Campus Speech Codes Reach Pythonian Levels of Absurdity

By September 12, 2007

We have received a lot of great responses to our Speech Code of the Month this month, including attention from Instapundit and Phi Beta Cons. The “honor” this month went to Ohio State University, which warns that “Words, actions, and behaviors that inflict or threaten infliction of bodily or emotional harm, whether done intentionally or with reckless disregard, are not permitted.” One Torch reader, Jay Lewis, wrote in, attempting to answer Sam’s question in her blog: “How exactly does one threaten to inflict emotional harm?” His example? “Now go away, or I will taunt you a second time!”


For those of you who aren’t Monty Python fans (like me), this is a reference to the French as depicted in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, who battle King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table by relaxing comfortably behind their castle walls and taunting them with crude jokes. The joke was funny at the time in no small part because the idea that anyone could be so vulnerable to simple, sophomoric taunts was utterly absurd. Sadly, at FIRE we have seen jokes a lot tamer then those directed at the knights in The Holy Grail get students and professors in serious hot water. Remember “Jerk and a Fool” at the University of Central Florida? Or Tim Garneau’s tame “freshman 15” joke?  How about the guy who wasn’t allowed to post a Dave Barry quote? Geez. When Monty Python engages in patent absurdity it is funny, but when our nation’s colleges and universities do so—without the least sense of humor about it—that’s downright scary.