Almost one hundred years ago, America embarked upon its greatest failed experiment in social “betterment”: Prohibition. Today, American academia is running headlong towards making the very same blunder by treating adults like children.
Robert Shibley | All Articles
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Robert Shibley is the senior vice president of FIRE.
When Daenerys Targaryen, the Mother of Dragons, says “I will take what is mine with fire and blood,” most of us simply take another gulp of beer and keep watching the Game of Thrones on HBO GO. Daenerys’ fictional enemies, of course, have reason to be fearful. But who knew that the list of House Targaryen’s many opponents would include Bergen Community College?
California’s new law requiring “affirmative consent” for sex on campus is “terrible.” It “tries to change, through brute legislative force, the most private and intimate of adult acts.” Two college seniors in a loving, committed relationship could “fail its test” if they “slip naturally from cuddling to sex.” It’s “extreme” and plagued with “overreach.”
In January, students at the University of Notre Dame formed a new organization called Students for Child-Oriented Policy (SCOP). On its Facebook page, SCOP identifies itself as “a group of undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Notre Dame who are focused on the debate about marriage taking place in Indiana.” On April 30, Notre Dame officially denied SCOP recognition as a campus club. Why?
Wellesley College near Boston is suffering through a bout of controversy over, of all things, a sculpture. Artist Tony Matelli’s very realistic The Sleepwalker, which depicts a balding, slightly pudgy man in briefs sleepwalking outdoors, is evidently causing a stir on the elite women’s college campus. It’s even produced a Change.org petition (signed by more than 700 people as of this writing) asking the Wellesley administration to remove the sculpture on the basis that it is “a source of apprehension, fear, and triggering thoughts regarding sexual assault for some members of our campus community.”
Are you ready for a career change? Think the challenging field of college administration might be your ticket to exciting, high-paying employment? If so, first answer these questions: Do you believe in magic? Are you terrified of letters, or jokes, or art? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, please do yourself and everyone else a favor and stay out of college administration. If you don’t, you might might find yourself listed in a future edition of the below: the year’s dumbest campus free speech cases.
Last Thursday, Chuck Ross of the Daily Caller News Foundation broke the story that a number of supposed racial incidents at Oberlin College in Ohio this spring were, in fact, a hoax. Oberlin certainly took the incidents seriously, even canceling classes on March 5 to convene a “day of solidarity.” However, Oberlin city police reports obtained by Ross made it clear that at least some of the material that had Oberlin up in arms, including a large swastika banner that was hung in the science center under cover of night, was in fact done by one or two Oberlin students as a “joke/troll to get an overreaction, in the context of the racist crap that has been going on on campus.”
On May 9, the Departments of Justice and Education tried to sneak through a national speech code for college campuses by way of a settlement with the University of Montana. They called it a “blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country.” The “blueprint” makes practically everyone on campus guilty of harassment while inviting the most sensitive person on campus to decide what speech may be allowed. And in response, 17 organizations banded together yesterday to send a letter asking the feds to please back off their unconstitutional demands.
Last Thursday, the Departments of Justice and Education mandated a broad definition for sexual harassment on college campuses: “any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature” including "verbal conduct” (also known as speech or expression). DoE and DoJ regulate virtually every campus in America, public and private. So requiring universities to adopt this definition — issued in a letter to the University of Montana that DoE and DoJ are calling a “blueprint” for colleges and universities across the country — is a big deal.
Dartmouth College students got an unexpected surprise Wednesday — a day off of classes! For that, they can thank a series of events that started with a group of fellow students calling themselves Real Talk Dartmouth. The group marched into a performance of songs and skits for admitted students last Friday and screamed “Dartmouth has a problem!” at the top of their lungs while chanting about the problems of a campus they see as rife with homophobia, sexism, and sexual assault. This impressed the high school seniors in attendance about as much as you might expect. The Dartmouth reported that “Lainie Caswell, a prospective student from Palo Alto, Calif., said the protest was a ‘low point of the weekend.’” One can only imagine.
In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ill-informed ruling in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez called into question the right of student organizations at public universities to make decisions about membership and leadership by taking into account a student’s beliefs. The Court undermined America’s long tradition of ideological and religious pluralism by finding that so-called “all-comers” policies forbidding student groups from making belief-based decisions do not violate the First Amendment. The Virginia legislature has just sent a bill to Governor Bob McDonnell’s desk that would restore this right in the Old Dominion, thereby protecting students from the absurd results that the Martinez holding has made possible.
There’s no place in the world where speech is freer than the United States of America. It’s a vital part of the attraction our land has always had for those around the world who find themselves marginalized, persecuted, or worse because of what they say or what they believe. Unfortunately, our college campuses are an exception to our exceptional freedom — and for those of us who care about freedom in academia, 2012 was another tough year.
I’m not a big believer in the “war on Christmas” rhetoric that we often hear around this time of year. In a religiously diverse and pluralistic society like ours, politicians, corporations, and other institutions are naturally going to adjust the way they express themselves in order to avoid offending their constituents or customers.
Because of the uproar over the YouTube video that was said to have led to uprisings against American interests in the Muslim world — including the death of our ambassador to Libya and three others — Americans are being confronted with a couple of unfortunate facts.
University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner created an Internet sensation yesterday with an article for Slate in which he argued that the United States overvalues free speech. Posner argued that the reaction to the “Innocence of Muslims” YouTube video that has been indirectly blamed for causing the deaths of four Americans, including our ambassador to Libya, shows that other nations “might have a point” when they decide that free speech must “yield to other values and the need for order.”
In the wake of the January 2011 shooting in Arizona that killed 6 and injured 14 (including U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords), “civility” became a focus of national conversation. A political food fight over which side of the ideological aisle was indirectly at fault for the shooting erupted, and President Obama called for greater political civility in a speech in Tucson. The University of Arizona even opened a National Institute for Civil Discourse, headlined by Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton as honorary chairs.
The past weeks’ political conventions have once again brought home how deeply divided our country is when it comes to the issues of gay marriage and gay parenting. Feelings are so strong that their intensity can blind people to important issues of principle. That’s why it’s important to know that last week, the University of Texas at Austin announced that it had found no evidence that Professor Mark Regnerus had engaged in scientific misconduct when he published a paper that has been used to bolster the arguments of those opposed to same-sex parenting.
As a native of Toledo, Ohio (Go Mud Hens!), I guess I should be happy that my home state is so flush with cash that it had $200,000 in taxpayer funds to waste in the latest doomed attempt by a public university to violate the constitutional rights of its students. Since 2007, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE, where I work) has been warning the University of Cincinnati (UC) that confining student speech to a tiny “Free Speech Area” that covered a mere 0.1% of the school’s 137-acre campus is unconstitutional. UC was dead serious about enforcing this policy — the school actually threatened that any UC students who dared to express themselves outside of that spot would face trespassing charges and criminal prosecution.
“You may hear the argument that Vanderbilt is discriminating against religious groups. I want to assure you that in my opinion, we are not.”