Is Dartmouth Really Free?
May 10, 2005
by David French
I received your press release today regarding Dartmouth’s free speech upgrade, and I certainly agree there have been some positive shifts—particularly the most recent letter Robert Donin sent to FIRE. As a recent Dartmouth graduates, and former editor of The Dartmouth Review, I am very interested in this issue.
I am curious, however, if there have been any further exchanges regarding Dartmouth’s policy restricting campus publications from delivering to dormitories. FIRE had sent a letter to Dartmouth after the dean of residential life threatened to punish students caught delivering papers, and the response, from Robert Donin himself, equated student publications with “litter” in hallways. (FIRE’s letter: http://www.dartreview.com/archives/2003/10/23/fire_slams_dartmouth.php and Dartmouth’s response: http://www.dartreview.com/archives/2003/10/23/the_college_pules.php) I must confess I’ve been disappointed to see the delivery policy slip below radar screen—I was one of the students threatened—and I can’t, for the life of me, square that policy, which still exists and rears its head every few months, with the Wright administration’s Road to Damascus about-face on free speech, which you have now sanctified. It seems, further, that the Zeta Psi fraternity, which was banned from campus for an internal off-color newsletter, as well as Psi Upsilon fraternity, whose entire brotherhood was banned from holding public parties for months on end because a few brothers chanted a distasteful old cheer late at night, both represent infringements upon free speech for which Dartmouth has in no way, shape, or form atoned. And I think a close reading of Donin’s recent op-ed in daily paper, The Dartmouth, splits hairs in such a way that one could certainly read into his words, as with the Wright and Larimore letters, a de factospeech code that somehow defines speech and actions as different. That is, speech is not punishable, but the action of asserting your speech is. (For a wholesale destruction of that op-ed, I point you to this thread, where Emmett Hogan, a former employee of FIRE, explodes it point-by-point: http://www.dartlog.net/2005/04/spin-city.php.)I can see how Dartmouth’s recent public statements look good on the surface—and could bode well for higher education in general—but I fear that this green light will give Dartmouth a green light to continue ill-conceived policies like the delivery one, and it gives the administration cover for past actions that were, without a doubt, attacks on free speech. Ignoring, for the moment, that restrictive policies still exist, should there not be any acceptance of responsibility or acknowledgment of wrongdoing in the past? Until Dartmouth comes clean and admits it was wrong in punishing students the way it has on numerous occasions in the last few years, I don’t see how anyone is supposed to know what is or is not protected speech. And that, of course, is the crux of speech codes at Dartmouth.
Dartmouth College prizes and defends the right of free speech, and the freedom of individuals to make independent decisions, while at the same time recognizing that such freedom exists in the context of law and of responsibility for one's actions. The exercise of these rights must not deny the same rights to any other individual. The College therefore both fosters and protects the rights of individuals to express their dissent. Protest or demonstration shall not be discouraged so long as neither force nor the threat of force is used, and so long as the orderly processes of the College are not deliberately obstructed.