free speech

Referring to a lesbian character as having a “perverse attraction to the same sex” and a “barren womb” got a student at the University of New Mexico kicked out of her film class.

A federal judge has now approved her First Amendment lawsuit against the school to go forward, the Albuquerque Journal reports, rejecting the school’s claim that professor Caroline Hinckley’s action against Monica Pompeo was “reasonably related to legitimate pedagogic concerns”:

The lawsuit alleges Hinkley violated her own syllabus, which called for “open minds” to examine “representations of a plethora of genders and sexualities.” Instead, Pompeo says, Hinkley accused her of resorting to “hate speech” and refused to grade her paper. The professor also made it clear that it would be in Pompeo’s best interests not to return to the class, Pompeo alleges.

Later, Pompeo met with Hinkley’s supervisor, Susan Dever, chairwoman of the cinematic arts department. Pompeo was told that the use of “barren” was both inappropriate and offensive.

The upshot of the meeting was that Pompeo was forced to drop Hinkley’s class and instead take an independent studies class under Dever.

Oh, so it all worked out, right?

According to Pompeo’s lawsuit, however, she fared no better under Dever, who allegedly threatened her with repercussions for using certain language, specifically the word “barren.”

Judge Christina Armijo questioned whether a “university can have a legitimate pedagogical interest in inviting students to engage in ‘incendiary’ and provocative speech on a topic and then punishing a student because he or she did just that.”

Read the Journal article.

h/t Foundation for Individual Rights in Education


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High school and college administrators may not eat flesh or amble as awkwardly as zombies, but a new video from the Student Press Law Center says the goal of some officials – censorship of student media – “eats brains.”

The video features zombies carrying mangled newspapers and breaking into a school newsroom, with students barricaded inside, to rip up more. It promotes the group’s Cure Hazelwood page.

The Supreme Court’s Hazelwood ruling in 1988 diverted its path from the better-known Tinker ruling from 1969, which gave broad free-expression rights to students. Hazelwood said that schools could censor student media “so long as their actions are reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.”

Cure Hazelwood describes that ruling as an infection that “can strike anywhere” and infect anyone:

Symptoms include an inability to speak freely. In some cases, victims are paralyzed by intimidation.

Hazelwood started with high school kids, but it hasn’t stopped there. Once a school is infected, it goes viral.


That includes colleges in more than a dozen states, “and college students in several dozen other states are still at risk,” with only California and Illinois protecting college students “definitively” from the ruling.

The website tells students to investigate their school and district’s policies around free speech and press their state lawmakers for student speech protections, which are allowed under Hazelwood.

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IMAGE: SPLC YouTube screenshot

In a recent You.Gov poll, 51 percent of Democrats are in favor of reining in First Amendment free speech freedoms … if the speech is “hate speech.”

The shouldn’t come as much of a surprise as (progressive) college administrators are those who typically favor the establishment, and enforcement of, campus speech codes.

And these speech codes too often count as “hate speech” legitimate criticisms of topics such as affirmative action, gender issues, and immigration.

Hans Bader at Liberty Unyielding reports:

Earlier this year, U.S. Civil Rights Commission member Michael Yaki, a staunch liberal, declared that speech on college campuses, including but not limited to “hate speech,” should be restricted to protect young people’s developing brains. Yaki is a former senior advisor and district director for House Minority Leader (and former Speaker) Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). (During the Obama administration, the Education and Justice Departments have also sought to restrict students’ free speech and due process rights on college campuses and in the public schools). Yaki argued that “how the juvenile or . . . young adult brain processes information is vastly different from the way that we [older] adults do.”

Liberal bureaucrats already sometimes find that supposed “hate speech” creates an illegal racially “hostile work environment” when it occurs in the workplace, such as this recent example in North Carolina defining a dubious complaint about anti-white bias as “racial harassment.” A wide array of speech about religious, racial, and sexual topics is now being suppressed by bureaucrats and college officials under the notion that it constitutes “harassment” of listeners or contributes to a “hostile environment” for those who overhear it.

Bader goes on to point out that, at least for now, the US Supreme Court has protected free expression in the public sphere. But leftist legal academics continue attempts to circumvent the First Amendment by, among other things, claiming “offensive” speech “is at odds with ‘customary international law’ (which they define to include even treaties that the U.S. Senate has never ratified).”

Read the full article.

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IMAGE: Sam Graham/Flickr

The University of Michigan’s conservative campus paper the Michigan Review took some heat Wednesday for publishing an illustration of Athletics Director Dave Brandon’s head – without his body.

A business lecturer Tweeted to the newspaper to take it down, saying: “With current events about ISIS, drawing Brandon decapitated is violent and wrong. Remove it.” He CC’d the campus police on his Tweet.

Before I get into the image itself, let me set the stage.

On Tuesday, a massive protest engulfed the campus quad, known in those parts as the Diag. News crews – even overhead helicopter news crews – captured the scene as hundreds of students protested. And what did they want? Well, in a manner of speaking, Brandon’s head. MR

Long story short, Brandon has taken one of the most prestigious college football teams in the nation and made several fumbles with it. A petition signed by more than 10,000 students this week states as much.

