Free speech on college campus is worth the price

August 23, 2013

When it comes to speech, Florida’s university campuses are some of the most oppressive places in this state.Administrators have become increasingly tyrannical in their interpretations of the First Amendment.There appears to be more concern over protecting delicate sensibilities on campus than looking after students’ and faculty’s basic rights.Look at some of the campus assaults on free speech in Florida so far this year:•At Santa Fe College in Gainesville campus police tried to block a group of students in February from staging an "empty holster" protest in favor of gun rights. •A Florida Atlantic University professor asked students in March to step on a piece of paper with the word "Jesus" written on it as part of a classroom exercise on symbolism. A student objected and the professor was suspended. As if that wasn’t bad enough, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. Rick Scott intervened to condemn the professor.•Florida A&M University prohibited its student paper from publishing for several weeks in January in the wake of a libel lawsuit. Student press advocates, though, asserted the lawsuit was an excuse to shut down the paper after it criticized the university.•A University of Central Florida professor was suspended in April and ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation, all because he cracked a bad joke.What happened to public universities encouraging a free exchange of ideas?Apparently, ideas are welcome so long as they are nice, polite and inoffensive.This is how Florida is preparing college students for real life — by making sure they aren’t exposed to anything that might be disagreeable, politically incorrect or even the least bit rude?The intellectuals at the helm of our institutions of higher learning should know better.But it’s clear they could use some schooling on tolerance.Some universities have subjective and vague policies that warn students about saying anything "inappropriate" or "degrading."And, my personal favorite, schools that limit student demonstrations to "free speech zones." Expressions of opinion relegated to a small section of campus don’t seem very "free."The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which watchdogs campus free speech cases, found seven out of 11 Florida universities have policies that place substantial restrictions on freedom of speech.FIRE determined that 65 percent of the 400 institutions it evaluated nationwide have at least one such policy.UCF happens to be one of the four Florida universities that FIRE gives higher marks. And UCF doesn’t enforce "free speech zones." But the university gets top honors for the worst over-reaction this year.UCF Professor Hyung-il Jung made a dumb but harmless joke during an exam review."It looks like you guys are being slowly suffocated by these questions," he said. "Am I on a killing spree or what?"Even in light of an incident weeks earlier, in which a student plotted to shoot students in a dorm but killed himself instead, the statement was obviously a joke. Not to UCF, though, which questioned his mental state in a letter of reprimand.FIRE intervened and Jung was allowed back in the classroom. And maybe UCF learned a lesson.Professor Jonathan Matusitz has been criticized for what some call anti-Islamic statements. Matusitz says he wants a healthy debate about Islam and terrorism.To their credit, UCF administrators have left Matusitz alone.Tolerance isn’t a one-way street where views are suppressed because we don’t agree with them. That’s Free Speech 101. 

Schools: Florida Atlantic University University of Central Florida