Where’s the beef — over beef on college campuses?
Right now, it’s at the University of Iowa, where the state’s major meat producers recently demanded the school end a student-run “Meatless Monday” program at campus dining halls. As a public university bound by the First Amendment, UI must resist this hamfisted call to censor its students.
UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck told local news outlet The Gazette that “Meatless Monday” is an initiative sponsored by UI’s student government consisting entirely of providing “students with information about the existing meatless dishes available in the dining halls.” But this purely educational program — which poses no restrictions on serving meat on campus — has evoked hard-to-swallow criticism from campus political groups and online commentators, who called the campaign “worthless” and “as tasteless as … [a] kale sandwich.” It even prompted one person to write, “[F]or the first time that I can ever remember, I felt embarrassed to be an Iowan.”
The strongest complaints have been lodged by Iowa’s meat and cattle companies, which have urged the UI Board of Regents to suspend the program altogether. One meat industry representative asked UI to end the campaign because it is “a movement against Iowa’s livestock and crop industries,” which “are critical to the state’s economy as they provide solutions to feed and fuel the world.”
These companies are certainly free to argue that “Meatless Monday” is the wurst day of the week, but as we know here at FIRE, calls for censorship are always baloney.
No matter how you slice it, demanding that a public university cancel a student-led educational initiative is a meatheaded move. While Iowa’s meat industry may indeed demand the cancellation of campus programs detrimental to its bottom line, UI must not act on those demands pursuant to its obligations under the First Amendment — which contains no carve-outs for speech allegedly “harmful to Iowa’s economy.”
Rather than cow to this request to butcher the free speech rights of its students, UI should uphold the freedom of its student leaders to share their opinions on the health and environmental effects of meat consumption.
FIRE will be monitoring the situation to ensure the First Amendment does not spoil at UI. We urge administrators there not to chicken out when it comes to freedom of speech on their campus; the steaks are too high.