If you're a student at Tufts University, you might read any or all of the following paeans to free expression in your official student handbook:
You should anticipate controversial dialogue about issues important to you and that you may be shocked when another student voices an opinion radically different from yours.We should cherish the opportunity to be learning in a place where controversial expression is embraced.Or:
Tufts is an open campus committed to the free exchange of ideas. It is inevitable that some programs and speakers will be offensive to some members of the community. That offensiveness will not be seen as a reason to prevent the program. In fact, the university will strive to uphold the right of a campus organization to invite speakers or hold programs, even controversial ones, and to hold them without interruption.Or:
The university is committed to free and open discussion of ideas and opinions.As it turns out, students affiliated with the conservative student publication The Primary Source appear to have taken all those supportive statements a little too seriously. Back in December, they printed a Christmas carol parody ("O Come All Ye Black Folk") critical of racial quotas in admissions. (Later, they apologized.) Then last month, they published a lampoon of Islamic Awareness Week ("Islam/Arabic Translation: Submission") containing accurate but incendiary information about Islam's history of violence and bigotry.
That was quite enough for Tufts' Committee on Student Life, which brought The Primary Source up on charges and found it guilty. As I have found myself saying quite a bit: FIRE is all over this story. They comment:
Tufts' actions here completely contradict its strong promises of freedom of speech. Tufts administrators might think they are helping students by protecting them from expression that—despite being perceptive or funny—offends in some way. But Tufts has done its students a disservice by insulating them from free speech.(The link goes to their latest blog posting on the topic, but click around for more.)
Eugene Volokh has been equally apalled by Tufts' actions:
In this case, the punishment for the speech is a ban on one newspaper's ability to publish anonymous speech—while other newspapers that express favored views remain free to shield their contributors from social ostracism and other retaliation through anonymity. It requests "that student governance consider the behavior of student groups," which is to say the viewpoints those groups express, "in future decisions concerning recognition and funding."I'd say that a sensible Tufts student would be chilled by this outcome.
But more importantly, the ruling finds that the speech violated general campus rules that make such speech "unacceptable at Tufts" and require "prompt and decisive action." Though it looks like no individual students are being disciplined in this instance, if the Tufts Administration accepts the ruling, it will send a clear message that students who express "attitudes or opinions" like this will be seen as violating campus anti-harassment rules, and will be subjected to "prompt and decisive action," which campus rules say may involve "the disciplinary process," against individual students as well as against organizations. After this decision, what should Tufts students feel free to say in criticizing religions, or in criticizing affirmative action?
Finally, at Phi Beta Cons, David French raises an obvious point: if you're in the process of choosing a university for yourself or helping a student do so, it might be a good idea to look askance at private schools; whatever lip service they might pay to freedom of expression, students simply lack the First Amendment guarantees they have at a public university. (It pains me as a free-marketeer to write this.) Prospective students of the sort to dissent from the prevailing campus orthodoxy might want to ponder:
As is becoming increasingly clear, you are gambling quite a bit (up to $50,000 each year, including room, board, and other expenses) on schools that have no regard for you, your rights, or your future.… not that public universities are shining examples of respecting your rights, mind you; but if they try to pull a Tufts on you, you can sue them, and you'll win.
[Title explanation: the Tufts mascot is an elephant, and their athletic team nickname—really—is the "Jumbos". Personally, I find this offensive to People of Weight.]