NOTE: The article excerpted on this page is from an outside publication and is posted on FIRE's website because it references FIRE's work. The viewpoints expressed in this article do not necessarily represent FIRE's positions.
"Book him, Dan-o. He hurt my feelings."
Being nice at Albertson College in Caldwell isn’t just a good idea. It’s the law.
A stupid law, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
Ours is a crass age. You would think a niceness policy would earn applause. You would think people would appreciate concern for civility, decorum and other people’s feelings.
Albertson College’s policy was cited as the foundation’s July 2005 Speech Code of the Month.
The harassment policy in Albertson’s student handbook forbids "any comments or conduct relating to a person’s race, gender, religion, disability, age or ethnic background that fail to respect the dignity and feelings of the individual."
How boring. You take away all those things, what’s left to make fun of?
What peppers the foundation’s potatoes is this nebulous business of "feelings."
"Although students generally have a right to be free from certain types of severe harassment, they do not have a legal right to have their dignity and feelings respected," according to the foundation’s Website at www.thefire.org.
What if a student says women shouldn’t serve in combat or should stay home with their children?
The foundation has a point. Creating a hostile environment is one thing. Hurting someone’s feelings is something else. How do you define feelings — nothing more than feelings — in a legal sense?
That creates a gray area big enough to qualify for its own Senate district. So much uncertainty is bound to inhibit that wonderful American ideal Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan called "wide-open, robust, uninhibited debate."
Where would this page be if people weren’t free to step on each other’s toes?
Foundation leaders are also peeved about how the handbook states students may be punished for behavior "inconsistent with the standards and expectations" of the handbook.
Students may violate a ruling without even knowing there was a rule in the first place.
This would be unconstitutional were Albertson a public institution. It’s not. Albertson is a private institution and immune from the constitutional requirements familiar to other colleges and universities.
Nonetheless, Albertson bills itself as a liberal arts college that "prepares one to live a life of freedom."
Provided, of course, you don’t hurt anyone’s feelings in the process. — T.H.
Schools: The College of Idaho