free speech

Editor’s note: Below is a satirical column penned by University of Michigan student Omar Mahmood, who writes for both the mainstream campus newspaper The Michigan Daily and the conservative independent publication the Michigan Review. Or at least he did.

After his column was published last week, Mahmood tells The College Fix: “I received a call from the editorial editor [of the Daily] telling me that I had created a ‘hostile environment’ among the editorial staff and that someone had felt threatened because of what I had written … The issue had been taken to the editor in chief who procured a bylaw by which I was given an ultimatum to leave the Review or leave the Daily within a week. I was not allowed to know the name of the offended individuals.” He added the newspaper’s leaders are “forcing me to write a letter of apology as a condition for staying on the Daily” and suspended his regular column in the Daily.OmarPhoto2

Mahmood has written for both the Review and the Daily concurrently for this fall semester, but after this controversial column was published the Daily’s editors decided “Mr. Mahmood’s involvement with the Michigan Review presents a conflict of interest. Our bylaws say that once a determination is made that a conflict of interest exists, the person in question will have one week to resign from either the Daily or the organization causing the conflict of interest,” according to a statement from the Daily to The College Fix.

Without further ado, we present to you “Do The Left Thing” by Omar Mahmood:


It was one of the coldest days of this winter past, and I was hurrying along the Diag to class. The blistering cold did not turn my eyes from all the white privilege falling around [me]. All those white snowflakes falling thick upon the autumn leaves, burying their colors. Majoring in womyn’s studies, I’ve learned that oppression comes in many forms. Sometimes we fail to notice it because it’s just everywhere – just like that white snow.

SnowyUnivMichiganAs I walked, I slipped on a patch of wet leaves lining the steps of the Hatcher, and I fell forward headfirst onto the steps of the library. If it hadn’t been for the left hand that I thrust out right before my fall, I would have ended up just another statistic in the war on colored people. As it were, a white cis-gendered hetero upper-class man came down the steps just as I was falling. He looked at me with that white man’s burden face that I see too often on this racialized campus.

“Cold, isn’t it?”

Behind his words I sensed a patronizing sneer, as if he expected me to be a spokespersyn for my whole race. He offered his hand to help me up, and I thought to myself how this might be a manifestation of the patriarchy patronizing me. I doubt he would’ve said those violent words had I been white, but he would take any opportunity to patronize a colored m@n or womyn. People on this campus always box others in based on race. Triggered, I waved his hand aside and got up of my own accord.

He was taken aback. Suddenly I felt I was taking back some of that lost agency that colonialism had robbed my people of. I felt like Aamir Khan in Lagaan. That’s right, that white man wasn’t about to tax me. I didn’t even want to be that white. I turned on my heels and showed him my back.

He shouted after me, “I was just trying to do the right thing!”

The right thing… The right thing… I became so aware at that moment of the left hand that I had thrust out before falling, and suddenly my humanity was reduced to my handydnyss. The words rang in my eardrums, and my blood throbbed. This was the microaggression that broke the gender-neutral camel’s back. But unlike other microaggressions, this one triggered a shift in my worldview. All this while, I had been obsessed only with the color on this campus. All of a sudden, though, that became a side issue. All those race-based microaggressions now seemed trivial. I had, I realized, forgotten to think intersectionally.

The biggest obstacle to equality today is our barbaric attitude toward people of left-handydnyss. It’s a tragedy that I, a member of the left-handed community, had little to no idea of the atrocious persecution that we are dealt every day by institutions that are deeply embedded in society. So deeply embedded, and so ever-present, that we don’t even notice them.

But then I think to the word sinister. In our English, it means evil. But that’s because it used to mean left-handed in the Latin, and left-handyd people, especially those of color, were considered evil. In organic chemistry, we are taught R and S distinctions. I realize now that whenever we came across a left-handyd enantiomer in the coursepack, I could just feel the patronizing gaze of the right-handed members of the class on the back of my neck. And now I finally understand why.

And the University of Michigan does literally nothing to combat the countless instances of violence we encounter every day. Whenever I walk into a classroom, I can hardly find a left-handyd desk to sit in. In big lecture halls, I’m met with countless stares as I walk up the aisle along the left-handyd column. The University cannot claim to be my school while it continues to oppress me. We need to find allies with other minority groups and work against the establishment. This campus must be at the forefront of progress in America.

Yes, our president might be left-handyd. But that does not represent the pathetic living conditions of so many left-handyd people around the world, and even here in the United States, who are constantly threatened simply because they write or eat with a different hand. Even today, left-handyd individu@ls are paid 68 cents to the dollar that right-handed individuals are paid.

