Campus Free Speech

To Safeguard All Students' Speech Rights, SAE Should Sue Oklahoma U.

"Other people could choose to not say things because of the consequences they might suffer."

|

OU
Wikimedia Commons

I was recently interviewed for U.S. News & World Report about University of Oklahoma President David Boren's decision to expel two Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity members for engaging in racist chanting. The university's actions clearly violate the students' constitutional rights, I have argued, given that their contemptible speech was almost certainly protected under the First Amendment. With that in mind, I say they should sue:

Robby Soave, staff editor for Reason Magazine, a libertarian publication, argued that the decision could limit speech on college campuses, and hopes that the group brings legal action against the school.

"It's best for a climate of free speech on campuses if they sue, because it has a chilling effect if they don't," Soave said . "Other people could choose to not say things because of the consequences they might suffer."

Others believe that these students engaged in speech so offensive that it created a hostile learning environment for black students. In a widely-circulated Atlantic article, law professor Kent Greenfield argued that while the current Supreme Court would hypothetically side with the expelled students, it would be better for society if the First Amendment was not understood to protect such abjectly offensive speech:

No one with a frontal lobe would mistake this drunken anthem for part of an uninhibited and robust debate about race relations. The chant was a spew of hatred, a promise to discriminate, a celebration of privilege, and an assertion of the right to violence–all wrapped up in a catchy ditty. If the First Amendment has become so bloated, so ham-fisted, that it cannot distinguish between such filth and earnest public debate about race, then it is time we rethink what it means.

Greenfield is wrong—not about the speech in question, which was indeed a spew of hatred, but about whether it's possible to prohibit that type of speech without putting socially-valuable speech in danger. That's because sorting bad speech from useful speech is a job no agent of the government can be trusted to execute properly. Doing so would require an exercise of subjective determination that would, by necessity, send a message to devotees of controversial ideas that they will be held up to the censor's scrutiny if they speak. These are not conditions under which a robust and intellectually-challenging environment thrives.

Indeed, who can say for certain that the racist chanting served no useful purpose? In a sense, it was highly educational: We now know SAE has permitted (or even encouraged) a culture of lingering racism. The speech has served as a reminder that society had not totally quashed the evils of racial animus and racial discrimination. University campuses have more work to do on these fronts—more work, I believe, than many people would have recognized before this incident was publicized.

That's precisely why even speech that persuades no one, that contains not even a kernel of truth, can nevertheless serve a useful purpose—even if it's only result is to make us more certain of our own opinions. Campuses shouldn't be afraid to let racists and bigots be heard, and all people of decency should be more confident in their own ability to hear, reject, and denounce evil ideas, rather than the expression of evil ideas.

Advertisement

NEXT: A Win for School Choice: Charters Are Coming to Alabama

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. If the First Amendment has become so bloated, so ham-fisted, that it cannot distinguish between such filth and earnest public debate about race, then it is time we rethink what it means.

    That is the stupidest, most-retarded thing I’ve read today. Although it’s still fairly early, so there’s time for others to try….

    The FA “bloated”. Huh. And this is why we’ll never reach Peak Derp?

    1. If the First Amendment has become so bloated, so ham-fisted, that it cannot distinguish between the idiocy spewed by Kent Greenfield and earnest public debate, then it is time we rethink what it means.

      1. Tell you what: we’ll gut the first Amendment just like Greenfield wants if we can also silence all people who want to gut the first Amendment. But we get to silence them first. Deal, Kent?

    2. What is funny about that is that is exactly what conservatives said when the court ruled states couldn’t ban obscenity. It never occurs to these clowns that anyone would ever have to power to ban stuff Progs like but they find to be obscene.

    3. It’s especially insane since this is speech that occurred ON A PRIVATE BUS.

      They are therefore arguing that you should be punished for speech you make around your friends. They’re trying to turn us into a nation of snitches.

      1. They’re trying to turn us into a nation of snitches.

        You think the Social Injustice Whiners had any other endgame?

        And people wonder how stuff like this starts.

