree with you. I was being sarcastic.

  10. Actually, the assignment was to give an “informative” speech. There was also an assignment at another time for a “persuasive speech.” Among the comments from the prof on the student’s grade sheet is that the speech given (topic: God) was of the persuasive genre. It appears that the prof did flub some things (the “ask God” comment may have been one; I suspect that giving uncomfortable students the option to leave may have been another–the onus should not be on them, and this was corrected by asking Lopez to stop)–and the university (by their account) responded with discipline.

    I gotta tell ya’ I haven’t seen the content of Lopez’ speech, but I am offended by his continual assertion that he was expressing his “Christian” views (as if all Christians were of a mind in agreement with his)–but being offended is not the only requirement in the code. The hostile environment prohibitions are quite specific to sexual harassment–which this may have been. Apparently several students wrote to the discrimination officer to say that they found Lopez’ speech to be offensive.

  11. I haven’t read the actual assignment or the text of what was said, but I think in this case there is a fine line between “informative” and “persuasive” speech. Any talk informing you of what my position or the position of an organization to which I belong could be received as an attempt at persuasion, particularly by those who disagree. A student could give a speech explaining the Taliban position on infidels and women and why they believe it is reasonable. Some may think it is persuasion and many may be offended, but it is still protected speech.

  12. “It’s hard to say without knowing the actual content of the speech”

    No, it isn’t, because the content of the speech is irrelevant. The issue is the professor’s behavior, and no speech justifies it.

    Period.

    If you disagree, then, look in the mirror and behold why teachers are not professionals.

  13. Margo demonstrates perfectly what is deadly wrong with the modern university. The First Amendment does NOT guarantee “freedom from offense,” so if this was a public school, then just because a student gives a presentation that MAY offend someone of some background does NOT mean (or SHOULD not mean) that he has to face disciplinary sanctions.

    Would you feel the same, Margo, if a student gave a persuasive speech FOR gay marriage, and in doing so chastised right-wing Christians as “bigots” for their beliefs? And why would this student be assumed to speak for ALL gays, as you assume Mr. Lopez supposedly speaks for ALL Christians?

    It’s amazing how universities want “diversity,” “multiculturalism” and all the nice-sounding kumbayah nonsense, but when it comes right down to it, all they REALLY want is CONFORMITY of thought. And this conformity excludes virtually any and all right-leaning/conservative points of view. What this professor said and how he acted is absolutely disgraceful, period. Nothing short of Mr. Lopez screaming profanity towards groups and/or specific students warrants anything like that.

    So, sorry Margo — you may be a fan of speech codes, but thankfully groups like FIRE are getting them destroyed as fast as they can litigate ’em.

  14. Hube–what I think is less important than what the university has said (in compliance with various statutory, legislative and judicial requirements). The university has a policy prohibiting sexual harassment. A specific part of that policy is the “hostile environment.” This language didn’t just spring up out of some liberal’s dream, but was the result of litigation in various courts that results from what has been legally defined as “hostile” environments (generally workplaces). Off handed comments about things like PMS, or runs in stockings or broken nails or cup sizes, etc. etc have sometimes been used to establish solidarity among members of a gender previously granted superior legal rights and financial advantage, with the intent/result of intimidating or degrading the folks in the inferior position.

    When this has been a part of denying equal opportunity, these things have gone to court. And the courts have ruled. And the principle has been found to apply to other groups as well. Freedom of speech has never been a universal guarantee. You do not have the right to claim a podium in my living room, nor to shout untruths about others from the rooftops, or to falsely shout “fire” in a crowded theater. So–the content, as well as the context, do matter. Some speech, in some places, is limited.

    FIRE, BTW, has its own preferences about things that make some students uncomfortable that others ought not to talk about in front of them.

  15. Richard Nieporent says:

    I couldn’t agree more with Hube or said it better. I am not surprised that the people professing to be liberal are the first in line to ban anything that offends anyone from one of the protected groups. Unfortunately, the people who claim to be tolerant are the most intolerant.

