free speech

The past week and a half was … “eventful” for Princeton.

The outrage still rocks on regarding the performance by a group dubbed “Urban Congo” — a “joke dance group” comprised of members of the school’s swimming team. It seems their dress, “the way they dance,” and even their name “is offensive and perpetuates stereotypes of Africans.”

Then there’s the matter of rapper Big Sean headlining the big Lawnparties event.

Students Duncan Hosie and Rebecca Basaldua began a petition to oust the performer from the big bash due to the “promoting [of] rape culture and misogyny” in his lyrics.

Hosie told The Daily Princetonian that after he saw the Undergraduate Student Government’s (USG) promotional video for the event, which featured Big Sean repeating the lyrics “stupid ass bitch” from his hit song “IDFWU,” he reached out to Basaldua. Together they agreed to start a petition against Big Sean’s involvement with the event and open up a dialogue on campus about the selection of acts for school events like this one.

“After I saw that video, I started researching Big Sean’s language and I found language that was both misogynistic and homophobic,” Hosie said. “We wrote an op-ed piece that we published on Google Docs [on Sunday] and wanted to see the number of supporters. Right now, close to 500 people have signed.”

The petition asserts that “USG Should stop promoting rape culture and misogyny by rescinding the offer to Big Sean to headline Lawnparties Spring ’15. In the future, USG should strive to bring non-misogynistic acts to campus.”

University President Christopher Eisgruber got involved first by sending out an email addressing the matter(s), and then holding a gathering at the University Chapel last Sunday.

As you might expect, the perpetually aggrieved weren’t satisfied:

Ifunanya Nwogbaga ’18 said he believed that Eisgruber overlooked the severity of the issue in the email and had “the wrong message.”

“I could see how Eisgruber’s message was really not totally appropriate. It’s kind of implying that the things that have been happening are okay and that they need to be discussed, when really they should not be happening at all,” he said.

Nwogbaga added that Eisgruber should have acknowledged that the Urban Congo incident offended black students in particular.

And further:

Some students who gathered in the University Chapel on Sunday to address issues of racism and prejudice turned their backs on University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83, and some walked out.

U-Councilor Naimah Hakim ’16 then introduced four students who presented a list of demands, including dignity, accountability and change.

While these students spoke, other students stood in the aisle of the Chapel with signs protesting for change. After the four students onstage finished their remarks, they and the protesters in the aisle marched out of the church, chanting, “Hate speech is not free speech.”

Wow — now we got a demand for dignity.

It’s well worth reading the comments at the Daily Princetonian articles as it’s there you’ll encounter comments by students (well, hopefully by students) that will assuage at least some of your fears about the future of civilization.

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“We hope you understand that our intention is not to restrict your freedom of speech or expression, but rather to create an inclusive and respectful environment for all.”

That was the stated justification the organizers of the Johns Hopkins University Spring Fair gave to a pro-life group, explaining why it could no longer display fetal models at its booth, as it’s done for 30 years, according to LifeSiteNews.

This is what the models look like. Johns Hopkins runs a world-renowned medical school.


A student committee with faculty advisers said those images were “triggering and disturbing” for some people on campus, but after an inquiry from, the organizers backed down:

On Tuesday, emailed questions to the students involved in the decision. Forty minutes later, the student committee informed Guernsey by email that the display would be allowed.

In a statement to, the student committee explained:

“We… were wrong in our initial decision and, upon further reflection, have decided we will not impose restrictions on the displays presented by any community groups at Spring Fair… The committee values free speech.”

Susan Kruth at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education notes that despite the private school’s broad promises to promote “the free exchange of ideas,” the committee’s criteria for rejecting images are practically unhinged:

In addition, the Committee claims “the right to reject illegal, vulgar, triggering, or otherwise disturbing images.”

It is not at all clear from the Committee’s policy what constitutes “disturbing” images. Indeed, it is even more unclear considering that non-graphic anatomical models of fetuses (i.e., one can easily tell what it being shown, but there is no blood or realistic viscera depicted) apparently fit the bill.

Kruth warns that the committee hasn’t rescinded its unhinged right to ban speech:

It is absurd that members of the JHU community—overwhelmingly adults, who ostensibly are there to learn—are treated as though they are unable to confront depictions of the human body. [The dispute] was over whether models crafted to show the size and developmental stages of fetuses were so potentially harmful to students that they should be subject to censorship. …

In addition, the Committee has not explicitly rescinded its right to censor other “disturbing” displays at its whim.

It’s not FIRE’s first dance with John Hopkins student leaders, even on the abortion issue:

Last August, for example, [pro-life group President Andrew] Guernsey spoke out in response to the [student government’s] viewpoint-based reclassification of student advocacy groups in order to render them eligible for a much smaller amount of funding than they were before. And before that, Guernsey encountered significant opposition from the SGA when trying to gain recognition for Voice for Life. The group was initially rejected for blatantly viewpoint-based reasons, but [the government’s] rejection was overturned after FIRE intervened.

Read LifeSiteNews, and FIRE’s post.

