- If mankind minus one were of one opinion, then mankind is no more justified in silencing the one than the one – if he had the power – would be justified in silencing mankind.
- John Stuart Mill
English economist & philosopher (1806 – 1873)
While mostly arising from conservative circles, the multitude of concerns being expressed regarding the hyper-liberalization of colleges and universities seems to rise exponentially on a daily basis.
While I do believe the university should be an institution of free thought, encouraged via the professors and teaching staff, evidence abounds that anything other than politically correct authoritarianism is being discouraged and squelched with extreme prejudice by the very leaders of these institutions who are taxed with ensuring the minds of students remain open and flexible to many ideas and ideals whether those leaders agree with them or not. Pushing one’s own singular vendetta on impressionable minds, while not offering alternatives to one’s personal beliefs is deservingly ignominious.
A tenet such as (x+5)(x-3) = x2+2x-15 isn’t really debatable. It just is. But the free exchange of ideas is being threatened on the campus and in the classroom. According to recent study conducted by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), more than 70 percent of universities and colleges ban protected First Amendment speech. Some go even further.
Michigan State University has been under fire for the creation of their Student Accountability in Community Seminar (SAC) program. SAC exhibits an overtly Orwellian approach to “unacceptable” speech and/or actions by forcing students who participate in such conduct into an “early intervention” or thought reform designed to strip them of their distasteful morals. Students can even have their university account frozen if they refuse to attend a required SAC seminar. Of course, what might be considered worthy of a timeout in the SAC chair is rather abstruse as presented by the MSU program. Needless to say, if it isn’t politically correct, it isn’t protected by the freedom of speech provision in the First Amendment. With SAC, Michigan State University has in essence, and without any reservation what-so-ever, entirely disregarded the First Amendment. This is a particularly heinous policy to support for any higher education institution in the United States.
The Gates of Vienna blog has posted a particularly potent and well-written piece concerning the subject of free speech in the west–on university campuses and in general. The writers’ intent to offend the reader is obvious. This does not in any way overshadow the importance of the message. In fact, the message is stronger in its timeliness because of the offense.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
by Baron Bodissey
We have freedom of speech in this country, guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution.
We’re free to say anything we like, with notable exceptions carved out after 220 years of jurisprudence — direct incitement to violence and shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater.
And we are about to add another exception: “hate speech”. A generation of college students has come to maturity under a regime in which free speech most emphatically does not include the right to say anything that might be construed as hateful towards minorities, women, gays, disabled people, animals, trees, etc.
These students are in the revolutionary vanguard of the softened-up, so that by the time Congress slips through a law that actually criminalizes “hate speech”, the constant repetition of the mantra “hate speech is not free speech” will have taken its toll. Everybody will already be used to the idea, will accept it as a given, and, after the required Supreme Court decision, the new, leaner version of the First Amendment will become the law of the land.
If you think I’m being paranoid or overreacting, then you haven’t seen Rep. John Conyers’ proposed kid-gloves-for-the-Koran resolution, H. Res. 288 (the full text is here):
Resolved, That the House of Representatives —
1. condemns bigotry, acts of violence, and intolerance against any religious group, including our friends, neighbors, and citizens of the Islamic faith; 2. declares that the civil rights and civil liberties of all individuals, including those of the Islamic faith, should be protected; 3. recognizes that the Quran, the holy book of Islam, as any other holy book of any religion, should be treated with dignity and respect; and 4. calls upon local, State, and Federal authorities to work to prevent bias-motivated crimes and acts against all individuals, including those of the Islamic faith.
This is pernicious on so many levels that it’s hard to know where to start. It asserts that one person’s right to be respected overrides another person’s right to speak freely. It singles out a single religion, Islam, for special treatment. It accords the holy book of the Muslims more respect than is owed the flag of the United States.
This is a CAIR-sponsored Trojan horse, ready to be rolled through the gates into the First Amendment. And its sponsor is about to become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
When I defend the right to free speech, what am I defending?
