The Miami Herald‘s Glenn Garvin wrote yesterday to emphasize what’s at stake following the Departments of Education and Justice’s May 9 federal "blueprint" letter defining sexual harassment as "any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature," including "verbal conduct."
Garvin points out that under this broad definition, William Shakespeare may be persona non grata on campus. He explains:
Who gets to define "unwelcome"? The listener and the listener alone — no matter how high-strung, neurotic or just plain pinheaded that person is. I can understand why you might suspect I’m extrapolating or exaggerating here, but really, the feds’ letter is quite explicit: the words don’t have to be offensive to "an objectively reasonable person" to be considered harassment.
To demonstrate the real threat to speech from overly broad harassment codes, Garvin takes a look at past instances of enforcement that will be very familiar to FIRE supporters:
But surely, you say, surely nobody will take the letter of the law to such absurd extremes. And surely you are wrong: They already have. … A janitor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis was disciplined for reading a disapproving book on the Ku Klux Klan. Marquette ordered a graduate student to remove a "patently offensive" quotation by Dave Barry from his door. (Let’s see if my editors are brave enough to print it: "As Americans we must always remember that we all have a common enemy, an enemy that is dangerous, powerful, and relentless. I refer, of course, to the federal government.")
Indeed, Shakespeare, an author "whose works include 113 synonyms for genitalia" (they’ve been counted) is probably not safe under ED and DOJ’s new mandate. Read the rest of Garvin’s article in The Miami Herald.