    Margo, I would suggest you get a copy of the First Amendment and read it.

  16. You can only be offended if you choose to be offended. Our courts have made it possible for people to be rewarded by choosing to be offended.

  17. Margo,

    FIRE’s “preferences” are the cases the ACLU routinely ignores.

  18. Carol Mickle says:

    The harrassment/hostile atmosphere is mostly referring to the workplace, but also mostly (not exclusively) between superior/subordinate. This student was not in a superior position to those who claimed to be offended (there is no right to not be offended). The professor *was* in a superior position to the student. Who shut who down? Who stopped who? Who called who a name? Hmmmm…

  19. Margo/Mom

    “FIRE, BTW, has its own preferences about things that make some students uncomfortable that others ought not to talk about in front of them.”

    What restrictions would FIRE impose on speech besides the usual ones restricting fighting words, obscentiy, incitement, and heckling?

  20. Margo: I suggest you take Richard’s advice as soon as possible. Further, nothing so far in this Lopez story indicates ANY sort of sexual harassment, period, so yours was a completely unnecessary soliloquy. None of the restrictions on free speech apply in this case, based on what we know at present.

    If you (and some of the female students) take offense at what Lopez [may have] said regarding traditional female roles based on Christian beliefs, well, that’s just too freakin’ bad, frankly. Go to court, pay the attorneys’ fees … and then lose. This is why FIRE wins this stuff all the time. Colleges try to litigate this nonsense in secret, but when the ‘ol sunlight is put on it, they quickly do an about face.

    I notice you didn’t answer my question about if Lopez was a gay student advocating gay marriage in a class. Could traditional Christian Lopez file suit for a “hostile environment?” Why or why not?

    FIRE is a libertarian outfit, Margo. They routinely take cases across the political spectrum, although as SusanS notes many tend to be right-leaning cases as those usually don’t “inspire” organizations like the ACLU.

  21. Actually, the suit refers extensively to the sexual harassment policies of the school–and hopes to have these overturned. The prof appears to have been only a convenient doorway into the university as a whole.

    FIRE actively opposes anything that falls under the heading of “diversity training” on campuses. They include on their website complaints from “white heterosexual males” who are uncomfortable when confronted with viewpoints that place them historically in a position of priviledge and deal with current vestiges of this.

  22. John Drake says:

    It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even need to read Margo/Mom’s comments. I know exactly what she is going to say, and I could even pop in here before her, use her name, and write a response to one of Joanne’s posts and have everyone believe it was actually she.

  23. Wow. Lots of hassle for a $1500 gig (now ex-gig I’m sure).

    Community College instructors don’t get much training. This guy is obviously a poor planner. I’d never set myself up this scenario. Some things you can just see coming.

    There are lots of things I’d LIKE to call my students some days, but I don’t actually do it. Highly unprofessional.

  24. Conservative Mutant says:

    Good grief. “Flub some things” is the understatement of the year. From the evidence put forward so far, I’m going to presume that the student was hoping to punch some of the professor’s buttons, and boy, did he succeed. I, too, am a community college instructor without a great deal of formal training, but it doesn’t take that much savvy to realize that you never, ever, want to show yourself personally aggrieved by a student’s efforts to yank your chain.

    If a student gets up to make a presentation and starts free associating about anime, or delivering something that really does not fit what’s been assigned, tell him or her to sit down, stop wasting everyone’s time, and grade appropriately. If the student was really proselytizing instead of giving an “informational” presentation (which may or may not be the case), then you’ve given him enough rope to hang himself by an objective grading standard, and you can go ahead and open the trap underneath him. But when you let students goad you into this kind of grossly unprofessional behavior, you’ve just lost the game. This is true whether or not you take it to a lawsuit. As an observer, I’ve seen students trying to provoke their professor into an intemperate response so they could feign outrage. I’m sure they knew what they were doing, and the professor thankfully had sense enough not to hand them the grievance they were angling for.

