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.”

Racists have free speech rights too

Some University of Oklahoma students in the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity were videotaped singing a racist chant that included a reference to lynching. 

University president David Boren expelled two students for “leading a racist and exclusionary chant which has created a hostile educational environment for others.”

Racist speech is protected by the First Amendment, responds Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor, in the Washington Post. “Universities may not discipline students based on their speech.” There is no “hostile environment” exception.

Likewise, speech doesn’t lose its constitutional protection just because it refers to violence — “You can hang him from a tree,” “the capitalists will be the first ones up against the wall when the revolution comes,” “by any means necessary” with pictures of guns, “apostates from Islam should be killed.”

Speech would have to be a “true threat” of violence to lose that protection, writes Volokh. Examples would be saying “we’ll hang you from a tree” or “we will shoot you against a wall” to a particular person likely to see it as a death threat.

The university must “respect First Amendment principles” even in the face of “vile and reprehensible speech,” said the ACLU of Oklahoma. “It is difficult to imagine a situation in which a court would side with the university on this matter.”

At the University of Oregon, students argued free speech doesn’t apply to an anti-abortion preacher, writes Robby Soave on Reason‘s Hit & Run.

Allison Rutledge, a history major, told the Daily Emerald she felt emotionally threatened by the anti-abortion activist’s “obscene” sign. She grabbed it and stood on it. “You can’t just show whatever you want,” she said.

When the team wins, male GPAs lose

When the University of Oregon football team wins, male students’ grades decline, conclude economists who tracked the Ducks’ last nine seasons.

“Our estimates suggest male grades fall significantly with the success of the football team,” the research team, led by Jason Lindo, writes in a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper. Furthermore, the economists find this effect is “larger among students from relatively disadvantaged backgrounds, and those of relatively low ability.”

Lindo and his colleagues . . . compared grade point averages to the winning percentage of the school’s football team, which ranged over the years from 45 to 92 percent.

“We find that the team’s success significantly reduces male grades relative to female grades,” they write. “This phenomenon is only present in fall quarters, which coincide with the football season.”

Why? Young men drink more and study less to celebrate football victories. Their female classmates also party, but not as hard, surveys indicate.

What’s true for the University of Oregon probably is true for other state universities, the researchers believe.

Oregon is playing in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2.