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IMAGE: North Baltimore Pro-Life Study Group


Professors declare: ‘It is not the proper role of the university to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive’

Princeton University faculty have followed in the footsteps of professors at the University of Chicago by officially declaring academic freedom trumps students’ easily offended feelings.

The “statement affirming commitment to freedom of expression at Princeton” was approved Monday by scholars at the Ivy League university.

“[T]he Princeton faculty, led by the distinguished mathematician Sergiu Klainerman, who grew up under communist oppression in Romania and knows a thing or two about the importance of freedom of expression, formally adopted the principles of the University of Chicago report,” noted another distinguished professor, Robert P. George, in reporting on the development in First Things.

“At campuses across the country, traditional ideals of freedom of expression and the right to dissent have been deeply compromised or even abandoned as college and university faculties and administrators have capitulated to demands for language and even thought policing,” George noted. “Academic freedom, once understood to be vitally necessary to the truth-seeking mission of institutions of higher learning, has been pushed to the back of the bus in an age of ‘trigger warnings,’ ‘micro-aggressions,’ mandatory sensitivity training, and grievance politics.”

“It was therefore refreshing to see the University of Chicago, one of the academic world’s most eminent and highly respected institutions, issue a report ringingly reaffirming the most robust conception of academic freedom. The question was whether other institutions would follow suit.”

And Princeton did.

The statement will be included in the Princeton’s “Rights, Rules, Responsibilities” guide, according to the university’s website. The statement reads in part:

Because the University is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the University community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn. Except insofar as limitations on that freedom are necessary to the functioning of the University, the University fully respects and supports the freedom of all members of the University community “to discuss any problem that presents itself.”

Of course, the ideas of different members of the University community will often and quite naturally conflict. But it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Although the University greatly values civility, and although all members of the University community share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect, concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community. …

In a word, the University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose. Indeed, fostering the ability of members of the University community to engage in such debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of the University’s educational mission.

As a corollary to the University’s commitment to protect and promote free expression, members of the University community must also act in conformity with the principle of free expression. Although members of the University community are free to criticize and contest the views expressed on campus, and to criticize and contest speakers who are invited to express their views on campus, they may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe. To this end, the University has a solemn responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it.

More universities should pass this statement. It’s time to melt some delicate snowflakes.

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IMAGE: Bayassa/Flickr

A strategic plan to put the administration on the defensive

A student group at Merced College in California hopes to use a dean’s unexplained firing to expand the university’s “free speech zones.”

Nicholas Mejia, a member of the campus Students for Liberty chapter, has been testing the limits of free speech at Merced since the fall semester, waiting for the right opportunity to recruit supporters.

When the board of trustees voted March 10 to let go of Everett Lovelace, Merced’s dean of student services and an African American, with no explanation, students were not happy about it, according to the Merced Sun-Star.

And Mejia saw his opportunity.

Student protesters made flyers to inform the rest of the Merced community the following day, but according to school policies, all flyers must have a stamp of approval – and these were denied that approval.

Protesters hung the flyers anyway, and the administration ordered them down.

The Merced Community College District, which decides where to locate “public forums,” has designated the quads at each campus as such.

But it “doesn’t necessarily” require protesters to move their activities to the quad from elsewhere, Vice President for Student Services Chris Vitelli told The Sun-Star.

“As long as it’s peaceful and not disruptive, there really isn’t a zone [where] our campus police would prohibit free speech,” Vitelli said.

Influenced by similar fight at nearby Modesto Junior College

Mejia kickstarted his free speech project months earlier, after a friend had a bad experience with Modesto Junior College’s free speech policy.

That’s the school where students were prohibited from passing out copies of the Constitution on Constitution Day. The two schools are about 45 minutes apart.

“So I took it upon myself to look into Merced College’s policy,” Mejia wrote in an email to The College Fix.

He started by reaching out to Azhar Majeed, director of the Individual Rights Education Program at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), but Mejia has a penchant for spectacle as well.


“Last semester, I bought a 12-foot beach ball that we nicknamed ‘The Free Speech Ball’ to test the limits of our freedom on campus. We roll it around a couple times a month and have everyone write whatever they want on it,” Mejia said.

The result?

“No censorship. It gets a lot of attention and to my surprise we never get told to stop what we are doing,​” Mejia added.

Thanks to the beach ball, Mejia drew more support from students and expanded his organization. Students for Liberty approached the student government and convinced it after a month of meetings to support his group.

As luck would have it, the board of trustees was meeting the same day the student government threw its weight behind Mejia’s effort.

“I intended to go to the board and make a speech regarding the policy,” he said. “When I arrived at the meeting the room was packed. The board of Trustees was going to fire a dean and people came out to give public support,” Mejia wrote.

That’s what Mejia needed to spread awareness of his efforts, which he had feared would fail if there were “no one left to fight” after he graduates.

FIRE’s Majeed is working with Mejia to convince the school to expand the speech zone and relax its flyer policies.