It is 2014, people. Still, change starts with awareness. Until right-handed people, especially cis-gendered hetero white males in salmon shorts, do not start checking their privilege, we will continue to live in inequality.

No longer will I persevere in patience. No longer will I suffer in silence. I am a left-handyd individu@l, and my humanity needs be respected! The next time someone tells you to Do the right thing! turn around and flick them off with your left middle finger.

Do the left thing.

Omar Mahmood can be reached at [email protected]

College Fix contributor and Michigan Review editor Derek Draplin contributed to the reporting within the Editor’s Note.

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The case of Steven Salaita has been covered rather extensively here at The College Fix. The professor was nixed from a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign gig after his vile anti-Israel/anti-Jewish rants on Twitter went viral.

Numerous individuals and groups have taken up Salaita’s case, mainly in the name of academic freedom. Included are Students for Justice in Palestine and the Gay Liberation Network, the American Association of University Professors, and the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Interestingly, the Chicago division of CAIR — the Council on American-Islamic Relations — also expressed support for Professor Salaita, having submitted a letter to U.I. Chancellor Phyllis Wise back in August. The letter says Wise’s decision not to hire Salaita was “in direct violation of Salaita’s free speech and academic freedom rights”:

UIUC’s dismissal of Salaita because his private tweets support Palestinian rights constitutes impermissible “viewpoint discrimination” – a violation of his First Amendment rights. As a public university, UIUC is required to adhere to First Amendment and academic freedom principles that protect the rights of faculty members to “speak or write as citizens,” and to be free from “institutional censorship or discipline.” It is also obligated to protect faculty’s academic freedom to decide collectively, as a department, under a university’s bylaws, to invite a respected colleague to join the department, as we understand to have happened in this case.

Naturally, CAIR and other pro-Salaita folk characterize the professor’s tweets as benign. For example, CAIR-Chicago and Palestine Solidarity Legal Support state “The University reneged on its appointment of Salaita after pro-Israel groups complained about his social media posts critical of Israel’s human rights abuses.”

Here, again, is a sample of Salaita’s “critical social media posts”:

As I’ve already opined, a fairly objective observer would have to admit the above go beyond mere “social media posts critical of Israel’s human rights abuses.” And Salaita is still making the rounds complaining about Illinois, most recently saying “unremarkable tweets” helped cost him his job.

Now, let’s travel south to the University of Central Florida where a professor’s course on terrorism has drawn the ire of … CAIR:

The class aims to explain, “How terrorism is a communication process. How mass media, symbols, linguistic devices, e-terrorism and theoretical dimensions play a role in terrorism. How communities respond to terrorist attacks,” according to the UCF 2013-14 Undergraduate Course Catalog.

[Jonathan] Matusitz said he hopes that students leave his class with a better understanding and an increased awareness of the role of terrorism.

However, the tenured professor has received several accusations of spewing anti-Muslim hate and bigotry, many of which are linked to his public presentation, “How Culture Shapes Terrorism,” which was delivered on Jan. 31 in the Business Administration Building, according to the Nicholson School of Communication website.

In a letter to the dean of the College of Sciences, CAIR-FL wrote: “His presentations on these subjects are full of anti-Muslim bigotry in the form of hate speech, inaccuracies, sweeping generalizations and stereotypes that would mislead students to believe that all Islamic societies are nothing more than violent, hate-filled terrorist factories …”

The communication director of UCF’s Muslim Student Association, Hammad Usmani, adds that when Matusitz claims to “have nothing against Muslims” and only uses “facts and statistics” in his presentations, he “is simply backtracking on the hatred he unfairly preaches against Muslims.”

Both CAIR and Usmani called for (university) “reviews” of Matusitz’s classes. In addition, although Usmani claimed to be a “strong advocate of freedom of speech,” he said that “Matusitz should follow a higher standard of logic and evidence.”

Now, you be the judge: CAIR refers to Professor Matusitz’s lectures as “anti-Muslim bigotry,” “hate speech” and replete with “stereotypes;” however, Professor Salaita’s social media communications were merely “critical of Israel’s human rights abuses” and in support of “Palestinian rights.”

I wonder if Matusitz hadn’t yet been officially brought on board at UCF, and the school’s chancellor rejected his appointment because he/she thought his past lectures were inappropriate … would CAIR then be trumpeting academic freedom and the First Amendment?

Dave Huber is an assistant editor at  The College Fix. (@ColossusRhodey)

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Is this a turning point for universities which previously chickened out of featuring controversial speakers for graduation ceremonies?

First Miami University stood up for inviting George Will to speak, and now the University of California-Berkeley – which is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement this year – is standing by its decision to have Bill Maher speak at the winter commencement.

