Nationally syndicated columnist Mona Charen discusses FIRE’s ongoing fight for students’ rights in the wake of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights’ (OCR’s) newly required standard of evidence for campus sexual misconduct cases in her column today. In her piece, "The Tyranny of Hurt Feelings," Charen pays close attention to how the lowered standard will contribute to an atmosphere already plagued by overly vague and broad harassment codes. Charen shares FIRE’s concerns about the potential for extensive violations of students’ rights:
The OCR’s demand is consistent with two decades of "speech codes" and sexual harassment standards at American universities that seek to micromanage speech and thought. Greg Lukianoff believes that students are being trained at colleges to "unlearn liberty." As the definition of what constitutes "harassment" expands, the First Amendment freedoms Americans take for granted contract. It’s a tyranny of protected feelings extending into ever more ridiculous realms.
A student at the University of New Hampshire was found guilty of harassment because he posted flyers in his dorm jokingly suggesting that female students who wanted to lose weight take the stairs instead of the elevators. A student at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis was found guilty of thought crime. He was seen reading Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan (a book that celebrated the Klan’s defeat, by the way) and was convicted of racial harassment. A Muslim student at William Paterson University was charged with sexual harassment after a comment he made in an email to a professor concerning a lesbian-themed movie.
For more about these FIRE cases and many more, click here.
Charen warns that efforts to classify offensive speech as harassment and to abandon due process protections are not only a recipe for disaster, but also a lesson in illiberal education.