Feeling Comfortable Is Not a Right

Civil liberties advocates have companied for years about the quality of debate and the protection of speech rights on American college campuses.

And now there’s a new problem. According to this piece over in the Washington Post:

A large coalition of advocacy groups has asked the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights to pressure colleges to (1) punish students for their speech and (2) block student access to certain Web sites — especially sites such as Yik Yak, which allow students to anonymously post their views.

Here are some other examples of speech that the coalition points to:

  1. [S]uccessive invidious comments targeting African-Americans, such as ‘Their entire culture just isn’t conducive to a life of success. It just isn’t. The outfits. The attitudes. The behavior.’”
  2. “Another comment” that said “Slavery was the worst thing to happen to this country, bringing them over here . . . ugh.”
  3. A statement that “I would be completely ok with Clemson being an all white school. Except for football.”
  4. A statement that “The only thing niggers are good for is making Clemson better at football.”
  5. A statement that “Jesus I hate black people.”
  6. A comment saying, “Guys stop with all this hate. Let’s just be thankful we arn’t black.”
  7. Statements “target[ing] Indian students and East Asians, referred to as ‘chinks,’ in addition to LGBT students, Mormons, and women.”
  8. ”[S]tudents post[ing] dozens of demeaning, crude, and sexually explicit comments and imagery about three female professors.”

While a lot of these statements are for sure very offensive, there’s a big difference between protecting against (and punishing) threats against students, and just punishing for things we don’t want hear.

The fact that advocacy groups are asking for this doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, for sure.

It’s the nature of advocacy groups to ask for something really extreme in the hopes that policy will eventually look like some watered down, slightly more limited policy changes. But all of this is getting somewhere very strange.

Conservatives are likely to see this as a takeover by leftists academics. Because, as conservatives see it, “college campuses are ground zero for the illiberal left’s war on dissenting opinions.” Because what this looks a lot like is that the evil left is trying to silence debate on college campuses, because they don’t want hear from those opposed to their ideas.

There is some of this, probably. But most of this sort of thing isn’t driven by the academy at all. Real academics are happy to deal with controversy.

No, this sort of thing comes from nowhere in the academy. This comes from advocacy groups like the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, the Human Rights Campaign, and the The Andrew Goodman Foundation. These are advocacy groups who believe, understandably, that people should be able to go to college and not have to hear things like “Jesus I hate black people.” That’s true, but they don’t have a legal right not to hear that. It’s the academy’s job to protect free speech. And protecting free speech is always hard, because it’s mostly the bad speech that people want take away.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer