‘Pussycat’ spat roars at Columbia

October 8, 2006

by Michael O’Keeffe

New York Daily News

Aren’t people at Ivy League schools supposed to be smart?

Columbia University’s administration still doesn’t get it when it comes to the First Amendment. After weeks of criticism, the university lifted the semester-long suspension it imposed on the men’s hockey club over a sophomoric flyer.

But the club still will be suspended for two preseason, non-league exhibition games.

“Unfortunately, Columbia continues to avoid addressing the underlying free speech concerns about its action,” says Samantha Harris of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonpartisan free speech watchdog. “Columbia’s president strongly endorses freedom of speech, but the university’s actions, here and elsewhere, simply do not match that rhetoric.”

The hockey club’s problems began at the beginning of the semester when its members posted recruiting flyers around campus that said “Don’t be a pussy,” a silly play on Columbia’s team name, the Lions. The flyer offended the presidents of Columbia’s four undergraduate councils, who sent a joint letter to university administrators asking them to take action.

Columbia bigwigs responded by suspending the club for the entire semester, which would have effectively killed its season. But after weeks of criticism from FIRE and other groups, the university backed down ” a little. Under an agreement between the club and the university, the hockey team will sit out two games and remain on probation for a year. Members will also participate in leadership training sessions.

“Not only was Columbia’s decision to suspend the club for posting an ‘offensive’ flyer an absurd overreaction, it showed a stunning lack of respect for freedom of speech,” FIRE vice president Robert Shibley says. “If Columbia was willing to take such severe action against students for using a ‘bad’ word, imagine what might happen to students who communicated religious or political views that others found ‘offensive.'”

View this article at New York Daily News.

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