Tufts Case Launches Media and Blogosphere Commentaries

By on May 15, 2007

News of Tufts University’s disregard for freedom of speech and of the press has hit the media and the blogosphereIn addition to our Campus Alert in this week’s New York Post, The Washington Times’ Robert McCain covered the controversy yesterday, including thoughts from FIRE’s Greg Lukianoff:

“The students were responding to what they thought was a one-sided and overly rosy depiction of Islam during Islamic Awareness Week,” the FIRE official said. “But is it unprotected harassment? One certainly hopes not, or else ‘harassment’ just became a truly lethal threat to free speech—an ‘exception’ that completely swallows the rule.”

The panel’s decision “appeared not even to raise the issue of whether or not the statements … were true, but turned only on how they made people feel,” Mr. Lukianoff said.

A quick search of blogs on Google turned up too many mentions to set out here, but renowned first amendment scholar and UCLA School of Law professor Eugene Volokh really summed up the absurdity of the Tufts case in several incisive posts. On the widely read Huffington Post blog, Volokh further commented on the decision of Tufts’ Committee on Student Life, which found the conservative student journal guilty of harassment and in violation of Tufts policies. Volokh wrote:

Lovely: Harsh criticism of Islam doesn’t—in the Committee’s view—“promot[e] political or social discourse.” Rather, it is an “unreasonable attack[]” (and it’s up to the Committee to decide which attacks on religions are reasonable and which aren’t).

[…]

In this case, the punishment for the speech is a ban on one newspaper’s ability to publish anonymous speech—while other newspapers that express favored views remain free to shield their contributors from social ostracism and other retaliation through anonymity. It requests “that student governance consider the behavior of student groups,” which is to say the viewpoints those groups express, “in future decisions concerning recognition and funding.”

But more importantly, the ruling finds that the speech violated general campus rules that make such speech “unacceptable at Tufts” and require “prompt and decisive action.” …[I]f the Tufts Administration accepts the ruling, it will send a clear message that students who express “attitudes or opinions” like this will be seen as violating campus anti-harassment rules, and will be subjected to “prompt and decisive action,” which campus rules say may involve “the disciplinary process,” against individual students as well as against organizations. After this decision, what should Tufts students feel free to say in criticizing religions, or in criticizing affirmative action?

Welcome to the new freedom of speech at the new university. No, the Committee’s actions don’t violate the First Amendment, since Tufts is a private university. But they violate basic principles of academic freedom and public debate on university campuses, especially when the top university administrators claim to “fully recognize freedom of speech on campus.” Appalling.

We at FIRE are appalled as well, and we remain firm in our call for the Tufts administration to overturn this unjust, frightful decision.

Schools: Tufts University