Marquette Harassment Policy Insulates Students From Real World

December 19, 2014

By Christian Schneider at Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Last Sunday afternoon, my phone buzzed with a bit of fan mail. The sender said he hopes my daughters “get touched by a big black guy” who will “turn them out on crack,” and invited my “soul mate” to perform an act so vile just mentioning it would get one thrown out of an adult video convention. (And I’m pretty sure Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t appreciate being referred to in that manner.)

Like 95% of the adult population, I shrugged it off and moved on with my life. Most of us are pretty good at processing things that offend our sensibilities and then ignoring them. For instance, in my time as a columnist, I have simply learned to adjust my expectations when I receive emails that begin “Dear Butt Monkey.”

The other 5% of adults apparently are employed by universities, where perpetual offense is an industry in itself. Being offended on campuses has now replaced actual argument; one need not be right, only offended. Universities frequently take steps to micromanage speech to make sure their students aren’t faced with the horrifying prospect of hearing something that might invade their soft cocoon of comfort.

This has certainly been the case at my alma mater, Marquette University, where the university’s “harassment” policy has recently been invoked to thwart a classroom discussion of gay marriage.

One would think a Catholic, Jesuit university banning a discussion of same-sex marriage would be like a cooking school outlawing any mention of garlic. But this week, Marquette relieved professor John McAdams of his teaching and other faculty duties for blogging about an incident in which a student confronted philosophy lecturer and graduate student Cheryl Abbate for refusing to have a classroom discussion about same-sex marriage. Abbate allegedly said “everybody agrees” on the issue of gay rights, so there was “no need to discuss it.”

The accounts of what Abbate actually said to the student naturally conflict, so there’s no need to litigateAbbate vs. McAdams here. And the university has been vague about exactly why McAdams is being investigated. (Disclosure: I had McAdams as a professor as a graduate student myself 15 years ago.) But Abbate has acknowledged that she was concerned about other students in the classroom being offended by hearing views on “traditional” marriage, and thus had to take that into account pursuant to the university’s “harassment” policy.

Of course, universities are the last bastions in which such nonsense is actually taken seriously. Graduate students across the country are constantly creating “microaggressions,” because, hey, they have plenty of free time and a dearth of original grad school paper subjects.

In fact, one shouldn’t blame Abbate at all — she is simply another worker drone in the grievance industry that only exists because university administrators enable it.

Instead, at issue is Marquette’s preposterous harassment policy, which states that any statement made thatcould cause another student “emotional or physical discomfort” is considered “discrimination against the rights of others.” It goes on to stipulate that harassment could mean a “single incident” of such behavior. So one doesn’t even need to prove offense occurred, only that it might have under certain circumstances.

But as Susan Kruth at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has pointed out, this can’t possibly mean what it says. Aside from Marquette’s policy contradicting its commitment to free inquiry, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has said that “the offensiveness of a particular expression, standing alone, is not a legally sufficient basis” to be considered punishable. Instead, “harassment must be sufficiently serious as to limit or deny a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from an educational program.”

This is why McAdams’ banishment from campus is so ironic; by pointing out the university’s free speech problem, McAdams has been barred from campus by the administration, proving his point more effectively than he ever could have in the first place.

In fact, Marquette’s nebulous harassment policy achieves the exact opposite of the university’s stated intention; rather than preparing students for the real world, it insulates them from it.

Thus, in this context, it appears it is the students who can be the adults. In order to protect their right to a free exchange of ideas, they should provide some instruction to the impressionable, malleable minds running the university.

Schools: Marquette University