Once citadels for the free exchange of views, too many college campuses now embrace the opposite.
Speech First has already whupped the University of Michigan. It’s taking on the University of Illinois in a federal appeals court. Last week, it targeted Iowa State University with a lawsuit.
Just what is Speech First President Nicole Neily, a 2002 UI graduate, after this time?
She’s taking on the aspiring authoritarians on college campuses who are trying to silence individuals or groups whose views they do not share.
There’s no shortage of targets. A recent study by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education shows that the vast majority of the 471 campuses they examined are either indifferent to or actively opposed to allowing a free exchange of views.
Central to the Iowa State speech-nullification program are the usual suspects, members of campus bias-response teams who take complaints, target alleged violations and then impose whatever penalties they choose, up to and including expulsion.
This is a contagion that must be suppressed and destroyed. For now, it’s mostly being ignored by spineless administrators while promoted by faculty and student activists who use the codes to promote their causes by suppressing alien views.
Iowa State went beyond that, to the point that it’s difficult to imagine those who wrote the rules are even slightly acquainted with the free-speech guarantees of the U.S. Constitution.
Among the prohibitions:
Iowa State prohibits students from using its email system “to solicit support for a candidate or a ballot measure.” It decreed that students may use chalk on sidewalks only if they represent registered student organizations and only to promote an event. No viewpoint suppression there, eh?
What’s astounding about some of the speech rules on campuses today is that they represent a major threat to faculty members, far too many of whom apparently approve them.
Speech First’s lawsuit, the subject of a report by The Wall Street Journal, cites a classroom issue that got a professor in trouble.
“... a student asserted that ‘describing abortion and birth control as “women’s issues” erases “trans men and people who are non-binary who get abortions and/or use birth control.”’”
The complaint reports that the unfortunate professor “neither agreed nor disagreed” with the student, probably because the professor had no idea what the student was talking about.
Nonetheless, the student subsequently filed a bias complaint about the professor for “repeat(ing) this erasure” by failing to “push back” in order “to get students to be more inclusive.”
Why faculty members stand by blithely and allow students to arm themselves with this kind of complaint process is a mystery. Needless to say, members of the academy must watch what they say — and don’t say — in an atmosphere where allegations of “bias” can be career-crippling.
A lot of this is the usual sandbox politics, the fights being so ferocious because the stakes are so small.
But the bias-response teams are a genuine menace to free speech because of their intentional intimidation factor.
“... the very name ‘Bias Response Team’ suggests that the accused students actions have been prejudged to be biased,” wrote federal appeals court Justice David McKeague, questioning the validity of Michigan’s speech goon squad.
That university settled the free-speech lawsuit that Speech First filed by agreeing to dismantle its bias-response team in response to McKeague’s admonition. The UI, which is fighting in federal court to keep its bias-response teams, should do the same.
Why Chancellor Robert Jones insists on spending taxpayer dollars to defend a noxious practice is hard to understand.
Perhaps it’s for the same reason Iowa State insists that its speech policies are above board.
Iowa State Spokeswoman Angie Hunt, sounding much like the UI’s Robin Kaler, contends that Iowa State is “committed to upholding the First Amendment” ... blah, blah, blah.
Iowa State’s policies, like the UI’s, show that’s just not true. Obviously, it will take a judge or two to set them as straight as they did Michigan.