The Founders weren’t thinking about the right to print gay porn. When they crafted the First Amendment, they most emphatically intended to protect political speech. A lot of what passed for political speech in those days was insulting, libelous, vicious, and mendacious, but the framers of the Constitution were determined to leave it unrestrained.
But what about today? What words are so dangerous, so foul, so beyond the pale, that the force of law is required to protect them?
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The example I am about to give is so offensive that I will be in hot water for posting it here, even though I don’t subscribe to it myself, even though I find its appalling and repugnant, even though I would not willingly share the room with someone who uttered it. The amount of trouble I bring down upon myself will illustrate my point.
I’m displaying it here as an image, so as not to be indexed for the obnoxious phrase by the search engines:
Also, here’s more information on SAC at Michigan State University.
December 14, 2006
FIRE Press Release
EAST LANSING, Mich., December 14, 2006—It may be almost 2007, but it feels more like “1984” at Michigan State University. The university’s Student Accountability in Community Seminar (SAC) forces students whose speech or behavior is deemed unacceptable to undergo ideological reeducation at their own expense. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is challenging Michigan State to dismantle this unconstitutional program, which presents a profound threat to both freedom of speech and freedom of conscience.
“Michigan State’s SAC program is simply one of the most invasive attempts at reeducation that FIRE has ever seen, yet it has been allowed to exist at the university for years,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “As bad as it is to tell citizens in a free society what they can’t say, it is even worse to tell them what they must say. Michigan State’s program is an immoral and unconstitutional program of compelled speech, blatant thought reform, and pseudo-psychology.”
According to the program’s materials, SAC is an “early intervention” for students who use such “power-and-control tactics” as “male/white privilege” and “obfuscation,” which the university cryptically defines as “any action of obscuring, concealing, or changing people’s perceptions that result in your advantage and/or another’s disadvantage.” Students can be required to attend SAC if they demonstrate what a judicial administrator arbitrarily deems aggressive behavior, past examples of which have included slamming a door during an argument or playing a practical joke. Students can also be required to attend SAC for engaging in various types of constitutionally protected speech, including “insulting instructors” or “making sexist, homophobic, or racist remarks at a meeting.” When participation in SAC is required, “non-compliance typically results in a hold being placed on the student’s account,” an action that leaves the student unable to register for classes and thus effectively expelled from the university. Students are required to pay the cost of the SAC sessions.
Once in the program, students are instructed to answer a series of written questionnaires. In their answers, students must specifically describe how they are taking “full responsibility” for their offensive behavior and must do so using language that the director of the session deems acceptable. Most students will be asked to fill out this questionnaire multiple times, slowly inching closer to what administrators deem to be “correct” responses.
In a letter on November 20, 2006 to Michigan State President Lou Anna K. Simon, FIRE pointed out the stark contradiction between the SAC program and the values of a free society: “[A]t the heart of all concepts relating to freedom of the mind is a recognition of our own limitations—like us, those in power are neither omniscient nor omnipotent, and therefore have no right to dictate to others what their deepest personal beliefs must be. Concern for free speech and freedom of conscience is rooted in the wisdom of humility and restraint. The SAC program, which presumes to show students the specific ideological assumptions they need to be better people, crosses the boundary from punishment into invasive and immoral thought reform. We can think of no way in which the SAC program can be maintained consistent with the ideals of a free society.”
FIRE’s letter to President Simon also underscored Michigan State’s legal obligation to abide by the First Amendment. FIRE reminded her of the Supreme Court’s decision in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943), a case decided in the midst of World War II that remains the law of the land. Justice Robert H. Jackson, writing for the Court, declared, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”
Michigan State has informed FIRE that it will be reviewing the SAC program, but FIRE is calling for nothing less than its total dismantling.
“Michigan State’s SAC program shows a breathtaking lack of respect for individual dignity and autonomy. I urge anyone who cares about the rights of students and the sanctity of private conscience to take a long, hard look at the SAC program’s materials,” Lukianoff said.
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process rights, freedom of expression, and rights of conscience on our campuses. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty at Michigan State University and elsewhere can be seen by visiting www.thefire.org.