Monday, May 13, 2013

Speech Codes, Now and Forever

FIRE, an excellent organization that promotes and defends civil liberties on America's odious college campuses, has revealed that the federal government has ramped up the interminable speech code debate:

In a shocking affront to the United States Constitution, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education have joined together to mandate that virtually every college and university in the United States establish unconstitutional speech codes that violate the First Amendment and decades of legal precedent.

In a letter sent yesterday to the University of Montana that explicitly states that it is intended as "a blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country," the Departments of Justice and Education have mandated a breathtakingly broad definition of sexual harassment that makes virtually every student in the United States a harasser while ignoring the First Amendment. The mandate applies to every college receiving federal funding—virtually every American institution of higher education nationwide, public or private.

Among the forms of expression now punishable on America's campuses by order of the federal government are: 
  • Any expression related to sexual topics that offends any person. This leaves a wide range of expressive activity—a campus performance of "The Vagina Monologues," a presentation on safe sex practices, a debate about sexual morality, a discussion of gay marriage, or a classroom lecture on Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita—subject to discipline.
  • Any sexually themed joke overheard by any person who finds that joke offensive for any reason.
  • Any request for dates or any flirtation that is not welcomed by the recipient of such a request or flirtation.

You can't make this stuff up. I wish you could. And as much as I'd love to see The Vagina Monologues trounced from any future campus performances (and I'd certainly love to see Nabokov's opus gone as well, given that it's an impossibly stupid book), this isn't the right way to go about it. Good Lord.

Enshrining the typical university speech code in federal law is just an incalculable disaster. Thankfully, Hillsdale College will be exempt, given its terrific refusal to accept any federal funds. I should have gone there for college. If I had the chops and a whole lot of money, that is. 

1 comment:

  1. Did you read the whole letter to U of M? It was very lengthy and I did not. What IS the solution to the problems of sexual assault on college campuses? Or outright intimidation and harassment? It IS a problem, that's for sure. I agree that heavy-handed restrictions, with all the attendant policing and horrifying consequences for what could be innocent flirtation, are very problematic. But women who find they must leave the institution to find relief from threats and intimidation (I read that part)..... that's an awful thing.