A great many American institutions of higher learning today have speech codes ranging from bad to draconian—rules and regulations that squelch, stifle and suppress free speech and free inquiry on their campuses. But some are worse than others.
At The Washington Post, George Will writes of the University of Michigan, a school with a particularly heavy-handed speech code. That university, Will writes, is “being sued for constitutional violations;” also under suit are “some members of Michigan’s archetypal administrative bloat — the ever-thickening layer of social justice crusaders and orthodoxy enforcers who, nationwide, live parasitically off universities whose actual purpose is scholarship.”
A “splendid new organization” called Speech First, Will writes, “is not content merely to respond after the fact to violations of students’ constitutional rights. It is suing to invalidate Michigan’s ‘elaborate investigatory and disciplinary apparatus’ that exists ‘to suppress and punish speech other students deem “demeaning,” “bothersome” or “hurtful.”‘” Michigan’s speech policies, Will points out, have earned it a “Red” rating from the campus watchdog group The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
“Speech First’s complaint notes that ‘the most sensitive student on campus effectively dictates the terms under which others may speak’,” Will writes. “The university darkly warns that ‘bias comes in many forms’ and that ‘the most important indication of bias is your own feelings’:”
Speech First says that Michigan’s edifice of speech regulation, with its Orwellian threats to submit offenders to “restorative justice,” “individual education” and “unconscious bias training,” amounts to unconstitutional prior restraint speech and is too overbroad and vague to give anyone due notice of what is proscribed.
“Verbal conduct” that “victimizes” or jeopardizes a “social climate” that is “safe and inclusive”? Such vaporous language must have a chilling effect on humor, parody, satire or plain speech about almost anything. What constitutes forbidden “cultural appropriation”? You will be told — after someone, encouraged by the administration to do so, has notified law enforcement.
When the Wall Street Journal’s Jillian Kay Melchior asked Michigan for the records of one year of bias incident reports, “the university thwarted this inquiry by imposing a fee of more than $2,400 for the public records.” If this secretiveness indicates that the university is embarrassed, this is progress.
“Michigan ranks third among all universities as a recipient of federal research funding,” Will points out. “In 2015, its $735 million in federal funding was 54 percent of the university’s total research and development grants.”