  25. FuzzyRider says:

    I suspect that the learned professor, if asked, could not even DEFINE fascism.

    “If all of mankind, minus one, were of one opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing the one than the one would be, if it were in his power, in silencing mankind” -J.S.Mills

    I will surrender my freedom of speech to NO ONE, and I am amazed at how many people out there are so willing to toss out this most fundamental liberty for the sake of comfort or expediency. It is the FIRST amendment, I suspect, for a reason- freedom of speech is the sine qua non of ALL of our basic natural rights. Wake up- if we lose this, we have lost all.

  26. Cardinal Fang says:

    The professor was out of line for calling the student a fascist bastard. But from the description, the professor was right in stopping the student in the middle of his speech. The student was supposed to be giving an informative speech, and instead he was preaching. If I had been another student in the class, I’d have been livid at having to listen to that claptrap. If I want to listen to a damn sermon I’ll go to a church. Freedom of speech doesn’t include the right to disrupt class with irrelevancies, and professors should shut down disruptors.

  27. Margo –

    Have you ever looked at the kind of diversity training FIRE opposes? There are some common threads:

    1. The training is highly invasive, delving deep into personal history to shame and reshape the student.
    2. The training is based around idea that skin color, not belief, makes one racist.
    3. The training espouses and requires students to regurgitate a hardcore leftist political agenda.
    4. The training is mandatory.

    Colleges, if they are about the search for truth and free inquiry, have no business engaging in such activities. Moreover, public colleges have a First Amendment obligation to respect students’ freedom of speech, thought, and conscience.

    FIRE goes after schools that fail to live up to those. I have never, in all my years of following them, seen FIRE go after a school for simply trying to teach respect for different cultures. I don’t know what your beef with them is, unless you buy into the goodness of the racist, abusive, compulsory sham so often called diversity training.

    Back on the original topic, I agree with you and Stephen Downes (I never thought that would happen) about needing to know what Mr. Lopez said to know whether the prof was right to stop the speech. I don’t think there’s any question, though, that how the prof chose to stop the speech was so ridiculously unprofessional that he should not wind up teaching a class again, ever.

  28. Quincy:

    You are right–the prof bungled the shut-down. Whether that should lead to job loss and banishment–well, maybe a bit greyer area. It does appear that the college did respond within the context of their disciplinary system.

    This was not satisfactory to the student, who is now backed by a group with a bigger agenda.

    I would take with an absolute grain of salt what FIRE claims to be the truth regarding the “invasiveness” of diversity training. Part of what they object to is asking students to share feelings when placed in a situation in which discrimination (even in the simplest definition of sorting based on skin color) based on physical characteristics is evident. They consider this to be invasive. I am familiar with the point of view that presents racism not as an individual belief but as a social construct. This is frequently uncomfortable for priviledged groups because they are the recipients of priviledge regardless of beliefs. This view of racism is not equivalent to a statement that racism is a function of skin color. But FIRE makes that leap.

    ACLU, in taking a stand against “speech codes” (which I would suggest are not the same as harassment policies), suggests that the means to equitable inclusion of diversity on campuses is to provide training, and opportunities for discussion of the kind that FIRE terms to be invasive.

  29. Actually, the suit refers extensively to the sexual harassment policies of the school–and hopes to have these overturned.

    I’m sure it does. Because I’d bet top dollar that these policies are ridiculously overly broad.

    The prof appears to have been only a convenient doorway into the university as a whole.

    Good. As it should be.

    FIRE actively opposes anything that falls under the heading of “diversity training” on campuses.

    Wrong. They oppose diversity training that is MANDATORY or FORCED upon students. Students go to college for an education, not an indoctrination. If so-called diversity training was part of a class and a student didn’t like it, he/she could drop the class. When it’s a mandatory part of resident life, as it was at the University of Delaware, it is indoctrination.

