Once again we must turn to right-wing websites, the College Fix and Heat Street (corroborated from other sites), to find out how free speech is going down the tubes at many American Universities. In this case it’s Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts (home of Dan Dennett), which has been given a “red rating” by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for its speech code policy, a rating that means this:
A “red light” institution has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech. A “clear” restriction is one that unambiguously infringes on what is or should be protected expression. In other words, the threat to free speech at a red light institution is obvious on the face of the policy and does not depend on how the policy is applied.
What happened at Tufts is dire. A student, Jake Goldberg, introduced a resolution asking for clarification of Tufts’ nebulous speech code policy. The punchline is at the bottom of his resolution (reproduced below), asking the University to more clearly spell out what kinds of violations of the speech code and email policy will be considered transgressions subject to college discipline. That, however, may be hard given the unclear nature of already-specified violations, including “taunting; slurs, epithets, or biased-fueled jokes; derogatory language or negative images,” as well as “speech that creates emotional harm; hostile or inappropriate language, inappropriate gestures, or hurtful words; and acts of intolerance and hate.” Clearly, punishing students for language that creates emotional harm, or uttering hurtful words, is going too far unless it already violates legal restrictions about harassment in the workplace. My own view is that schools should obey the University of Chicago’s principles of Free Expression while obeying legal strictures about harassment.
Here’s Goldberg’s resolution:
HeatStreet (the College Fix appears to be down at the moment) reports that this mild resolution was voted down by a the student senate—unanimously! (My emphasis in following).
Tufts student leaders did not agree. The student senate recently voted down the measure 26 to zero, with two abstentions, the College Fixreports. A number of student senators argued that the proposal “actually really harms students” because “clarity in itself is subjective.”
One student senator argued in a Facebook post, which she later deleted, that “a holistic process is needed to balance our right to free speech and everyone’s right to access their education free from discrimination.”
Student senator Nesi Altaras pushed pack on the suggestion that free-speech rights are the “best kind of rights,” because “there are other countries with free speech issues, and some countries handle them better than America.”
Another student senator, Ben Kesslen, suggested that Tufts students “instantly” began feeling “unsafe” upon learning of the resolution’s existence. “By passing this resolution, we [would be] making more students feel unsafe on a campus they already might not feel safe,” he said.
The safety card, often played by students who don’t really feel physically unsafe, always angers me. For everyone construes “safety” as “being safe from physical harm,” not “safety from having to hear things that upset you.” What kind of crybabies would instantly feel “unsafe” just by hearing of Goldberg’s resolution? And the complete unwillingness to even re-examine the speech code, or comport it with the First Amendment, bespeaks a disturbing undercurrent of authoritarianism among Tufts students.
Anyway, Goldberg was predictably vilified by his fellow students after he proposed this resolution. Here are some screenshots of Facebook posts directed at him: