Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Speaker and Movie Bans at the College of DuPage

On Thursday, December 10, the ongoing disaster for free speech makes its monthly attack at the College of DuPage Board of Trustees meeting.

This month is a particularly dreadful month for freedom of expression. First, there's the return of policy 15-10 (pdf, page 109), which was originally scheduled for debate last month. In November, I wrote:
In policy 15-10, the problematic provision declares, “The College will protect an individual’s right to express their viewpoint or opinion, so long as it does not violate State or Federal law and is not detrimental to the College.” This policy is better than the original wording proposed last month, “The College will not tolerate discrimination and harassment based on an individual’s viewpoint or opinion.”

So what is the College of DuPage planning to do? Yes, you've guessed it. They've returned to the original, terrible wording declaring that they will not tolerate discrimination based on viewpoint or opinion. The problem with this approach is that all of academia depends upon discriminating based on viewpoint. For example, the viewpoint that astronomy is real and astrology is myth must be fundamental to any scientific program, but according to this proposed policy, it will no longer be tolerated at the College of DuPage. Essentially all judgments in grading and hiring are effectively prohibited by this policy. Since that's obviously ridiculous, how will such a policy be enforced? Probably by administrative fiat against anyone deemed controversial or by the threat of litigation. It's a litigation nightmare.

And then there's the horrifying spectacle of Policy 10-115 (pdf, page 107).

So what are all the problems with this policy?

First, it gives the president the power to ban any speakers or programs, and the power to control the time, place, and manner of all programs. That kind of absolute power is strictly prohibited by numerous court rulings, but apparently the College of DuPage likes employing a lot of lawyers to defend unjust policies.

Second, the policy prohibits anyone from being required to listen to a speaker “that he/she finds objectionable.” This is a clear attack on the academic freedom of faculty to determine what happens in their classes. In many cases, it is highly appropriate for a professor to have a guest speaker or show a movie or artwork in class. Under this rule, any student who wishes to can skip class, and the professor would not only be prohibited from admonishing the student, but would be unable to have any references to the guest speaker or film or artwork in any test, since that would constitute requiring a student to participate in a program.

Although the policy gives the president absolute power to ban any program for any reason, it goes on to list some specific reasons (presumably to encourage more censorship on campus) to ban an event “if it reasonably appears that such speaker or program (including films, art exhibits and plays) would advocate” a series of things, including “violation of any federal, state or local laws.” Beyond the problem of requiring a psychic president to guess at what a speaker might talk about, this last provision is particularly problematic. For example, it would have prohibited Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. from speaking on campus because he advocated nonviolent disobedience of laws compelling segregation.

Why is the College of DuPage so afraid of having free expression on campus? Why can't it adopt a simple policy in accordance with the First Amendment protecting free speech rather than these elaborate violations of Constitutional rights?

No comments: