The Boston Phoenix has announced its 10th Annual Muzzle Awards. Inspired by FIRE co-founder and Board Chairman Harvey Silverglate, the Muzzle Awards are based on news accounts of freedom-of-expression stories in New England within the last year. One of the recipients of this dubious distinction is Tufts University, where a student-faculty disciplinary panel found the editors of The Primary Source, an independent student newspaper, guilty of harassment for publishing two articles offensive to some students on campus.
Author Dan Kennedy points out that even if one grants that the articles were racist and genuinely offensive, they still fall under the protection of the First Amendment, which was “not written to protect laudatory reports about church picnics… [but] to protect unpopular speech, even speech that is vile and hateful.” Such speech does not constitute “harassment” under any legal or reasonable definition.
Kennedy notes that even though Tufts is a private institution not bound by the strictures of the First Amendment,
[A]s a university, it should be devoted to the highest possible level of free speech in keeping with its academic mission. Unfortunately Tufts, like too many colleges and universities, has adopted a speech code aimed more at coddling delicate sensibilities than at encouraging open, robust debate.
The most alarming aspect of this case, as the article later points out, is that one group of students decided to use the tools of censorship on other students. Brandeis University had a similar incident where the student government heavily criticized and punished Gravity, a campus satire magazine, for a parody of slavery and the corporate world. We are witnessing a strange alliance between students and administrators in censoring unpopular student speech. Students, wedded at the encouragement of administrators to the PC ideal, have learned to utilize university disciplinary mechanisms and policies to oppress and silence their peers. Kennedy writes,
Rather than learning how to think about unpopular ideas, these students would rather punish those who promulgate them—thus turning the purpose of a college education on its head.