The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
Prof. Thom Lambert (Truth on the Market) passes along the following Missouri-University-wide e-mail:
From: MU POLICE
Date: November 10, 2015 at 9:52:16 AM CST
To: MU POLICE
Subject: Reporting Hateful and/or Hurtful Speech
To continue to ensure that the University of Missouri campus remains safe, the MU Police Department (MUPD) is asking individuals who witness incidents of hateful and/or hurtful speech or actions to:
- Call the police immediately at 573-882-7201. (If you are in an emergency situation, dial 911.)
- Give the communications operator a summary of the incident, including location.
- Provide a detailed description of the individual(s) involved.
- Provide a license plate and vehicle descriptions (if appropriate).
- If possible and if it can be done safely, take a photo of the individual(s) with your cell phone.
Delays, including posting information to social media, can often reduce the chances of identifying the responsible parties. While cases of hateful and hurtful speech are not crimes, if the individual(s) identified are students, MU's Office of Student Conduct can take disciplinary action.
Wow. Note the pattern, so familiar now—things start with extremely offensive speech that might actually be punishable (e.g., racial epithets addressed in person to a Missouri student, which apparently is part of what triggered the protests). Add other speech that seems similar but is potentially much broader, and vaguely defined, such as "hateful" speech. Then add other speech that's even broader, such as "hurtful" speech. Now you've covered a vast range of speech on controversial topics.
And of course note the veneer of generality with which this is covered, a veneer that strikes me as especially out of place in universities, which are supposed to be devoted to truth as well as to debate. Is the police department really going to take seriously all your complaints of "hurtful" speech? If you think that people's sharp criticisms of Republicans or conservatives or "privileged" white males are "hurtful" to you, and you call the police immediately about this, what do you think the police—or "MU's Office of Student Conduct"—is likely to do?
Now I agree that the police can reasonably ask people to call about things that are less than proof beyond a reasonable doubt of a crime. If the government wants you to let it know about suspicious behavior that is evidence of, say, a possible planned bombing or shooting (or even theft), it can well cast the net wide, so the police get lots of information and then figure out if a crime (including the conspiracy to commit a crime) has indeed happened. And if the university wants information about speech simply in order to know what's up and to express its own views about such speech, there is room for that, too (though at some point such reactions by the university might themselves start to unduly deter public debate).
But here there's not even any claim that they're just trying to find evidence of crimes, or trying to answer speech with more speech. Here a university is urging students to call the police whenever they hear "hurtful speech," precisely so the university "can take disciplinary action" against the speakers. This is the new face of the modern university.