The school said in a press release it’s ignoring a vote by the undergraduate committee that chooses speakers to disinvite Maher following outrage at his remarks on Islam:

The UC Berkeley administration cannot and will not accept this decision, which appears to have been based solely on Mr. Maher’s opinions and beliefs, which he conveyed through constitutionally protected speech. … More broadly, this university has not in the past and will not in the future shy away from hosting speakers who some deem provocative.

And it’s promising students on the committee that their cowardice won’t bear fruit in the future either:

Finally, the unfortunate events surrounding the selection of this year’s winter commencement speaker demonstrate the need to develop a new policy for managing commencement ceremonies. The new process will ensure that these events are handled in a manner commensurate with our values and enduring commitment to free speech. We will be announcing the new policy as soon as it is ready.

It’s quite a reversal for UC-Berkeley, whose chancellor was roundly criticized this fall for seemingly telling students that civility trumps free speech.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations is pissed, decrying in a press release “the university’s decision to disrespect students … and instead imposing its own will”:

While Mr. Maher has the right to speak whenever and wherever he likes, he does not have the right to have his hate-filled views honored and tacitly endorsed by a prestigious university.

Bill Maher, by the way, has promised to address the controversy on his Real Time HBO show on Friday.

The petition asking the school to disinvite Maher is just over 4,400 signatures as of Thursday afternoon.

Read the school’s full statement.

h/t CNN

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The president of San Diego State University, Elliot Hirshman, penned a laudable article for the Huffington Post about the importance of free speech on college campuses.

Now he just needs to make his own institution practice what it preaches.

Hirshman starts his piece in an odd way, implying that university policies in general uphold the principles of free speech, which is laughably naive:

Our policy on free expression at San Diego State University is similar to those at universities and colleges across the nation.

He calls it “critical to present a range of perspectives so students can understand issues and develop frameworks for thinking about these issues”:

[A]ny regulation [of speech] should “maximize opportunities, in terms of time, place and manner, for free expression.” The policy emphasizes that regulation should be “content neutral” and “all legal speech, even offensive speech, is permitted.”

Hirshman correctly notes the university has a duty to halt the heckler’s veto:

While many protesters claim that a speaker’s appearance implies that the university endorses the speaker’s views, this is not the case. We endorse the speaker’s right to express his or her views and the audience’s right to hear these views. …

If a controversial speaker comes to campus, can a group of protesters “shout down” the speaker? … Protesters can ask questions, hold up signs, present alternative speakers and express their own views. They might even shout out a phrase or two, but completely preventing an invited speaker from speaking is not within the academy’s traditions or policies.

It’s also anathema to free speech to force speech, he says:

Forcing someone to invite someone that they do not wish to invite is a restriction of their free expression and inconsistent with our traditions — even if the invitation might accomplish other beneficial objectives.

And niceness isn’t a reason to stop speech:

While there is no question that civility or politeness is very important, it is equally important to recognize that, in our American tradition, the right to freedom of expression is unrelated to civility or politeness.

So far, so good. How does San Diego State hold up?

Christians required to disavow their faith for official recognition

It’s complicated. The school draws a “yellow light” rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, meaning it has “at least one ambiguous policy that too easily encourages administrative abuse and arbitrary application.”

The foundation specifically highlights as questionable the school’s policies on civility; student, employee and organizational harassment (including sexual harassment); and Internet use, with one policy that sounds like the Syracuse University policy under fire by its student government.

On the other hand, San Diego State get a “green light” for its policy on protests and demonstrations and a couple others on harassment (meaning they don’t “seriously imperil speech”).

There’s one giant honking red flag on San Diego State’s rap sheet, though: It has repeatedly denied recognition to a Christian fraternity and sorority because “the groups’ requirement that members share the groups’ religious beliefs violated SDSU’s nondiscrimination policy,” as the foundation wrote two years ago.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the school didn’t violate the organizations’ First Amendment rights (here’s a very detailed analysis). Because the school’s policy fell under nondiscrimination and not the “all comers” policies that have essentially banished the Christian group InterVarsity from recognition in the California State University system, “the Court had an opportunity to revisit the issue altogether” but didn’t, the foundation said:

This is of course disappointing, as the Ninth Circuit’s ruling sets another precedent that imperils student rights both in that federal circuit and possibly elsewhere. …

While recognizing that the [nondiscrimination] policy burdens religious groups like the Christian fraternity and sorority here, the court found that this “incidental” burden was insufficient to prove viewpoint discrimination because the policy had not been enacted with the intent or purpose of suppressing the groups’ viewpoint. … This seems like a classic case of moving the goalposts: Per the Ninth Circuit, not only does viewpoint discrimination have to occur because of a challenged policy or regulation, the policy or regulation has to have been designed to discriminate by viewpoint.