As Deadspin put it: “Whether it is overseeing a crummy football team, lying about a ticket giveaway, or not firing a coach that let a concussed player back into the game, he has been a failure as Michigan’s athletic director. But you have to be a special kind of suck to inspire the same people whose main goal in life is to schedule no classes before 11 a.m. to protest you.”

At the protests, the students chanted “Fire Brandon!” in unison over and over, then led the crowd to Michigan president Mark Schlissel’s house to demonstration there.

Michigan Review editor Derek Draplin, a student journalist who also contributes to The College Fix, told me that as he and others observed the protest, it seemed to have a “mob mentality” vibe, and he and his peers even casually likened it to the angry crowds during the French Revolution’s “Reign of Terror.”

Enter the controversial image: Brandon’s head interposed with a picture from the French Revolution, during which the guillotine was the preferred weapon of choice. They ran the eye-catching and provocative image alongside coverage of the protest.

In contrast to the offended scholar, I did not think of ISIS when I first saw the photo. I knew right away when it scrolled through my Facebook feed that they just created an image that employs hyperbole to encapsulate a current campus controversy. It’s clearly not condoning beheading or saying that’s what should be done to the athletics director.

That this illustration is akin to any editorial cartoon in a newspaper should go without saying, but in today’s world, people’s hurt feelings seem to trump free speech rights, especially on a college campus.

I contacted the scholar, Kai Petainen, an adjunct finance lecturer at the UM Ross School of Business and a contributor to Forbes, and asked him to elaborate on his concerns.

“I’m against censorship, but I’m also in favor of some common-sense and attention to the world beyond us,” he replied via email. “Within the world of education, all too often we hear of violence at schools (think of school shootings). And recently, we hear a lot about beheadings and more violence in the world around us. When it comes to matters relating to beheadings or violence (and mixing that in with school matters), then that’s not a laughing matter. Some may want Brandon to resign (I’m not commenting on that issue), but to draw an image of him decapitated is disturbing and lacks some common-sense to the worldwide issues around us. … I cc-d campus police as I like to keep them in the loop as to the things that I see.”

I thanked Petainen for his thoughtful response, but we disagree.

The picture was certainly thought-provoking, because that’s what it was supposed to be. It’s not an act of violence or aggression, nor does it even come close to the threat of violence. To imply that it does is chilling. To alert the campus police? Overkill.

Draplin, for his part, said they’re standing by the image.

“It’s just another example of the uber-sensitivity prevalent on campuses today,” he said of the complaint. But he added he has reached out to the scholar and asked him to submit a letter to the editor about his concerns.

Jennifer Kabbany is editor of The College Fix (@JenniferKabbany)

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In the latest campus free-speech showdown, Yale’s Muslim Student Association, along with other campus groups, pressured the William F. Buckley Jr. Program to alter a speaking event featuring Islam critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali, asking to limit what she could talk about, or at the very least have a pro-Muslim speaker on hand who could offer counterpoints.

Many at Yale, including a university chaplain, stated their support for the Muslim Student Association’s request, which was ultimately denied.

Now that the mid-September event is over, and went off without a hitch, it’s time to reflect: Was that really so bad after all?

As calls for civility echo across college campuses, from Yale to UC Berkeley, students could use a little perspective.

Sometimes people say truly nasty things. But it must be asked whether being offended, uncomfortable, or disagreed with is the worst thing that could happen to a college student? Especially given that, in pursuing protection from offense, they’re undermining their own right to be offensive when the tables are inevitably turned.

Let’s take a look at just how bad it’s gotten:

It’s gotten so bad that many students – and their administrators – think it’s appropriate to “disinvite” or even shout down controversial speakers.

It’s gotten so bad that the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education saw the need to launch a campaign aiming to sue every single school with a speech code.

It’s gotten so bad that Berkeley’s student government—perhaps taking a page from their chancellor’s book—last year banned the term “illegal immigrant” from campus discourse.

It’s even gotten so bad that a full 23 percent of University of Colorado students reported that they felt “intimidated to share their ideas, opinions, and beliefs in class” because of their political philosophy.

Too many students would like to change the rules to create a kinder, gentler democracy, shutting out any idea that could lead to raised voices or hurt feelings. In the process they are destroying the freedoms that make democracy worthwhile. They’ve forgotten that a tolerant, open society isn’t something we’re simply gifted with. An open and free society has to be maintained. Sometimes, this means we’ve got to weather a little offensiveness.

Campus civility standards and free speech can’t, after all, coexist. Here’s the C. Vann Woodward Report, one of the most thoughtful defenses of free expression on campus, on the issue of civility:

We have considered the opposing argument that behavior which violates these social and ethical considerations should be made subject to formal sanctions, and the argument that such behavior entitles others to prevent speech they might regard as offensive. Our conviction that the central purpose of the university is to foster the free access of knowledge compels us to reject both of these arguments…They make the majority, or any willful minority, the arbiters of truth for all. If expression may be prevented, censored or punished, because of its content or because of the motives attributed to those who promote it, then it is no longer free.