“We always try to work cooperatively on universities’ free speech policies, because we think that it is very easy to get these policies resolved without having to resort to negative publicity or certainly litigation,” Majeed said in a phone interview.

Merced’s review of its speech policies did not occur without negative publicity, though, as Mejia’s efforts drew widespread local media coverage.

“In response to this incident, Merced College is reviewing its flyer policy and is looking to improve its regulations,” Majeed said, but no other specifics were mentioned.

The Merced administration did not respond to a Fix email sent through a media relations form.

College Fix reporter Courtney Such is a student at Furman University.

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IMAGES: Students for Liberty chapter at Merced College

The US Supreme Court turned down an appeal by some California high school students who were not permitted to wear shirts with the American flag on them during Cinco de Mayo.

Essentially, the decision affirms the right of school officials to do what it deems necessary in order to maintain an “orderly educational environment,” and holds that students in lower ed institutions have (quite) limited free speech rights.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

The Live Oaks High School south of San Jose had seen at least 30 fights between white and Mexican American students. And the annual celebration of the Mexican holiday on May 5 had heightened the tension.

On that day in 2010, the principal told several white students they must remove their shirts featuring an American flag or go home.

They went home but, with the help of their parents, later sued the school officials for violating their rights under the 1st Amendment.

In turning down the Dariano case Monday, the court as usual did not explain its reasoning for refusing to hear an appeal. But the court’s action is likely to be read as strengthening the authority of school officials to suppress the display of clothing or other symbols that might trigger trouble.

As noted back in September, the SCOTUS arguably has been eroding student First Amendment rights since the landmark Tinker case, notably with the 1988 Hazlewood and 2007 “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” decisions.

Read the full article.

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IMAGE: US Govt./Flickr

Professor defends piece’s removal as ‘civility, not censorship’

Students at Santa Barbara City College who built a large, colorful teepee for their art class have been denounced as offensive and ignorant by some students on campus, clamor that ultimately prompted the structure to be removed.

The students are enrolled in the school’s “4-D Art, Time-Based Media” class, which “explores issues and practices of … interactive and chance-derived work, installation, performance, video, sound and digital media,” according to the course description.

For an assignment, some of its students harnessed complicated architectural designs and intricate woodworking to create an artistic teepee, which they set up on one of the quad’s grassy knolls earlier this month. As The Channels student newspaper reports, the four art students who built the teepee saw it as “a place of positive vibes and community engagement.”

“The featured piece is a beautiful large scale wooden Tee Pee made of upcylced and reclaimed materiel from an old farm house,” according to an online description of the structure. “The piece … provides a comfy, squishy environment for music, a tea lounge, a trade post, and good vibes and conversation. We want to provide you with an experience out of the mundane – right here on SBCCTEEPEEFacebookcampus!”

A campus spokesman told Native News Online the teepee was even built with help from a licensed contractor, and was lined with pillows and rugs and included a shelf of blank books for people to express themselves in written word.

But the structure was denounced by some American Indian students, who said they viewed the teepee as offensive and culturally insensitive.

“I think it’s very insensitive of the history that was done to Native Americans. I believe that SBCC faculty condones this type of behavior,” an anonymous student told Native News Online. “We constantly have to live with disrespect. Since I was attending the ‘number one community college’ I would have the right to be free of stereotypes. This is an act of superiority for non-Native students and I will not and am not okay with it.”

A Santa Barbara City College Facebook page posted a photo featuring the structure, and it earned a mix of both praise and condemnation. Some students initially wrote “amazing,” “wow,” and “love this,” under the photo, but then the online conversation took a turn once word of the teepee spread.

“As a Native American, I’m appalled by the insensitiveness by this crude display,” posted Angel Solorzano, whose Facebook page says he works at the school. “A Teepee is something that belongs to Native American heritage. I do not condone this as something artistic, but a mockery of my culture.”

“I wish this could be considered an act of unintentional misunderstanding,” posted Santa Barbara resident Eric Heras. “When you use stereotypes and dont consent from the people you are stealing culture from you are intentionally or unintentionally being disrespectful. Putting your own twist doesn’t make it ok either.”

People from other parts of the country also began to weigh in on Facebook. “More cultural appropriation because they can; white privilege strikes again,” stated one post from a San Antonio resident. Said another: “What a disgusting and racist picture this is….and you call your self educated.”

The teepee prompted a debate on campus, where one percent of the student population is American Indian, according to campus stats.

“Within faculty discourse, some called the removal of the teepee an act of censorship and a threat to artistic freedom. Others voiced concern for the lack of a safe space for marginalized students to convey their pain and anger,” The Channels reports, which added that the art students ultimately decided to dismantle the teepee since it upset some people.

“That’s civility, not censorship,” Tina Foss, an American Ethnic Studies instructor at the city college, told The Channels.

In a statement to the student body, the student artists said “it is important to acknowledge there was never an intention to undermine a culture or group of people, let alone offend anyone.”

College Fix reporter Aaron Bandler is a recent grad of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. 

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IMAGE: Facebook screenshot