Higher ed., lower thinking: 2 states dumb-down student speech

Thursday, March 12, 2015
Bob Kellogg (OneNewsNow.com)

A university in Utah believes that students should not say or post anything that "disparages" or mocks any individual — even including Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara — while a university in Wisconsin prohibits all speech that can cause “emotional discomfort.”

In the Beehive State, Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) students at Dixie State University filed a lawsuit after the school refused to approve YAL promotional flyers that featured negative images of Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara.

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) executive director Robert Shibley argues that such prohibitions on speech at the Utah university are problematic, at best.

“There’s no way to defend a speech code like this on a college campus — and Dixie State should have known better than to have this,” Shibley contends. “So they really were courting disaster by continuing to have this [policy] and now they’re going to have to defend themselves in court.”


Shibley says Dixie State also has an unconstitutional "free-speech zone," which amounts to only one-tenth of one percent of the school's campus. He says the school was warned earlier of their bad speech policies.

“FIRE sent letters to nearly 400 schools across the country, warning them that they had unconstitutional speech codes and asking them to work with us to correct them,” Shibley points out. “Dixie State got that letter and didn’t respond.”

The federal lawsuit seeks the elimination of Dixie State's speech codes. It is the eighth First Amendment lawsuit filed as part of FIRE's national Stand Up for Speech Litigation Project.

Bad speech from the Beehive State to the Badger State

Utah is far from alone with it comes to fleecing students’ free-speech rights at the campus gates, as one private university in a state known for its cheese might soon become better recognized for silencing students’ speech.

Not only has FIRE designated a Wisconsin university as Speech Code of the Month, it has named it one of the ten worst abusers of free speech.

Shibley says Marquette University maintains highly restrictive speech codes. He says one in particular is the school's harassment policy, which prohibits speech that would cause another person to experience "emotional discomfort."

“Obviously you can’t have any kind of controversial or meaningful conversation if you’re not allowed to risk giving somebody emotional discomfort,” he asserts.

Shibley states that if "conflicts of ideas" are only allowed when no one feels uncomfortable, then those ideas are not allowed at all. “It’s important to be able to hear uncomfortable ideas when you’re on a college campus,” he explains. “That’s part of a liberal education: you need to be challenged — and Marquette’s making that impossible.”

The FIRE spokesman says Marquette has mutually exclusive policies: one that encourages a spirit of inquiry that will inevitably produce intellectual conflict, while prohibiting any utterance that may make another feel "emotional discomfort."

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