To put it another way: every individual has a different idea of what is civil and what is not. Attempting to separate legitimate (protected) speech from unprotected speech on this basis won’t work because it requires a subjective judgment by whoever is enforcing the rule.

For example: administrators might decide that using graphic images on the quad is appropriate when dealing with issues they care about (“it speaks to the gravity of the situation!”), but wholly unnecessary (and therefore uncivil) when used to promote a perspective they find off-putting. For example, some colleges allow graphic Sex Week events while they shudder at prolife protests that use graphic images.

This is not a standard that allows for creative dialogue and the exchange of new ideas.

If students and administrators are concerned about civility, if they are concerned about solving these problems and overcoming these differences, they need to preserve a space for impassioned debate on campus. The controversial issues being debated will continue to matter, whether discussed on campus or not, and I think most would find it preferable that scholars and students take part in such debates.

If you are a university student, alumnus, or faculty member, and you would prefer that the most important issues facing our nation continue to be discussed among communities of scholars, you must take it upon yourself to advocate for free speech on campus. You can start by encouraging your classmates or students to grow a thicker skin.

College Fix contributor Alex McHugh is a recent graduate of American University.

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Back in May of 2010 — May 5th, to be exact — several (Caucasian) students at California’s Live Oak High School wearing shirts with the American flag on them were asked to leave school because they refused to turn their shirts inside-out.

What, what? Students had to turn their shirts around … because American flags were on them?

Yep — it was Cinco de Mayo, after all.

School officials at the heavily Hispanic school were concerned that Latino students would be offended by seeing Old Glory on the Mexican holiday (a holiday not even widely celebrated in Mexico), and that some fights could result.  Indeed, some 200 Mexican/Mexican-American students protested in a march that day upon hearing about their devious Old Glory-clad peers.

The gringos went to court … and lost. The Ninth Circuit recently declined to hear their appeal, citing “prior events” that took place at the school, including an “altercation” (presumably between a white and Hispanic student), as a rationale. (There had been some 30 fights between white and Latino students in the past six years at the school.) The appellate panel said “school officials ‘acted properly to prevent a substantial and material disruption of school activities.’”

(Check out The College Fix coverage of this case here and here.)

The US Supreme Court indeed has granted a lot of leeway over the last few decades to public school officials when it comes to regulating student speech. One notable ruling from seven years ago is the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” case (Morse v. Frederick) in which a (public school) student unfurled a banner with “BONG HiTS 4 JESUS” on it across the street from his school during the Olympic torch relay.

SCOTUS Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority in the case (emphasis added):

Student speech celebrating illegal drug use at a school event, in the presence of school administrators and teachers . . . poses a particular challenge for school officials working to protect those entrusted to their care from the dangers of drug abuse. The First Amendment does not require schools to tolerate at school events student expression that contributes to those dangers.

Perhaps anticipating the ensuing controversy, those in the majority with Roberts emphasized that this ruling “applied only to advocacy of illegal drug use.” Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Justice Anthony Kennedy, noted the “Bong Hits” case “‘provides no support for any restriction of speech that can plausibly be interpreted as commenting on any political or social issue’ … including student opposition to the drug laws themselves” (emphasis added).

Confused yet?

You probably should be. The courts have pretty much been all over the map when it comes to lower ed. student speech rights.

The standard for such rights had been the Tinker case from 1969. The SCOTUS ruled then that students were indeed permitted to wear black armbands at school to protest the Vietnam War. The famous quote to emerge from the case was “Students don’t shed their constitutional rights at the school house gates.”

But since then, Tinker has arguably been eroded, despite Justice Alito’s reassurance in the Morse case. In addition to Morse, 1988’s Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier allowed school administrators to censor student newspapers, even despite “protective” measures taken by student writers and editors.

Which brings us back to the situation at Live Oak High School. Does Morse apply here? Why or why not? Have we actually reached the point in this country where showing the American flag can legitimately be banned … despite it being displayed in front of our schools … and in each classroom within?

As an educator, I can fully appreciate the need for an “orderly educational environment,” and back in 2007 during the Morse case I was fairly sympathetic to the high court’s reasoning.

But these days, I’m not so sure.

If we’re actually at the point where a display of our own flag can be considered “offensive” — and hence banned — then where does it end? Will administrators now ban student displays of other national flags because they may offend some students, i.e. native-born Americans? And/or because such displays, like at Live Oak HS, may lead to some student scuffles?

Or, are only certain (politically correct) groups permitted to be “offended?”

More importantly, will this case now go to the US Supreme Court … and will the justices legitimize the heckler’s veto that the case enshrines?

Dave Huber is an assistant editor of  The College Fix. Follow him on Twitter @ColossusRhodey.

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