    4. My last pay check was $9500 working 12 hours a week online. My sisters friend has been averaging 15k for months now and she works about 20 hours a week. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out. This is what I do,

      http://www.work-cash.com

  2. The whole “hostile environment” thing is just pathetic. I was brought up to understand that life is a hostile environment, in the sense that there’s always going to be somebody around who will criticize you unfairly, mess with you for no good reason, or even assault you without just cause. Part of being an adult is learning how to cope with life’s sharp edges while maintaining one’s dignity and integrity. I don’t understand why people think that the big Sugar Daddy in Washington D.C. can create Nerf World.

    1. And it only created a hostile environment because some asshole secretly took the video and made it public. If the whole point is to keep from creating a hostile environment, then we need to punish the people who made this video public rather than discretely turning it over to university authorities.

      1. Really. Another part of surviving a hostile world is learning to mind one’s own business. It’s bad enough to whine about what people say in a public forum, but to snoop into people’s private conversations to seek out stuff that upsets you is 24-carat victim fascism.

    2. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

      When’s the last time you heard that?

      1. You’re making me feel unsafe.

        1. Finally, it’s about time.

    3. Oh my god, Nerf World would be such an excellent amusement park.

  3. Even if our benchmark for Constitutionally protected speech is whether it’s “socially-useful,” which by itself is a laughable notion, certainly the better-informed responses would prove more useful to society than the disutility of the hate speech that inspired it. Social justice types always use “starting a dialogue” to excuse their performative theatrics. Hasn’t this?

    1. Well said.

      1. Better said (I don’t edit myself well when swyping): Even if “social utility” served as the benchmark for Constitutionally protected speech, a notion already at odds with the First Amendment, then certainly the utility of moderating voices would more than overcome the disutility of the hate speech that inspired them.

  4. “it created a hostile learning environment for black students”

    “It”, being people singing a song on a bus, nowhere near campus or a classroom?

    By this reasoning, anything offensive anywhere at anytime is ‘creating an _______ environment’. Because.

    1. Uh, dude, that’s exactly what they’re trying to say/implement. Because then they can shut anyone up at any time with a simple “that’s creating a hostile environment!” charge. That’s literally the entire point.

      1. And everyone lives in fear of saying something wrong lest it get out and cost them their jobs and friends. These people can’t create the Stasi, so instead they will get something even better in the form of Youtube.

  5. The chant was a spew of hatred, a promise to discriminate, a celebration of privilege, and an assertion of the right to violence?all wrapped up in a catchy ditty.

    And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
    That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
    A home and a country should leave us no more?
    Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution!
    No refuge could save the hireling and slave
    From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave:
    And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
    O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

    Go home, Greenfield, you’re drunk an ignoramus.

  6. Credit where credit is due, the SJWs kinda sorta do have a point that if you look at all the slurs possible for all the demographics… against the dreaded straight, white, male (DUN DUN DUN!)… there’s not much out there that carries a lot weight (like “nigger,” for comparison’s sake). However, for me, I have access to an often forgotten slur: bastard. Not that people forget about the word itself, but they forget about its intended definition – a fatherless child (read: me). So whenever someone drops it, I use it as a learning opportunity. I get stupid mad butthurt. Full on “I’m oppressed” proggy bullshit. And their reaction is always the same… “I’m so sorry. I feel terrible.” Blah blah blah. I laugh it off and explain that a word only carries as much weight as you give it. Do I fit the definition? Yes, maybe, depending on how you define it. Do I let it control me and run my life? Abso-fucking-lutely not.

    And for reasons unknown, the proggies can’t grasp that concept.

      1. little of column A, little of column B

    1. Ha, that reminds me of the episode of Rescue Me where the firemen had to take sensitivity training because the Lt. called the girl firefighter “stupid twat”. Franco the Puerto Rican started lamenting about the lack of good slurs for Hispanics as compared to other races, and all the others started chipping in. The pasty-faced social worker completely lost control of the class.

      1. ^^ Exhibit B

        Yeah, it’s a fictional television show but that shit actually happens.

