This is startling.
Scott Jaschik reports at Inside Higher Ed that Colorado College’s president, Richard Celeste, has defended the school’s finding that two students were guilty of “violence” for posting a satirical flyer. The flyer, called “The Monthly Bag,” had been posted anonymously by “The Coalition of Some Dudes” as a clear-as-day parody of a feminist flyer called “The Monthly Rag.”
But the feminists did not like being parodied. They decided to go after the flyer by saying that they feared violence by the Dudes. Their ground was that the flyer mentioned “chainsaw etiquette” and the range of a sniper rifle. Did they really think the Dudes were going to start going after feminists with chainsaws? Of course not. No reasonable person would.
Nevertheless, Jaschik reports, Celeste (a former governor of Ohio) has defended Colorado College’s dramatic chilling of free expression. In an e-mail, Celeste wrote:
Colorado College values and fosters freedom of expression, and in discussions with students regarding “The Monthly Bag,” has encouraged further dialogue about freedom of speech issues on campus. The students involved in creating this publication were found to have violated the college community’s standards, but they were not sanctioned or punished. Instead, they were urged to engage the college community in more inclusive dialogue, debate and discussion on freedom of speech, and through a letter to the editor of the student newspaper and other actions, they are doing so.
This statement is false. The students were sanctioned and punished. Take a look at their letter of sanction by Dean of Students Mike Edmonds. Having a guilty finding on one’s record is a punishment. Having the letter put in each student’s file is a punishment. Being required to hold a “forum” is a punishment. Being publicly shamed in a mass e-mail from the president is a punishment.
Colorado College is in blatant violation of its own guarantees of freedom of expression. The school may also have violated its contractual duty to uphold the guarantees in its handbook, such as these:
[A]ll members of the college community have such basic rights as freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, freedom of personal beliefs, …
[A]n academic environment is necessarily an arena in which controversial points of view may be freely expressed. Freedom of thought and expression is essential to any institution of higher education. Such institutions exist not only to transmit existing knowledge but also to expand that knowledge by testing the old and proposing the new. This mission often inspires vigorous debate on social, religious, economic, and political issues that arouse the strongest passions. On a campus that is free and open, no idea can be banned or forbidden. No viewpoint or message may be deemed so hateful that it may not be expressed. Nothing in this Anti-Discrimination Policy should be construed to interfere with the academic freedom of all persons at the college to express and debate diverse ideas. Persons who object to the expression of certain ideas should generally counter with refutation, not demands for sanctions or disciplinary action against the person who has expressed the controversial ideas.
Freedom of thought and expression is essential to any institution of higher learning. Uncensored speech—which does not include a right to harass, injure, or silence others—is essential in an academic community and will be vigorously defended. Members of the college community should understand that standards of civility, consideration, and tolerance must shape our interactions with each other. Infringing on the expression of views, either by interfering with a speaker or by defacing or removing properly posted or distributed notices or materials, will not be tolerated.
You are welcome to distribute literature where it will not interfere with classes or other college functions.
Maybe Colorado College really believes that only certain ideas are acceptable on campus. Maybe all these promises are empty. But if that’s not the case, President Celeste’s only viable alternative is to withdraw the guilty finding and remove the letter from the students’ files. Justice and common sense demand nothing less.