Yesterday, the Las Vegas Review-Journal published an editorial lamenting that students are returning to college campuses where free speech too often falls victim to speech codes.
As the editorial notes, opposition to the First Amendment is all too common on campus. Using FIRE’s recent case at the University of Oregon as an example, where a student was hit with five conduct charges for a four-word joke (“I hit it first”), the Review-Journal points out that many universities enforce broad harassment policies against their students in an attempt to create an environment of tolerance.
FIRE rightly and specifically noted that the Supreme Court defines peer harassment in the educational setting as conduct “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive” as to effectively deprive the target of educational opportunities or benefits. “I hit it first” doesn’t rise to anywhere near that level.
The Review-Journal states that the problem runs deeper than speech codes themselves:
But it’s worse than that. College administrators are well aware their policies are unconstitutional. But they know most students are terribly unaware of their rights. So college officials preserve their speech codes and use them as hammers to shame and “re-educate” students who offend their fragile sensibilities. It’s about power.
The editorial calls on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) to hire a president who is willing to change the school’s unconstitutional speech codes and make UNLV a “green light” institution:
Nevada’s Board of Regents should take note of both of these cases as it continues the search for UNLV’s next president. UNLV has a red-light rating with FIRE. The school’s next leader must be as committed to free speech as Florida President Bernie Machen, someone who believes university administrators have no business policing protected expression on campus.
FIRE worked with the University of Florida to eliminate its unconstitutional speech codes and shares the Review-Journal’s hopes that UNLV’s next president will be willing to work with FIRE to do the same!
Our thanks to the Review-Journal for its continuing (and excellent) attention to free speech issues in higher education. You can read the full editorial here.