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NYU Student Blows the Whistle on Speech Codes

New York University’s (NYU’s) main student newspaper, the Washington Square Times, featured a great article today by Anthony Marek entitled “NYU’s red light: Why we need offensive speech, too.” Marek discusses NYU’s dismal “red light” speech code rating on FIRE’s Spotlight speech codes database, saying:

It’s a rare soul that can traverse a university campus without the term “freedom of speech” ringing in his ears.

Still, intricate tomes of well-meaning restrictions on certain types of offensive speech and expression are found on many college campuses, making an ironic mockery of the most celebrated of the First Amendment’s five provisions. Pretty much anything that could offend anyone on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity and religion is fair game for censorship in the name of the melting pot.

Marek has hit on the fact that NYU is indeed no friend of free speech. Let’s take a quick look at their policies. NYU bans “[v]erbal abuse or hostile behavior such as insulting, teasing, mocking, degrading, or ridiculing another person or group”; “[u]nwelcome or inappropriate physical contact, comments, questions, advances, jokes, epithets, or demands”; and “[d]isplays or electronic transmission of derogatory, demeaning, or hostile materials” when these are based on a “legally protected status.” A lot of those things sound unpleasant. None of them, however, should actually be outlawed in a free society. Does NYU actually believe that its students, left to their own devices, will revel in these behaviors without facing any kind of social stigma that would discourage that kind of behavior?
Maybe it does. After all, this is a university that demonstrably does not trust its students or the community. Just ask FIRE President Greg Lukianoff, who participated in a panel discussion about the Danish Mohammed cartoon controversy at NYU last year where, in a pathetic surrender to the “heckler’s veto,” the university effectively banned students from showing the very cartoons under discussion. Neither NYU, nor its president, John Sexton, has yet admitted that perhaps banishing a group of cartoons that were effectively the world’s top story for some time last year was not appropriate for an American university in our democratic society. The fact that NYU students such as Anthony Marek aren’t following Sexton’s morally bankrupt example will prove to be the reason NYU continues to succeed in educating its students in the long run—if, indeed, it does.

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