Campus Alert: Don’t joke at Tufts

By on May 14, 2007

A disciplinary board at Tufts University in Massachusetts has found the conservative student publication “The Primary Source” guilty of “harassment” and “creating a hostile environment” for publishing two articles that offended African-American and Muslim students.

One ridiculed Tufts’ “Islamic Awareness Week” by highlighting instances of Islamic brutality, such as Islamic countries’ oppression of women and homosexuals and a quote from the Koran that that instructs believers to “strike off [the] heads and strike off every fingertip” of disbelievers. Tufts declared that this article “targeted” Muslim students.

The other was a satirical Christmas carol printed last December called “Oh Come All Ye Black Folk,” which mocked race-based admissions to Tufts. A student filed “harassment” charges with the school nearly four months after that article ran and the board ruled last Thursday that the carol constituted “harassment.”

The board ominously hinted that the paper’s funding could be in jeopardy next year due to its “behavior.”

It is no surprise that the satire amused some students and offended others—which is often the point of satire and why it garners such strong protection under the First Amendment. To call satire of controversial issues “harassment” woefully ignores the legal definition of that term and makes a mockery of actual harassment. The abuse of “harassment” rationales to punish those who offend the wrong students or administrators has been all-too-common for decades now on campuses.

Tufts’ actions here completely contradict its strong promises of freedom of speech. Tufts administrators might think they are helping students by protecting them from expression that—despite being perceptive or funny—offends in some way. But Tufts has done its students a disservice by insulating them from free speech. Tufts President Lawrence Bacow should do the right thing and overturn this decision against “The Primary Source.”

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Schools: Tufts University