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Student senator’s defense of voting against free speech is frickin’ hilarious

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 RateMyProfessor.com 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)

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg Piper served as associate editor of The College Fix from 2014 to 2021.