Greg in 'The Huffington Post' on FIRE's Newest Speech Code Report
December 9, 2009
Today, in The Huffington Post, Greg discusses the release of FIRE's 2010 speech code report and tackles some of the skeptical questions we anticipate receiving. He responds to 6 questions point by point and explains the importance of FIRE's findings. In response to the last and most disheartening skeptical question ("What's the big deal if campuses have speech codes?"), Greg writes:
I get this question more often than I like to admit and every time I get it, it kind of breaks my heart. The most simplistic answer: the big deal is that these things are laughably and egregiously unconstitutional at public campuses, and colleges should not be allowed to flout the law. But beyond that, colleges and universities are very special institutions that rely on open candor and debate in order to function properly. Once people believe that they can get in trouble for having the wrong opinion, making the wrong joke, or just saying something the wrong way, debate is "chilled:" that is, people do not bother arguing or debating if they think there's even a chance they might get in actual trouble. You can't really be a marketplace of ideas if you have to be afraid of giving your honest opinion. But worst of all, I think the problem with speech codes on campus is the fact that they teach students terrible lessons about their rights and the rights of others. If someone goes to a college and see these codes that treat "discomfort" or ban speech that causes "a vague sense of danger" or a loss of "self esteem," how can they be expected to understand that there is nothing strange or wrong about having your feelings hurt in the course of a political debate or an argument over political issues? Indeed, as I'm sure many Huffington Post readers can attest, outrage and offense comes with the territory in a democracy.
Those are the big reasons why speech codes are harmful, but the simplest problem with speech codes is that they are written and enforced by people, and when people have the power to control what can and cannot be said they tend to make really, well, stupid choices. Whether it is Bucknell University, where students were recently told they couldn't hand out Obama stimulus dollars to poke fun at the TARP, Yale University, where, just last month, administrators actually said that it would be "not acceptable" to quote F. Scott Fitzgerald when he called Harvard men "sissies," or any of the students you can see in our latest video, the ridiculousness of administrators' attempts to stifle and punish speech should be argument enough for why they shouldn't have the power in the first place.
You can check out his whole article here.