  30. Andy Freeman says:

    > I am familiar with the point of view that presents racism not as an individual belief but as a social construct. This is frequently uncomfortable for priviledged groups because they are the recipients of priviledge regardless of beliefs. This view of racism is not equivalent to a statement that racism is a function of skin color. But FIRE makes that leap.

    It’s not just FIRE that makes that leap, it’s the whole racism and diversity industry. Yes, they’ll deny it, but look at how they act. They fight for any skin color proxy they can get.

    But, let’s ask a different question.

    Why is this stuff in universities at all?

    If it’s to improve the “souls” of students, why should we give it any more standing than we do the teachings of the Catholic Church?

  31. I am familiar with the point of view that presents racism not as an individual belief but as a social construct. This is frequently uncomfortable for priviledged groups because they are the recipients of priviledge regardless of beliefs. This view of racism is not equivalent to a statement that racism is a function of skin color. But FIRE makes that leap.

    Absolutely dead wrong. It is those who believe that racism is a social construct and not an individual belief that made the leap. I’ve sat through college diversity training where I was told, point blank, I was racist because I was white. What exactly does using a demonstratively false view of the world to shame white people, or those who appear white, accomplish?

  32. Margo/Mum, to quote from some of the material FIRE was objecting to:

    “A. Students will learn about the forms of oppression that are linked with social identity groups.
    B. Students will recognize that systemic oppression exists in our society.
    C. Students will recognize the benefits of dismantling systems of oppression.”

    (link http://thefire.org/pdfs/a58fdfd910795a7266a223281977847d.pdf)

    Note the language. Students “will recognise”. Students are not expected to make up their own minds, based on being exposed to evidence, they “will recognise” a particular point of view. It’s one thing to be exposed to points of view that make you feel uncomfortable. It’s another thing to be expected to adopt a particular point of view. That’s indoctrination, even if the view happens to be entirely correct in and of itself.

    Unsurprisingly, the University of Delaware has taken down the original files.

  33. Tracy:

    I just googled “recognize.” The usages that sprang up were things like learning to recognize the signs of a stroke, how to recognize plagiarism, how to recognize and avoid tax scams, how to recognize narcissistic personality disorder. Yet, none of these usages seems to me to indicate that anyone who “recognizes” these things is required to have a stroke, commit plagiarism, accept that they have a narcissisistic personality disorder and either commit, comply with, or reject tax scams.

    Certainly there are those who would object to a curricular objective that seeks that studes “recognize” that the earth is round, or that Hitler committed atrocities–and consider such an objective to be “indoctrination.” But diversity training did not spring up in a vacuum. Very real acts of intimidation and harassment, as well as less overt acts of exclusion has in fact occurred on campuses. Education is a means of countering these things, particularly within residence halls where students are frequently flung together across social, ethnic and cultural differences. One could offer up the kind of empty food and festivals kinds of diversity training that many folks are more comfortable with, or hand out worksheets listing “traits” of various cultures (or just hand out copies of the anti-harassment policies). But in the end, getting along requires an ability to look at ourselves as well as others. Some people are uncomfortable with this. Whether it is a “required” course or not is really a red herring. Many facets of university and/or dormitory life are “required.”

  34. Yet, none of these usages seems to me to indicate that anyone who “recognizes” these things is required to have a stroke, commit plagiarism, accept that they have a narcissisistic personality disorder and either commit, comply with, or reject tax scams.

