Higher Education Continues Setting Fire to Free Speech Rights

September 5, 2015

By Rob Jenkins at Gwinnett Daily Post

Colleges and universities, once bastions of open-mindedness, free thought, and yes, free speech, have over the last decade become anything but. Nowadays, it’s hard to think of any place more hostile to free speech than your typical college campus.

The evidence is incontrovertible: Speakers disinvited from campus because they hold views contrary to the prevailing orthodoxy. Professors fired or otherwise disciplined for things they’ve Tweeted or posted online. Repressive speech codes that demand students refrain from saying anything “offensive.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a stalwart in the battle against these blatant attacks on our civil liberties, recently examined speech codes on over 400 campuses nationwide. They found that more than half would not survive judicial review. FIRE has actually sued a number of those institutions, forcing nearly 40 (so far) to abandon their unconstitutional restrictions on speech.

Stories about faculty members and students being punished for violating these often vague and poorly conceived speech codes have become commonplace. Last April, for example, a professor at Bergen Community College in New Jersey was punished after posting a photograph of his young daughter on social media wearing a T-shirt with the slogan, “I will take what is mine with fire and blood.”

Fans of the popular HBO series “Game of Thrones” will recognize that as a line spoken by one of the story’s main characters. But to an administrator at BCC, it constituted a “threat.” The professor was suspended without pay and forced to undergo a psychiatric evaluation before returning to the classroom.

A more sensational example involving students occurred recently at Old Dominion University in Virginia, when several fraternity members were suspended for off-campus speech. Seems the brothers posted signs suggesting parents drop off their daughters at the fraternity house. Few of us have any illusions as to what they were implying.

Let’s be clear: I’m not defending what those young men said. It’s crass and disgusting. They are clearly misogynistic spoiled brats whose parents should probably be smacked. If any of them laid a hand on my daughter, I’d rip his arm off at the shoulder and beat him senseless with it.

But this is America. What they said wasn’t right, but they had every right to say it. That’s what freedom of speech means: freedom to say things that anger, disgust and offend others. If no one ever said anything someone else didn’t like, what need would we have for our constitutional free speech protections?

More to the point, the university had no right to punish them. ODU, like BCC, is a state school — a government institution. And the First Amendment specifically prohibits the government from infringing on free speech.

Besides, those sophomoric idiots will eventually get what they deserve. Maybe that Bergen professor’s daughter will show up at ODU in a few years and, like Daenerys Targaryen and her pet dragons, reduce them to ashes.