Liberal Intolerance on a College Campus: Case 46,897
In another instance of what has become a predictable and frequent assault on conservative campus publications, The Committee on Student Life at Tufts has censured the The Primary Source, a student magazine, for running satirical pieces that offended, in two separate instances, some black and Muslim students. Instead of actually functioning as marketplaces of ideas- “a place where controversial expression is embraced,” and “an open campus committed to the free exchange of ideas,” as described in Tufts’ own student handbook-universities continue to punish what they categorize as offensive speech that does not conform to the acceptable, liberal views of politics, race, or sexuality.The Orwellian “logic” of the Committee on Student Life can be found here.
While Tufts’ official policy extols the merits of unfettered speech, suggesting that students “should cherish the opportunity to be learning in a place where controversial expression is embraced,” it turns out that in reality that embrace is a somewhat deadly one for anyone whose controversial comments are aimed at groups perceived to be too vulnerable and sensitive to confront offensive speech with expression of their own views. The offending Primary Source piece, “Islam-Arabic Translation: Submission,” which satirized Tufts’ “Islamic Awareness Week” with a series of factual points about some of Islam’s violent characteristics, “made the Muslim students on campus feel very uncomfortable and unwelcome,” according to some of the complainants, and “was uncalled for and demean[ed] all of the work we put into our Islamic Awareness Week.” The publication’s punishment includes the prospect of being de-funded and the requirement of now having all stories and editorials signed by authors (a requirement that no other Tufts publication has), presumably so victims can henceforth know exactly who to drag before the Committee for any future offenses.
There are troubling issues here, putting aside the basic question of fairness of punishing a student publication with repressive speech control because it exhibited loutish behavior. The publication was sanctioned, not because it displayed actual illegal harassing or intimidating behavior, but because some individuals were “offended” or “intimidated” by speech that they were perfectly free never to read. Students have a right to be offended by the speech-even hate speech-of their fellow students and speak back to that speech with speech of their own, but their fellow students also have a Constitutionally-protected right to be offensive, provided their conduct is within the bounds of the law.
In ruling campus speech codes to be unconstitutional, courts have therefore understood the real intent of cases such as the current one at Tufts: not to suppress all speech and attitudes, but merely those ideas with which the moral gatekeepers disagree, those ideas, views, and political beliefs that are unfashionable. Even when speech is seemingly blasphemous, irreverent, or anti-social, the Supreme Court in the 1989 Texas v. Johnson case stressed that the “First Amendment does not recognize exceptions for bigotry, racism, and religious intolerance or matters some deem trivial, vulgar, or profane.”
In fact, other groups and individuals at Tufts regularly engage in expression that might cause some people to feel intimidated, harassed, or insulted. One example is the annual “Gaypril” celebration sponsored by the school’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center, replete with such events as “Queer Sex Now,” involving “erotic trends, including the explosion of queer porn, the development of public sex spaces, and the growing exploration of alternatives to monogamy,” and other sex-obsessed narcissism that may well intimidate or cause harassment to students on campus who do not embrace or have religious or philosophical issues with this lifestyle or level of effusive sexuality. Of course, no one could ever speak in opposition to a month of homosexual festivities on campus, nor obviously could their complaints about how it harassed or intimidated them ever cause the Committee on Student Life to end funding for the event or cancel future celebrations.
And the response of the President of Tufts can be found here.
The latter is quite instructive. President Lawrence S. Bacow takes issue with the logic of the Primary Source piece (fair enough) and also defends the right of the paper to publish material such as this.
Also fair enough, but he needs to bring his Committee on Student Life under control on this issue!
He then goes on to say:
Third, students can hold their fellow students accountable. How to do so? By confronting the editors who publish such opinions and asking them to defend their opinions directly and personally.In other words, he is recommending the harassment of staffers of the Primary Source.
When community standards of civility and respect are violated, we should not ask those who have been unfairly attacked to respond on behalf of the community. This responsibility should be borne by all.
He then goes on to threaten the conservative students, suggesting that the controversy they may cost them future jobs.
The irony about all this is that Bacow is suggesting “harassment and creating a hostile environment on campus” for conservative students!
But being a university president, and therefore thoroughly politically correct, he has no sense of irony.