Civility Code Reconsidered at Bergen Community College

January 11, 2008

Today at, Samantha is quoted in an article about faculty opposition to a proposed “code of ethics pledge” at Bergen Community College (BCC). The lead in another article today in The Record, which also quotes Samantha, just about says it all:

Bergen Community College wants to require students and staff to pledge to “embrace and celebrate differing perspectives” and help the “less fortunate,” but some faculty members and free speech advocates say the oath is unconstitutional and smacks of political correctness run amok.

Here is the relevant part of the pledge that was going to be mandatory for all faculty, students, and administrators but that is now being reconsidered:

[…] I promise to demonstrate a respect for each and every member of the college community without regard to race, creed, color, politics, or social status[,] sparing no effort to preserve the dignity of those I will come in contact with as a[n] integral part of the college community. I pledge … that I will faithfully follow the following core college ethics:

1. Honesty, integrity, and respect for all will guide my personal conduct.
2. I will embrace and celebrate differing perspectives intellectually.
3. I will build an inclusive community enriched by diversity.
4. I am willing to respect and assist those individuals who are less fortunate.
5. I pledge my commitment to civic engagement and to serve the needs of the community to the best of my ability.

Samantha said to The Record, “A public school has no right to reach into students’ minds and tell them what to think” and that “[a] public university can’t mandate civility.” Samantha also has just spoken to New York’s CBS affiliate about this blatantly unconstitutional pledge.

According to The Record,

Bergen’s president, R. Jeremiah Ryan, said last month he hoped to implement the code during the upcoming semester and a spokeswoman for the college said earlier this week that the code would be mandatory.

“The pledge would not be optional,” Susan Baechtel, a college spokeswoman, said Wednesday. “If you don’t agree, it is President Ryan’s vision that you cannot attend the school.”

She said students who violated the code would be subject to judiciary hearings now reserved for offenses such as assault.

If these folks are the real villains here, the real champions are the faculty members of BCC who understand the principles involved and reject the notion that a civility code can trump First Amendment rights. The Constitution does not permit a state institution to “balance” these rights against a vague notion of civility, and so far it seems that the BCC faculty understand that.

“Forget the faculty signing this,” Peter Helff (president of the BCC faculty union) told The Record. Well said.

Schools:  Bergen Community College