        1. Ha. The guy at the end of the first video in a video gets all upset because he thinks the other guy assumes he likes sports because he’s black… Or the white guy thought he liked sports because he thought he was a normal person?

  7. No one with a frontal lobe

    Poisoning the well.

    would mistake this drunken anthem for part of an uninhibited and robust debate about race relations.

    Every statement with regards to people of another race has to be “uninhibited” and “robust” and refer to “race relations”?

    The chant was a spew of hatred, a promise to discriminate, a celebration of privilege, and an assertion of the right to violence?all wrapped up in a catchy ditty.

    What, if any actual harm took place? And who was actually harmed?

    If the First Amendment has become so bloated, so ham-fisted, that it cannot distinguish between such filth and earnest public debate about race, then it is time we rethink what it means.

    Again, all speech must be “earnest public debate about race”? The First Amendment leaves no room for comedy, for satire, for fiction, even for delightfully smutty smut? If it’s not SUPER SERIOUS BUSINESS it’s not protected by the First Amendment?

    Stop having fun, guys.

    1. All these people know is politics. To them everything is about power and struggle. They can’t conceive of anything different.

    2. That chant was nothing if not uninhibited.

  8. Robby, are you arguing the fraternity as an entity should sue, or the individuals expelled?

    1. I presume the individuals would sue.

      Why, is there an important distinction being ignored?

      1. I’m asking because it’s legitimately unclear. The headline says “SAE” but then the article talks about the kids getting expelled and says “they should sue.” And it would be relevant in a court case. Also, I don’t really see how the chapter could sue since they’re no longer a part of SAE after the national org pulled their charter.

    2. I’d argue both should sue.

      The fraternity chapter was kicked off campus too, IIRC.

      1. A fraternity chapter isn’t going to get the same protections for maintaining official sanctioning by the school as an individual student is against getting expelled. Also, what would they even sue about, the chapter doesn’t even really exist anymore because their national org revoked its charter.

  9. Student banned from class at Reed College for questioning the existence of rape culture.

    “Of course, we are an institution that encourages dissent and active discussion, but there is a difference between stimulating discussion through opposition and making other students feel unsafe.”

    Uh-huh.

    1. “There are several survivors of sexual assault in our conference, and you have made them extremely uncomfortable with what they see as not only your undermining incidents of rape, but of also placing too much emphasis on men being unfairly charged with rape,” Savery wrote to True. “The entire conference without exception, men as well as women, feel that your presence makes them uncomfortable enough that they would rather not be there if you are there, and they have said that things you have said in our conference have made them so upset that they have difficulty concentrating in other classes.”

      I considered calling bullshit, but we are talking about a hyper liberal college in Oregon.

    2. So happy I got out of college just in time before all this BS started getting out of control.

    3. “Reed is a private institution that often drops the ball in its responses to sexual misconduct, but this is an excellent example of a professor taking initiative to take care of his students,” senior Rosie Dempsey told BuzzFeed News. “Of course, we are an institution that encourages dissent and active discussion, but there is a difference between stimulating discussion through opposition and making other students feel unsafe.”

      We’re all about free speech at Reed College: You’re free to call all men rapists, to have a Two-Minutes Hate against TEH PATREEARKIE, and to have a primal scream session about the “lived experiences of all women.” You are not free to speak about disagreeing with the existence of Satan…I mean RAPE CULTURE because, well, that’s blasphemous.

      1. P.S. Facebook/Buzzfeed is occupied…by morons:

        Kristen Fratus Gordon
        “Right now, going to college is a terrifying experience if you are male.”

        Um, no. Just…no. I don’t even have the words for this.

        Rachael Tyce Appold
        Imagine how terrifying it is to not be believed that you were assaulted or have it not be considered rape and told this constantly while in class, which is supposed to be a safe environment. Then tell me how terrifying the experience really is.

        Heather Vickers Kwok
        I was so calm until the last sentence, when I almost fell out of my chair with Chandler-like frustrated hand-flapping.

        Tamaryn Holt
        How to not get laid in college or ever: whine to Buzzfeed that a private college isn’t putting up with your creepy misogyny.

