Heath started things off by asking what the limits of free speech rights were, especially on college campuses. Here's a taste:
"It's the Liberal New York Times University, folks, and it's ridiculous. Did the Dems forget that "liberty" has the same root word as "liberal"? I mentioned this to Paul the other day, and he retorted with "but, would you think it was right if a neo-nazi hung a swastika on campus?" Would I think it was right or would I think they should have the right? I don't think it's right. I do think they should have the right."I said that it is a college's right to restrict certain kinds of speech in order to maintain a safe, unintimidating learning environment. A sample:
"I actually do think students should have the right. But students all over the country already have the right to say racial slurs and unfurl a big Nazi flag out of their dorm room windows at every college in the country. But the institutions who house or seek to educate those students, have the right then to say they can't do that without consequence. They have the right to expel those students, or call the police to charge them with hate speech, should the circumstance warrant. If the question is should students have the right to say racial slurs and hang racially offensive banners WITHOUT PENALTY, than I would say no."An anonymous commenter wrote back with this:
"Shouldn't all potentially offensive material be penalized, as well? Why stop at things that are only racially offensive? Everything is offensive to somebody, who gets to decide what people are allowed to say or what banners can only be hanged WITH PENALTY? Is it as simple as mob rule? Should all minority opinions be shouted down or physically stomped by the angry majority?"A sentiment Heath echoed with his response. To these rebuttals I am a little stumped, I have to say. I've been trying to come up with a well-reasoned answer for anonymous's slippery slope argument, and it's impossible without sounding like an elite and a prig. It's not near as fun to argue against some forms of speech as it is to argue for all of it. But I don't think it's an all or nothing proposition. If a public college bans KKK members and neo-Nazis from demonstrating on campus does not mean they are also banning all other forms of speech. It would appear that when a college does restrict speech on campus, it is when hatred against a particular minority is what fuels that speech. Though even that policy, as mild as it might appear on the surface, can be misused by overzealous university officials.
Heath mentioned a libertarian professor named Alan Charles Kors. He wrote a book called Shadow University. You can read the first 10 or so pages of it here, on Amazon.com. You can read most of something called 'The Water-Buffalo Incident" in these pages. The incident was this: a guy at Penn state was writing a paper in his dorm room. Outside, below his window, a sorority was being loud and distracting. He leaned out and told them to be quiet. Five minutes later, after they hadn't quieted down, he leaned out again and said, "Shut up, you water buffaloes!" The loud sorority girls were black, and he was accused by the school of violating Penn's "racial harrassment policy". The author, Kors, ends up being the kid's advisor in the matter, but the free sample of his book ended and I don't know what happened to the guy. (But I do wonder if Kors would be as outraged if the kid had actually called those girls by an actual racial epithet instead.) A similar incident, though fictional, is the basis for a Philip Roth novel, The Human Stain -- a professor asks about a couple of absent students he's never even laid eyes on before and calls them "spooks". Turns out the students were black and he's forced to resign for being a racist. Another example: Larry Summers, the former president of Harvard University, suggested in a speech that part of the reason women are underrepresented in the math and science fields may have to do with biology. It took a year or so, but he was eventually forced out for having said it. The faculty gave him two or three votes of no-confidence.
But are these examples the exception or the rule? Are universities in this country, in their zeal to provide a safe and unintimidating learning environment for ALL students, repressing the free speech rights of the FEW beyond all reason? Besides a series of antecdotal evidence, I don't think it is happening, but maybe I'm wrong. It seems to me that, more often than not, most universities are tolerant of free speech -- but when the university perceives that some minority groups on campus are being persecuted for race, creed, or color, they do step in to enact penalties. Sometimes they do so overzealously (as with the water-buffalo kid), but instances like that, I think, are the exception to the rule. Am I the only guy out there who isn't a total libertarian on free speech? Anyone want to chime in?
But anyway, well-reasoned points by both Heath and anonymous. Thanks for the good comments. More tomorrow.