    However, I suspect none of those usages obliged students to accept that everyone in society is having a stroke, or everyone in society is committing plagarism, or that tax scams are entirely bad and should be avoided at all costs (I hope this doesn’t divert the discussion into an argument about the ethics of tax scams).
    It is entirely possible to be able to recognise what is defined as a stroke, and also think that the current medical understanding of strokes is completely wrong-headed, and it is entirely possible to be able to recognize the symptoms of a narcisstic disorder and refuse to believe that they actually exist but instead maintain that psychology has misclassified the problem entirely. (To give an example, I can simultaneously know that “Dracula lived in Transylvania” and “Dracula is a fictional character”. Or, the SETI guys set up specifications for what an alien signal might look like without knowing if aliens are in fact trying to communicate with us.)
    However I don’t see how someone can “recogize that systematic oppression exists in our society” and still be able to argue that systematic oppression doesn’t exist in our society.
    Recognising strokes, plagarism, personality disorders, etc is a definitional game. It’s not the same as obliging people to recognise certain facts about the world – and one thing history teaches us is that facts are always up for dispute. For example, one thing science turned up is that sex doesn’t cause pregnancy. Implanatation of a fertilised egg in the lining of a suitably ready womb causes pregnancy. This is how IVF works. Put a fertilised egg in there at the right time and a pregnancy can result even if the woman in question never had sex.

    Yes, very real acts of intimidation and harrassment, as well as less overt acts of exclusion have in fact occurred on campuses. And a number of those acts of intimidation and harrassment have been driven by the desire to force people to recognise certain impalatable “truths”. People have been tortured and killed because they were heretics who did not accept the religious “truths” of the authorities in power at the time (see the Spanish Inquistion). People have been tortured and killed because they did not accept the political “truths” of the authorities in power at the time (see The Great Terror in Stalinist Russia). And it’s not merely the people who were directly hurt, the desire to insist on recognition of certain truths has held back science, eg Lysenkoism in Stalinist Russia.
    So far the best way we have found of avoiding those sorts of murderous behaviours is to insist that everyone tolerates the existance of other points of view, no matter how offensive they are.

    . One could offer up the kind of empty food and festivals kinds of diversity training that many folks are more comfortable with, or hand out worksheets listing “traits” of various cultures (or just hand out copies of the anti-harassment policies).

    Or one could issue a policy about how students, staff, etc will treat each other and how everyone is expected to handle differences of opinions, explain the reasoning behind the protocols, provide a complaints procedure, and enforce said policy.

    But in the end, getting along requires an ability to look at ourselves as well as others.

    This is fine. The problem with the Delaware University material is that they tried to oblige other people to adopt their views of what was right. Most of us are probably uncomfortable with being obliged to tolerate differences of opinion (I find it uncomfortable that you are so dismissive of intellectual freedom) – but it’s far better than the alternative.

  35. Andy Freeman says:

    > Very real acts of intimidation and harassment, as well as less overt acts of exclusion has in fact occurred on campuses.

    Since diversity training actually increases those bad things….

  36. But diversity training did not spring up in a vacuum. Very real acts of intimidation and harassment, as well as less overt acts of exclusion has in fact occurred on campuses.

    What I oppose, as does FIRE, is the use of such incidents as the justification to ram a curriculum based on falsehoods and intimidation of students who disagree with far-left ideas about race, class, and the social order.

    I challenge you to go back and find even a single case of FIRE attempting to oppose diversity training based on mutual respect among people. The diversity industry is based on new and different forms of racism and classism that they piggy-back on the legitimate concern you point out.

  37. Folks, this professor’s action is a fine example of what higher education has become. The difference in this situation is that the student actually thought a college campus is a free speech zone. The professor knows what a college campus is–it is a place for indoctrination. There is nowhere in America where free speech is more imperiled than on a college campus.

    Get used to it. This is your future.

  38. Richard Aubrey says:

    One of the most powerful forces on campus is feigned offense.
    You don’t have to be a grad student to see how it works. Just read (between the lines) the student handbook as an entering freshman.

    ‘course, the price is you have to exhibit yourself as a feckless wimp, but apparently it’s worth it to shut up an argument you can’t handle any other way. In fact, being a feckless wimp might be a Good Thing. Shows sensitivity and all that happy horse hockey.