Expulsion Doesn’t Fix Hateful Speech. More Free Speech Does

March 10, 2015

By Jeff Michael at myfoxla.com

The damage done at the University of Oklahoma by SAE members singing a racist song is not to the campus’ African American student population. They are undoubtedly more enlightened than the idiots on the bus and are less surprised at latent racism rising above the surface than was University President David Boren.

The damage done was by Boren going beyond his verbal rebuke of the SAE students and closing the fraternity house and then expelling two of the offending students.

Last I looked, the University of Oklahoma is a state institution; a government funded school. And, as such, it is bound by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Its students are equally protected by that freedom. That protection does not waver because the speech is offensive or divisive. As Professor Eugene Volokh at UCLA School of Law told the Wall Street Journal, “You can’t protect your reputation by violating the Constitution.”

President Boren and his administration will likely counter that the song, using “The ‘N’ word” went beyond free speech and was threatening or created a hostile environment. Really? Or was it just ugly, ignorant and in need of being extinguished by more speech, not less? In fact, that was the argument made by the ACLU in 1994 when it wrote a position paper in part stating,

Where racist, sexist and homophobic speech is concerned, the ACLU believes that more speech — not less — is the best revenge. This is particularly true at universities, whose mission is to facilitate learning through open debate and study, and to enlighten.

But instead of battling ignorant speech by encouraging enlightened debate, many if not most college campuses are fenced in by political correctness. A 2014 report by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education found 59 percent of college campuses have policies that restrict First Amendment rights. In fairness, FIRE reports that number has been dropping and the organization is using its own check list to determine what qualifies as “restriction”. But that number should be much closer to zero by any reasonable measure.

President Boren must realize all of this; Rhodes Scholar, master’s degree in Philosophy, lawyer, not to mention former U.S. Senator and former Oklahoma Governor. Certainly he has stood up to greater problems than a busload of likely drunken frat brothers spewing racist rants. Hopefully U of O’s cower will empower other universities to meet intolerance head-on with the Constitution, not without it.

Schools: University of Oklahoma