Kent State Dean Criticizes Campus Speech Policies: ‘Your First Amendment Rights End Where Somebody Else’s Sensitivity Begins’

By December 8, 2009

In the enactment, enforcement, and defense of unconstitutional and illiberal campus policies, the dirty work often falls to the various deans of academic and student affairs. Depressingly, FIRE all too often sees administrators who hold disciplinary influence over their students acting on the mistaken idea that students have the right not to be offended or have their views challenged. Too often, administrators simply condone the false sense of entitlement this idea breeds, protecting feelings instead of protecting serious argument and incisive parody.

Mark Weber, Dean of Library and Media Services at Kent State University in Ohio, is a notable exception. He takes aim at the sacred cows of "sensitivity" and "civility" in a recent newsletter article, "None Dare Call It Censorship." In the article he also discusses the various ways FIRE has been combating campus ills since 1999.

In particular, Weber focuses on how a culture of censorship is often encouraged by universities’ harassment policies, which "pay lip service to academic freedom and the right of the individual to free speech" but restrict speech anyway in the name of "civility" or "sensitivity." Moreover, the policies often "establish the alleged victim’s sensitivity as the standard to determine if the tenets of the policies’ restrictions on freedom of speech have been violated."  In other words, these policies often rely on a subjective standard alone, not an objective standard, to determine whether harassment really occurred. Torch readers can read the rest of Weber’s article here.

FIRE is always pleased to see an academic leader who won’t stand for such restrictive policies. We are here to support administrators who are ready to defend free speech and remedy the deficiencies in their own schools’ policies. We encourage administrators to examine our new, brief handbook, Correcting Common Mistakes in Campus Speech Policies, free online in HTML and PDF forms.