Feds to students: You can’t say that

The Obama administration’s move to “dramatically undermine students’ and faculty rights at colleges across the country” is another government scandal, writes Greg Lukianoff of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) in the Wall Street Journal.

The Education Department and Justice Department rewrote the federal government’s rules about sexual harassment and free speech on campus in a May 9 letter to the University of Montana. To retain federal funding, colleges and universities must punish

“unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” including “verbal conduct,” otherwise known as speech.

Till now, sexual harassment had to be “objectively offensive” to a “reasonable person.” That’s gone. Anyone who claims to be offended is a victim of harassment. Furthermore, colleges must respond to “student-on-student harassment” off campus and on, and may discipline the accused before the harassment charge has been investigated.

Last week’s letter is part of a decades-long effort by anti-“hate speech” professors, students, activists and administrators to classify any offensive speech as harassment unprotected by the First Amendment. Such speech codes reached their height in the 1980s and 1990s, but they were defeated in federal and state court and came in for public ridicule.

Still, a FIRE survey of 409 colleges this year found 62 percent maintain speech codes that violate First Amendment standards. Students aren’t the only victims.

In 2011, the University of Denver suspended a professor and found him guilty of sexual harassment because his class discussion on sexual taboos in American culture (in a graduate-level course) was considered too racy. Last year, Appalachian State University suspended a professor for creating a “hostile environment” after she criticized the university’s treatment of sexual-assault cases involving student-athletes and screened a documentary critical of the adult-film industry.

The government’s sweeping definition of sexual harassment will extend to other forms of speech, Lukianoff predicts.

At Tufts in 2007, a conservative student publication was found guilty of harassment for criticizing Islam. The same happened to a professor at Purdue University at Calumet in 2012, who faced a four-month investigation.

University administrators live in fear of discrimination and harassment lawsuits and costly investigations by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, Lukianoff writes. You could call it harassment.

About Joanne


  1. SuperSub says:

    Hey, what you can’t pass through Congress, implement through regulation… that Congress is such a pain to deal with anyway.

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      So, how do the feds expect colleges to police this in their on-line courses?

      • With all the considerations of the budget, I’m amazed that no prominent Republican has proposed getting rid of these proliferating “civil rights” departments and the corresponding bureaucracies in the regulated organizations.

        • Roger Sweeny says:

          I would be surprised if that happened. Republicans are scared sh*tless of being called racists. You can be sure that all the people who work in those agencies–and who would lose their jobs as a consequence–would call them that.

      • Mark Roulo says:

        It is unnecessary to consistently police. Terror is more effective with uncertainty 🙁

  2. Hey, maybe we’ve got the makings of yet another scandal!

    That’d be pretty cool.

  3. Wow… With these kinds of rules for what constitutes sexual harrassment, the human species will be extinct in two generations.

  4. Let’s be clear in our understanding – these standards are intended to be and will be very selectively enforced. This is implicitly the establishment of purely class / status based justice where enforcement will depend entirely on in which groups you can claim membership, not what happened.

  5. Chartermom says:

    As the mother of a male college student this stuff really scares me. College kids will do and say stupid things and who’s to know when someone will take offense at something that was intended to be funny or romantic. I keep thinking back to my own college days when the guy across the hall pursued my roommate rather persistently for several weeks — invitations, flowers on the door, other gifts — all of which she turned down. It was all rather sweet and romantic. But I know for a time his attentions were unwelcome in the “please just stop making me feel bad for saying no to you” way. Finally she agreed to be his date for a formal. The rest, as they say, is history — they’ve been married more than 25 years now.