Trans teacher wins $60K, say ‘they’ rules

Leo Soell in their fifth-grade classroom in Gresham, Oregon. Photo: Kristyna Wentz-Graff, Oregonian

When Brina Soell became Leo, the fifth-grade teacher asked coworkers to use “they” and “them” instead of “she” or “he.” Soell, who identifies as “transmasculine and genderqueer,” complained of harassment, reports the Oregonian. Gresham-Barlow officials agreed to give Soell $60,000 to settle emotional damage claims, add gender-neutral bathrooms to all schools, clarify policies about transgender teachers and mandate trainings for all principals.

Sexual harassment policies are moving from telling people what not to say to demanding that they “must say certain things,” writes Scott Shackford on Reason.

New York City has threatened employers with heavy penalties if they don’t ensure their employees address each other (and customers) by the pronoun of their choice, including “ze/hir” and other non-standard pronouns. The directive also applies to landlords and tenants, professionals and clients and business owners and customers. Everyone is supposed to ask everyone and remember who’s what.

Requiring people to say things they don’t wish to say violates free-speech rights, writes Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor.

When the government is acting as sovereign, telling us what we must or must not say on pain of coercively imposed legal liability, the First Amendment is at full force. That force, I think, should preclude government commands that we start using new words — or radical grammatical modifications of old, familiar words — that convey government-favored messages about gender identity or anything else.

He notes that Soell complained of harassment, in part, due to other teachers “refusing to call me by my correct name and gender to me or among themselves” (emphasis added), as well as posting “messages on Facebook that denigrate transgender people.”

Dartmouth students: Fire the babysitters

Dartmouth should stop “policing student life” and return to educating students, argues a group of students in a petition on

Administrators have become “paternalistic babysitters” creating “safe spaces” that protect students from “uncomfortable ideas,” the petition charges.

By effectively taking sides in sensitive debates and privileging the perspectives of certain students over others, administrators have crossed the line between maintaining a learning environment that is open to all and forcing their own personal views onto the entire campus. In doing so, they have undermined the value of civility, harmed the free exchange of ideas, and performed a disservice to those students who see their time in college as preparation for success in the real world.

Adding administrators and support services has driven up college costs, the petition charges. (“The sticker price for a year at Dartmouth is now just below $70,000,” notes FIRE.)

The students want to strip away “unnecessary deans, administrators, and support offices,” give students “the liberty to lead their lives as they please” and “freedom to speak their minds.” Finally, they write, “We envision a College that has recommitted itself to its roots in rigorous and stimulating undergraduate education.”

Obama: Use your words

President Obama gave the commencement speech at Rutgers on Sunday.

“Ignorance is not a virtue,” said President Obama on Sunday in a commencement speech at Rutgers University. Coming out against ignorance at a university isn’t all that startling, but it was seen as a knock on Donald Trump.

I think President Obama’s words on democracy were more important.

I know a couple years ago, folks on this campus got upset that Condoleezza Rice was supposed to speak at a commencement.  Now, I don’t think it’s a secret that I disagree with many of the foreign policies of Dr. Rice and the previous administration.  But the notion that this community or the country would be better served by not hearing from a former Secretary of State, or shutting out what she had to say—I believe that’s misguided. (Applause.) I don’t think that’s how democracy works best, when we’re not even willing to listen to each other. (Applause.) I believe that’s misguided.

If you disagree with somebody, bring them in—(applause)—and ask them tough questions.  Hold their feet to the fire.  Make them defend their positions.  (Applause.)  If somebody has got a bad or offensive idea, prove it wrong.  Engage it.  Debate it.  Stand up for what you believe in.  (Applause.)  Don’t be scared to take somebody on.  Don’t feel like you got to shut your ears off because you’re too fragile and somebody might offend your sensibilities.  Go at them if they’re not making any sense. Use your logic and reason and words.  And by doing so, you’ll strengthen your own position, and you’ll hone your arguments.  And maybe you’ll learn something and realize you don’t know everything.  And you may have a new understanding not only about what your opponents believe but maybe what you believe.  Either way, you win.  And more importantly, our democracy wins.  (Applause.)

These days, coming out for listening and logic at a university is startling.

Every story you choose to tell, by necessity, omits others from the larger narrative,” said Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of Hamilton, who gave the commencement speech at Penn.

UO tells students what’s OK to say, write

4 Posters with biased comments crossed out and corrected.
University of Oregon’s Bias Response Team has designed posters showing what not to say.

At the University of Oregon, “thought police” step in when one person’s “constitutionally protected speech has offended” another person, writes Robby Soave on Reason‘s Hit & Run. The Bias Response Team, made up of seven administrators, is fond of staging “educational conversations” and is “not shy about referring its cases to university agencies with more robust enforcement powers.”

The BRT’s annual report lists 85 incidents, including a faculty member’s insulting comment on a blog, a poster that “triggered” bad feelings about “body size” and a complaint about a “culturally appropriative” party.

“Students, faculty, and staff who feel threatened, harassed, intimidated, triggered, microaggressed, offended, ignored, under-valued, or objectified because of their race, gender, gender identity, sexuality, disability status, mental health, religion, political affiliation, or size are encouraged to contact the BRT, writes Soave.

When a student reported that a sign in a dorm encouraging cleaning up after oneself was sexist, the BRT Advocate “empowered” the student to contact Housing staff. “A BRT Case Manager followed up to ensure that the sign was removed, and the program staff had an educational conversation about the issue.”

