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California public university threatens to punish students for jokes

Offend someone just once and you’re in trouble

Telling sex jokes can get you investigated by Texas public universities. Failure to report students who tell sex jokes can get faculty at Texas public universities thrown in jail.

Who would have thought Texas would look worse than California when it comes to speech codes?

Yet California public universities still have their share of kooky conduct codes that infringe on speech, and one of them even has a similar zero-tolerance rule for offensive jokes.

The new “Speech Code of the Month” by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education comes from California State University-Channel Islands, and it’s bounded only by the imagination of humorless, woke administrators.

Its Resident Handbook prohibits even a single occurrence of “derogatory comments” or “slurs,” whether spoken or visual, and even “gestures” (don’t flip the bird at anyone!). It also includes “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” which is how you get punished for telling that limerick about a man from Nantucket within earshot of a fourth-wave feminist.

MORE: Texas threatens to jail faculty who don’t report sex jokes

As explained by Laura Beltz, senior program officer for policy reform at FIRE, this code encompasses a broad range of protected speech. Unless they’ve been living under the Channel Islands since 1998, administrators can’t feign ignorance of their legal obligations:

Under the legal standard set forth by the Supreme Court, to constitute student-on-student harassment in the educational setting, alleged harassment must be unwelcome conduct that is “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, and that so undermines and detracts from the victims’ educational experience, that the victim-students are effectively denied equal access to an institution’s resources and opportunities.” …

A pattern of derogatory comments, drawings, or unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature could meet this legal standard, but isolated comments probably don’t. For example, telling another student a single, subjectively off-color joke in class probably isn’t harassment, but repeating that behavior every day could effectively prevent the other student from going to class and constitute harassment. Under CSU Channel Islands’ policy, both scenarios are punishable.

MORE: Privately rating women’s looks spurs Title IX investigation

How do you think a student will respond when she reads the harassment code and realizes any joke she makes (even “dad jokes” can be off-color) could get her brought up on harassment charges? She’ll self-censor.

This isn’t an abstract question – it happened to a University of Oregon female student, whose academic career was only saved when FIRE intervened. And CSUCI makes it very easy to report anything that offends you or that you want to use for retaliation against your frenemy.

Beltz notes that CSUCI doesn’t even have the excuse that its own policies don’t protect student speech. It chose to adopt a version of the so-called Chicago Principles, meaning it’s contractually bound to promise students that it won’t punish their speech, even if it offends a fourth-wave feminist.

FIRE is running a pressure campaign to convince CSUCI President Erika Beck to rescind the absurdly broad anti-joke code. Sign its petition if you want to see the PC police put out to sea.

MORE: University of Oregon prosecutes female student for sex joke

IMAGE: WAYHOME studio/Shutterstock

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.

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