Every day, I catalog the myriad ways in which universities restrict their students’ free speech rights. As someone who believes deeply in individual liberties, this work can get depressing. Every so often, however, I come across a speech code so ludicrous that it introduces a little levity into my otherwise serious work. Today, I found just such a policy at Indiana University Southeast. IU Southeast maintains a laundry list of behaviors "related to sexual harassment," including "suggestive or insulting sounds," "sexist jokes or humor," and "gender specific insults or comments." All of these restrictions are constitutionally suspect, since most speech falling into those categories is entirely constitutionally protected. But it was this example that really caught my eye: "faxes sexual in nature." Really? Are naughty faxes a common enough problem to warrant being added to a list of supposedly harassing behaviors? Unless something very strange is afoot at IU Southeast, my guess would be no. And yet, a consensus of supposedly reasonable administrators decided to include this in the policy. I would love to have been present for the discussion at that meeting. (Just like I would love to have been at the meeting at UW-Oshkosh where they decided to ban "staring at a man’s derriere"…I’ve always wanted to know, did they run through a list of synonyms for rear end before settling on "derriere"? Was a vote taken?)
I often refer to university speech codes as "laughably unconstitutional," but these policies take that phrase to a whole new level.