        Paula Allen
        Oh god, as soon as he said he wasn’t a “sheep” I was all done with him. Is he the first person to invent “annoying people” as a hobby? No. Get a life, grow up and stop being a lame person. He should be banned.

        Rachael Tyce Appold
        The fact that he keeps pressing his views against the existence of rape culture is an example of rape culture. Denying that there’s a problem is part of the problem. He admits that society hasn’t figured out how to properly handle rape, yet he says rape culture doesn’t exist. My guess is that he’s not aware of the fact that society not handling rape properly is part of rape culture. He’s basically saying, “it doesn’t exist, it just exists.”

        1. “The fact that he keeps pressing his views against the existence of rape culture is an example of rape culture. Denying that there’s a problem is part of the problem. He admits that society hasn’t figured out how to properly handle rape, yet he says rape culture doesn’t exist. My guess is that he’s not aware of the fact that society not handling rape properly is part of rape culture. He’s basically saying, “it doesn’t exist, it just exists.””

          This borders on kafka-esque. Taking an opposing view of a problem is part of the problem therefore you can never take an opposing view. If things aren’t 100% good they must be 100% bad. You. Just. Lack. Appropriate. Awareness.

      2. “I’m really comforted by the administrative response,” said Kate Hilts, a junior. “It’s really nice to know that my school supports survivors and listens when they say they don’t feel safe. Rape culture is indisputable

        The science is settled.

        Eh, why even bother? It’s Reed College. If Mr. True wants to poke a stick at the SJW bears, you’d think he could find a cheaper place to do it. Any Gawker comments section would do just fine.

    4. “patriarchal” belief that logic is more important than emotion

      The mask hasn’t slipped off. It has been forcibly thrown off and smashed.

      I am scared shitless for my future children as these fucking harpies gain positions of power.

  10. celebration of privilege

    Dog whistle?

    1. More power to em. God bless.

    2. Thanks!

    3. I’m moving to India. There seems to be a great opportunity there for a man who knows how to lay some pipe.

  11. No one with a frontal lobe would mistake this drunken anthem for part of an uninhibited and robust debate about race relations.

    I see that they’ve dropped the frontal lobe requirement for law professors.

    Hey Schmendrick, I’ll use speech with small words so you’ll understand: Fuck off, censor.

    Speech isn’t about the value of what is being said. There should be no subjective test as to whether or not the speech is in fact, speech. If it conveys *any* message at all, of *any* kind, it’s speech. Full stop.

    Elitist slobs like you are why we had gulags.

    1. No one with a frontal lobe would mistake this drunken anthem for part of an uninhibited and robust debate about race relations.

      Which is weird, since it has become the centerpiece of an uninhibited and robust debate about race relations.

      Also, I don’t think “uninhibited” means what this clown seems to think it means, since he is arguing for the restriction or, what’s the word, inhibition, of debate.

      1. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…”

        You can’t expect a college professor, a LAW professor, no less, to have a consistent epistemology, now can you?

  12. University campuses have more work to do on these fronts?

    I’m not trying to be off-topic, but: How is social engineering the responsibility of universities? Who pays tuition to receive social engineering?

    1. Not sure if it was Robby’s intent but I’ll say that, as part of a laboratory of thought and experience, the “work” campuses have more to do of is, well, allowing a bit more thought and experience. You know, as opposed to indoctrination of groupthink and sheltering for fear of hurt feelings.

    2. Many professors and college administrators would argue that indoctrination is exactly the point of college. To create a culture of those who can think “rightly.”

  13. No one with a frontal lobe would mistake this drunken anthem for part of an uninhibited and robust debate about race relations. The chant was a spew of hatred, a promise to discriminate, a celebration of privilege, and an assertion of the right to violence?all wrapped up in a catchy ditty. If the First Amendment has become so bloated, so ham-fisted, that it cannot distinguish between such filth and earnest public debate about race, then it is time we rethink what it means.

    I don’t know about Greenfield specifically, but his like are usually all in favor of suppressing uninhibited and robust public debate about political elections, if that debate requires anyone to spend any money to get their message across.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.