FIRE and Free Speech on Campus: Are the Claremont Colleges Violating the California Constitution?

By on September 4, 2008

CFN member Charles Johnson wrote an excellent article yesterday in The Claremont Independent, where he serves as assistant editor. Johnson is a sophomore at Claremont McKenna College, one of five undergraduate colleges (along with Pomona College, Scripps College, Harvey Mudd College and Pitzer College) that make up The Claremont Colleges. The article, entitled “FIRE and Free Speech on Campus: Are the Claremont Colleges Violating the California Constitution?” explores the state of free speech in the Claremont College system.

Johnson begins by describing the case of Peter Musurlian, an independent filmmaker who posted a YouTube video critical of a lecture hosted by the Claremont Graduate University. Torch readers will remember Luke’s blog post about this very subject where Luke pointed out that “real harassment is a serious crime, and every time it is misused by a college or university it cheapens the experience of those who are true victims of harassing behavior.”

From there, Johnson takes his readers through a number of free speech cases on campus. This section, which he titled, “A History of Censorship on Claremont’s Campuses” covers a number of interesting cases, including those described in FIRE’s letter to the Claremont University Consortium earlier this spring.

In his article, Johnson describes yet another troubling episode:

But this belief that the intent doesn’t matter – only the feelings of the aggrievedis a mockery of justice, as several Pomona football players know well. These students were called into the office of Marcelle Holmes, Acting Associate Dean of Students and Dean of Women, after someone reported their breakfast conversation. The gentlemen were talking about an alleged hate crimethe QRC “attack”and they were giving their opinion. It wasn’t a hate crime, they said, but a bunch of students drinking in Walton Commons.

As they were leaving Frary, they were greeted by a campus safety officer and Dean Holmes. According to two of the boys, who asked that their names be kept out of any articles, Holmes said that someone overhearing their conversation had reported them for “hateful language.” She argued that in the wake of Virginia Tech, they had to check all suspicious behavior before it became a threat; further, they said that the boys were “identifiable white males” so they could understand why “some people” would feel threatened.

Not only is this a misapplication of harassment policies, it is an upsetting evocation of Virginia Tech as a rationale, something Greg has written about before.

Johnson ends his article by suggesting that other “bias incidents”including the destruction and defacement of a presidential campaign materials displayed by a student on his doorhave not been taken as seriously by the administration, suggesting a double standard.

As he writes: “Contrary to the many supposed bias-incidents that occur on campus that can be easily cleaned up or erased off white boards, this one resulted in real damage of property. And yet this most serious of offenses went unnoticed by the Pomona community. No campus-wide email went out to the five college campuses.” FIRE will continue to monitor that situation.

Readers interested in the full text of Johnson’s article can find it here.

Schools: Claremont University Consortium