Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, has written a powerful letter to Columbia University President Lee Bollinger decrying the recent suspension of the school’s Men’s Ice Hockey Club for using the phrase “Don’t be a pussy” on recruitment flyers.
Meyers’ letter, which may be read here, is a brilliant articulation of the crucial value of free expression on America’s campuses. Urging President Bollinger to “speak up for free speech,” Meyers proclaims himself “shocked and chagrined” at Columbia’s actions, declaring that “enlightened, modern-day university presidents” have an obligation to “embrace and cherish the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment in particular as the model or code of conduct for a free people who seek to exercise free inquiry and to foster debate and discussion of controversial ideas.”
It is our view-and of those who started the Student Free Speech Movement-that college students should and must be free, and no special permission should be required, to distribute flyers or recruitment materials for their teams and clubs. The university should not deny them financial support or impose any punishment on its clubs and teams that so exercise their free speech rights. Moreover, regulations governing student conduct should be in harmony with and essential to the fulfillment of the college’s educational objectives to foster free inquiry and free speech and dissent and to protect controversial speech on campus. The heckler’s or the censor’s veto is not something that I thought you favored, sir.
We join our sister civil liberties/civil rights organization—FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education)—in urging you to promptly rescind this punishment of the Men’s Ice Hockey Club immediately. Let those who find offense in the phrase "Stop being a pussy" speak up and take exception to those words, but without the official club from Columbia officials aimed to flatten and punish the free speech interests and rights of those who used that phrase on their flyers.
We at FIRE couldn’t have said it better ourselves. We are delighted to be joined by the NYCRC as we continue to ask Columbia to make good on their stated commitments to free expression on campus.