Despite Tufts President Lawrence Bacow’s happy talk on freedom of speech at Tufts (which, as Harvey and Jan mention in Emily’s entry from yesterday, is not exactly backed up by action), there still appears to be dissatisfaction among Tufts’ students about how the whole situation with The Primary Source has been handled. And I’m not just talking about the students who write for TPS—who, although the punishment has now been rescinded, are still officially “harassers” according to Tufts’ Committee on Student Life (CSL). (Regarding this committee, Bacow said, “In retrospect, I think that the CSL was ill-advised to hear this case.” This would seem to be small comfort to the unfairly branded “harassers” of The Primary Source.)
In fact, the dissatisfaction I am talking about here is actually that of one of the supposed “victims” of TPS’s “harassment”—the Muslim Students Association. Tuesday’s Boston Herald story on Tufts concludes on this note:
Shirwac Mohamed, a board member of the Muslim Students Association, said his group never intended to infringe on anyone else’s free speech rights.
“Our intention was for dialogue and we never got it,” he said.
In its headlong rush to “protect” its students from hearing things they might find unpleasant or offensive, Tufts, like so many other universities, overlooked something critical: like any other adults, college students don’t need to be protected from offense. FIRE often talks about how decisions to censor and restrict speech infantilize students, and this is a perfect example: a board member of a “victim” group publicly expresses disappointment that the members of his group are not being treated as adults who can participate in normal political debate. Of course, filing a harassment complaint against those with whom you disagree is not the right way to participate in a debate. But if the goal of the Muslim group was in fact to engage in dialogue, not to suppress speech, they were extremely ill-served by Tufts’ reaction to the situation.
We allow college-age people to vote, to serve in the armed forces, to run for office, to buy a house, and do nearly anything else besides drink alcohol. Why, then, do college administrators so often suppose that college students shouldn’t be allowed to say what they believe and to hear things they might not like? It’s insulting, and FIRE is working to turn campuses back into places where tough debate and discussion is welcomed, not suppressed. If Bacow wants this too—and he says he does—he should overturn the harassment finding against TPS, not just the punishment.