So President Hirshman, if you want to walk the walk and not just talk the talk, you can start by letting Christian frats and sororities back on campus rather than treating them like bigots.

Greg Piper is an assistant editor at The College Fix. (@GregPiper)

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Comedian, pundit and HBO host Bill Maher is scheduled to speak at the University of California-Berkeley’s December graduation, and students are already lining up to get him disinvited, citing his controversial remarks on Islam, the Daily Californian reports:

The petition was authored by ASUC Senator Marium Navid, who is backed by the Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian Coalition, or MEMSA, and Khwaja Ahmed, an active MEMSA member. The petition, which urges students to boycott the decision and asks the campus to stop him from speaking, has already gathered more than 1,400 signatures as of Sunday. …

“It’s not an issue of freedom of speech, it’s a matter of campus climate,” Navid said. “The First Amendment gives him the right to speak his mind, but it doesn’t give him the right to speak at such an elevated platform as the commencement. That’s a privilege his racist and bigoted remarks don’t give him.” …

“(Jon) Stewart and (Stephen) Colbert are critical of religion, too, but Bill Maher has, on several occasions, said to rise up against religious people and religious institutions and take action,” Ahmed said.

Navid’s office launched a campaign called “Free Speech, Not Hate Speech” asking students to contact Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and Helena Weiss-Duman, the director of external relations.

Read the Daily Cal article.

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One of the joys of covering college news is reading poorly written op-eds by students in their campus papers.

I’m not saying they should be composing elegant, witty and insightful essays as 18-year-olds. Maybe just that they should run their prose by a professor who can say, in the most respectful way possible, “This could be improved.”

Today’s example comes from Iowa State University’s Daily, where a student senator takes issue with the paper’s recent editorial scolding the student government for voting down a bill that would ask the administration to expand the campus free speech zone.

The editorial notes that the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education gives Iowa State its worst speech rating, a “red light,” for its overbroad policies on harassment and discrimination. The editorial also faults the school’s procedures for getting permission to use the free speech zone, which can require a 6-10 day wait.

Raghul_Ethiraj_largeStudent senator Raghul Ethiraj first says that FIRE’s ratings, which are based on longstanding legal precedents, have the same credibility as students bitching about their professors online:

A university cannot fire a professor by taking the reviews on seriously because of his or her ‘worst’ rating, and that it is ‘unacceptable’ to have them teach because of their rating. It is very similar to judging someone based on their GPA alone.

Um, OK. Ethiraj then makes a version of the “freedom from religion” argument that paints the First Amendment as a zero-sum game, rather than an invitation to answer bad speech with good speech:

Adam Gunther, the president of the LGBTA alliance, shared his concerns with the senate that many speakers offend and make students and others within the LGBTA community uncomfortable to an extent that they don’t feel safe on campus anymore. …

“There is a clear and personal attack on someone” said GSB LAS senator Richard Hartnett. He was referring to an incident when the speakers at the free speech zone were telling him that he would go to hell and screaming that all Delta Delta Delta sorority members were promiscuous and immoral women.

Even though we are trying to empower the people sharing their opinion through campus-wide free speech zones, it takes away the other individual’s voice who does not want to hear the conversation. …

We would hate to see students feeling harassed all across campus and appreciate the idea of having a designated high student traffic area to have such conversations for individuals and groups wanting to do so.

This is a sadly typical response in 2014, given the rise of trigger warnings, “disinvitation season” and threats or punishments against students for expressing unpopular views.

Ethiraj seems to conflate behavior that the school can regulate – physical intimidation of other people, in particular – with free expression that it really can’t as a public institution.

He says students can already express themselves freely under modest rules:

Also, no approval is necessary if anyone wishes to use outdoor spaces other than the free speech zones, if they stay at least 100 ft. away from classrooms and do so between 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. during weekdays without using amplification devices other than hand held megaphones.

This would seem to prohibit any speech that is timed to coincide with evening or weekend events – remember that a conservative activist was nearly charged with “trespassing” at Broward College because she was politicking outside an evening political debate between Florida gubernatorial candidates.

Ethiraj concludes: “We essentially did not want to fix something that was not broken.”

That “something” is apparently a college-sheltered bubble of safe, like-minded pablum that bores students into assent in public – and then drives them to anonymous forums like Yik Yak to say whatever they like without taking responsibility for it.

Greg Piper is an assistant editor at The College Fix. (@GregPiper)