NYU Turns Over New Leaf on Free Speech, Allows Controversial Game

By on February 22, 2007

It looks like some university administrators are finally learning the ropes of this whole free speech business. The College Republican chapter at New York University (NYU) is planning a “Find the Illegal Immigrant” game where participating students will try to find a person wearing a nametag that says “illegal immigrant.”
 
Not everyone on campus thinks this is a good idea. The game has been denounced by some students as racist and 300 people are expected to assemble in protest.
 
Nevertheless, NYU has promised free speech protection to the College Republicans and their detractors. In an official statement released by the university, NYU spokesman John Beckman wrote: “[a]t universities, providing a forum for the exchange of ideas—even difficult and unpopular ideas—is a key mission…Our inclination is always to support free speech. Just as one group of students will conduct this so-called ‘game,’ others will be protesting it. At a university, this is exactly the kind of outcome we hope for from engaged students and scholars.”
 
Finally! NYU and FIRE are sprekety the same linguidy! This is the same New York University that censored the Mohammed Cartoons last March and this is the same John Beckman who justified the censorship to Inside Higher Ed by simply saying, “An important group in our Muslim community made it clear that they found the display of the cartoons deeply offensive.” FIRE’s readers don’t need to be told that offensiveness is a horrible justification for censorship. As the Supreme Court wrote in Terminiello v. Chicago: “The function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger.”
 
Beckman went on to tell The New York Sun that “it wasn’t necessary to show the cartoons to discuss them” and he told NYU’s student paper, Washington Square News, “One can have a discussion on smallpox without actually handing out the live virus to the audience.” That is the definition of “non sequitur.” As FIRE pointed out, “Most biology textbooks will prove, a picture of a virus is often helpful in understanding it.” These students wanted to show a cartoon; it in no way follows that they wanted to pass out a live bomb or that showing a cartoon is in any way tantamount to passing out a live bomb.
 
Past free speech faux pas aside, we are glad to hear that Beckman and his comrades in the NYU administration are turning over a new leaf on their free speech policy. Let’s hope it lasts.