An anonymous person thought the student newspaper wasn’t providing enough coverage of  transgender students and “students of color.” So “university administrators had ‘an educational conversation’ with student-journalists about what kinds of stories they should be printing,” reports Soave, who finds it “positively Orwellian.”

These “conversations” the BRT sponsors reflect a massive power imbalance between students and administrators, since the administrators appear to have the authority to punish the students.

. . . Would a student in such a situation feel like he could invoke his First Amendment rights without facing reprisals?

“It’s troubling to see the university policing and micro-managing students’ every day interactions,” Azhar Majeed, an attorney at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, told Soave. “One can imagine the chilling effects this would have.”

A “swollen campus bureaucracy, empowered by intrusive federal regulation,” has usurped the faculty’s “prerogative to shape the educational mission and to protect the free flow of ideas,” writes Camille Paglia.

“The entire college experience should be based on confronting new and disruptive ideas,” she writes. “Students must accept personal responsibility for their own choices and behavior, and university administrators must stop behaving like substitute parents and hovering therapists.”

College encourages lively consensus

Trescott University encourages a lively exchange of one idea, president Kevin Abrams told The Onion.

“We recognize that it’s inevitable that certain contentious topics will come up from time to time, and when they do, we want to create an atmosphere where both students and faculty feel comfortable voicing a single homogeneous opinion,” said Abrams, adding that no matter the subject, anyone on campus is always welcome to add their support to the accepted consensus.

Counseling is available for any student made uncomfortable by the viewpoint.

Free speech on campus? Not if it’s ‘unwelcome’

Title IX’s ban on sexual speech harassment trumps the First Amendment on college campuses, according to an April 22 Justice Department letter. “Unwelcome” conduct or speech of a sexual nature is sexual harassment  — and must be investigated — “regardless of whether it causes a hostile environment,” the letter told the University of New Mexico.
“The Department of Justice has put universities in an impossible position: violate the Constitution or risk losing federal funding,” said Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) President Greg Lukianoff.

“An enormous amount of everyday speech” would be sexual harassment under this definition, writes Joseph Cohn on FIRE’s site.

Did you overhear someone retelling an Amy Schumer joke about sex that you found unpleasant? According to the DOJ, that makes them a harasser—even if they only did it once and didn’t do it again after you asked. If that’s harassment, the term is devoid of meaning.

If a professor argues for transgender restroom access, conservative students might complain ze has made unwelcome comments about a sexual issue. Is Camille Paglia a sexual harasser? “Leaving sex to the feminists is like letting your dog vacation at the taxidermist” must be unwelcome to somebody.

Much narrower definitions of sexual harassment have been struck down as “unconstitutionally overbroad” in previous cases, writes Hans Bader, a former Office of Civil Rights attorney, on Liberty Unyielding. “Hostile or offensive” speech about sexual issues is protected speech unless it “objectively denies a student equal access to a school’s education resources,” these decisions have found.

Investigations chill free speech, adds Bader.

Northwestern Professor Laura Kipnis suffered through a “Title IX inquisition” last year after writing an essay on “sexual paranoia” that offended some students. She was cleared of all charges — after an ordeal that will discourage others from writing anything the least bit controversial.

Campus cop censors penis on ‘free speech ball’

To promote a showing of Can We Take a Joke?, a documentary about censorship of comedy on college campuses, University of Delaware’s Young Americans for Liberty chapter created a giant “free speech beach ball” for students’ comments, reports Reason‘s Hit & Run. A campus police officer told students to scribble over a penis drawn on the free-speech ball because it was “meant to provoke” and might offend some students.

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which sponsored the documentary, pointed out that the University of Delaware, a public university, “must abide by the First Amendment, which has very few exceptions — and subjectively offensive words or images are not one of them.”

Chalking for free speech at Emory

Emory students aren’t afraid of a little chalk, declared the campus chapter of Young Americans for Liberty. Over the weekend, libertarian students chalked slogans for all the presidential candidates, including an image of Donald Trump with the message, “Make Emory Great Again.”

“This was about the right to chalk and the right to express opinions,” said Alex Reibman, a student who helped organize the chalking.

Last week, after “Trump 2016” was chalked on campus, some Emory students demanded the university denounce Trump and acknowledge their “fear” and “pain.” (Were they too terrified to chalk “never” in front of the slogans?) University President James W. Wagner sent a campus-wide email sympathizing with students’ angst.

At the pro-free speech event, Wagner chalked, “Emory stands for free expression.”

However, Ajay Nair, senior vice president and dean of campus life at Emory, defended students’ need for “safe spaces” in an incoherent essay in Inside Higher Ed.  It reads like a parody of bloated writing.

Nair also claimed the chalkings violated “university policies, certainly not because of the content, but because the chalkings were done in unacceptable locations and without reserving the space.”

Yeah, it was “certainly not” about Trump.

At Scripps College, someone wrote “#Trump2016” on a whiteboard outside a Mexican-American student’s dorm room. Minjoo Kim, the student body president, sent a campus-wide email calling the pro-Trump message “intentional violence committed directly to a student of color.”

Violence? Or perhaps the word she’s looking for is “discourtesy,” as in, “discourtesy directed at a student of color, who may be opposed to Trump’s views on immigration and dislike seeing his name on her whiteboard.”

Baby talk

In Babies on Campus, Comedy Central’s Larry Wilmore talks with ultra-sensitive Emory students about the trauma of seeing “the T-word” in chalk.

“I had no idea that I went to school with people who have different opinions than me! It’s terrifying” wails “Justice Davenport” (played by Robin Thede).

Unsafe for learning