‘Tampa Bay Times’: ‘Harassment policy infringes on speech’

June 4, 2013

In an editorial published yesterday, the Tampa Bay Times explains how the Departments of Education and Justice’s May 9 "blueprint" for sexual harassment policies is a threat to free speech and how it misdirects the attention of university administrators.

By defining sexual harassment as "any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature," regardless of whether any "verbal conduct" at issue is objectively offensive, the blueprint will "potentially shift campus administrators from presuming offensive speech is constitutionally protected to aggressively punishing it." The editorial notes a recent student newspaper controversy at Central New Mexico Community College as proof that the threat to student speech is real:

And the overreaction of some college administrators to sexual themes is not theoretical. Just this spring, college administrators at a New Mexico community college shut down the journalism program after students released a sex-themed issue of the campus newspaper.

But protected speech isn’t the only casualty. Overbroad sexual harassment policies might make it harder for schools to achieve what should be their real goal-addressing the issue of sexual assault on campus. The Times editorial board writes:

Suppressing speech deemed uncomfortable also will divert resources from rooting out real harassment and sexual assaults on college campuses. … Preventing assaults – not censoring speech – is where college campuses should focus their energy. 

Read the full editorial on the Tampa Bay Times website.

Cases:  Departments of Education and Justice: National “Blueprint” for Unconstitutional Speech Codes