FIRE’s Greg Lukianoff Discusses Student Rights and Speech Codes with Reason.tv

By October 19, 2010

At Reason.tv, FIRE President Greg Lukianoff discusses FIRE’s recent efforts fighting for student and faculty rights, as well as the ongoing threat to liberty posed by campus speech codes.

As Greg tells Reason.tv’s Ted Balaker, "the kind of things that can get you in trouble on campus these days would be hysterical if they weren’t so tragic." As an example, Greg cites FIRE’s case last year at Yale University, when an administrator overruled Yale College’s Freshman Class Council’s proposed T-shirt design for the annual Harvard-Yale football contest. Taking a line from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise, the shirt read "I think of all Harvard men as sissies." After some students objected, Miller pressured the council to pull the design, stating that "[w]hat purports to be humor by targeting a group through slurs is not acceptable."

Greg also discusses another recent case at Yale, in which the university interfered with the editorial process of the Yale University Press and censored reproductions of the controversial 2005 Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed in a book about the controversy stirred by those very cartoons. FIRE’s landmark cases at the University of Delaware (where students were coerced into undergoing ideological re-education) and Valdosta State University (where former president Ronald Zaccari was just found personally liable for damages for his blatant disregard of former VSU student Hayden Barnes’ due process rights), are also discussed.

With Balaker, Greg also talks about the long term threat to civic engagement and intellectual development posed by the persistence of speech codes enforced "in the name of education," which have the adverse effect of gravely misinforming students about their rights and giving them the false idea that there is such a thing as a right not to be offendedpart of the phenomenon Greg calls "unlearning liberty." Greg rebuts this notion, saying "freedom of speech is a beautiful idea … and all you have to do is deal with the fact you’re sometimes going to hear things that you think are ignorant, or simply challenge your worldview, and that’s not such a big price to pay in my opinion."

I encourage Torch readers and anyone else concerned about the state of student rights to watch Greg’s excellent interview (roughly 8.5 minutes) and share it with friends and colleagues. Thanks very much to reason.tv for its part in this crucial dialogue.