May 12, 2007

Another University Exception To Free Speech

If Hamline University used the Soviet method to silence conservative Troy Scheffler last month, Tufts University must have decided to use a softer means to squelch dissent on its campus. Instead of declaring the editors of a conservative newspaper insane, they declared their criticism of Islam "harassment" and treated them like criminals. And as in the Scheffler case, the university apparently didn't like criticism of diversity programs, either:

Showing profound disregard for free speech and freedom of the press, Tufts University has found a conservative student publication guilty of harassment and creating a hostile environment for publishing political satire. Despite explicitly promising to protect controversial and offensive expression in its policies, the Tufts Committee on Student Life decided yesterday to punish the student publication The Primary Source (TPS) for printing two articles that offended African-American and Muslim students on campus. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which has spearheaded the defense of TPS, is now launching a public campaign to oppose Tufts’ outrageous actions.

“We now know that Tufts’ promises of free expression are hollow,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “By punishing political expression—the type of expression at the very core of the right to free speech—Tufts has shown that, in spite of its promises, it has no regard for its students’ fundamental rights. Such hypocrisy must not go unchallenged.”

Last December, TPS published a satirical Christmas carol entitled “Oh Come All Ye Black Folk.” Although TPS runs a Christmas carol parody every year, December’s carol sparked controversy on campus because it harshly lampooned race-based admissions. Realizing that the carol offended large portions of the Tufts community, TPS published an apology on December 6, 2006. Four months later, however, a student filed charges alleging that the carol constituted “harassment” and created a “hostile environment.” Other students filed similar charges in response to TPS’ April 11, 2007 piece entitled “Islam—Arabic Translation: Submission,” a satirical advertisement that ridiculed Tufts’ “Islamic Awareness Week” by highlighting militant Islamic terrorism.

The two complaints were consolidated for a hearing before the university’s Committee on Student Life on April 30, 2007. Yesterday, the Committee issued a decision holding that TPS had violated the university’s harassment policy by publishing the two pieces. The Committee found that the carol “targeted [black students] on the basis of their race, subjected them to ridicule and embarrassment, intimidated them, and had a deleterious impact on their growth and well-being on campus.” The Committee also held that the parody of Islamic Awareness Week “targeted members of the Tufts Muslim community for harassment and embarrassment, and that Muslim students felt psychologically intimidated by the piece.”

What the two universities have discovered is a couple of handy strategies for dealing with dissent on campus. Instead of encouraging debate and free speech, they now can stick any speech which offends their sensibilities in two categories: psychosis or harassment. Neither leaves dissenters and critics with any good defense, since in both cases, the determination is necessarily subjective -- and the universities are the final judge on both.

It's almost passé to remind people that universities exist for the purpose of considering different points of view in order to challenge assumptions and expand human knowledge. Cracking down on dissent harms that process. It tells students that they cannot question authority nor challenge any assumptions without fear of reprisal. Even in a newspaper, editorial opinions had better adhere to the administration's wisdom, or else.

Tufts' case is even more ludicrous than Hamline's. Tufts staged an "Islamic Awareness Week", the purpose of which one might suppose would be to educate people about Islam. The newspaper responded to what sounds like an administration-sponsored PR blitz on behalf of Islam, and it pointed out factual, historical data which expanded the awareness of Islam. The reaction of Tufts to this shows that they had no interest in making students aware of Islam, but to force students to support Islam.

By the way, when was the last time Tufts had a Catholic Awareness Week, or a Methodist Awareness Week? How about a Mormon Awareness Week?

I've reprinted the actual ad text in the extended entry below. You can see that, with the possible exception of the last entry about one particular Muslim, the ad made Tufts students "aware" of historical Islam. Tufts, however, does not want to educate its students, but indoctrinate them.

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Comments (3)

Posted by Rhymes With Right | May 13, 2007 2:20 PM

Particularly striking is the fact that everything in the Islam ad is TRUE. Does stating the truth now constitute harassment? The satirical carol about affirmative action is just plain bad and nonsensical -- but that doesn't constitute harassment, either.

Posted by philw | May 13, 2007 3:32 PM

It's far left ideology like that cited above that keeps me from giving even a token ammount to my alma mater Tufts.

disclosure; Well, I am Scottish too

Posted by Georg Felis | May 14, 2007 8:45 PM

Hm, what other administration was noted for calling their critics mentally deranged and having them locked up. Seems it was the Soviet something...