Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Liberals and Speech Codes

KC Johnson wonders why liberals don't speak out against speech codes and the recent “Dear Colleagues” on campus due process by the Department of Education. The answer is: we do. In fact, Johnson links to a FIRE article that points out the fact that the AAUP and Cary Nelson wrote two letters to the OCR about the issue of due process on campus.

I criticize repressive aspects of speech codes in my books The Myth of Political Correctness (1995) and Patriotic Correctness (2008). In fact, I go much further than other critics such as FIRE, and point out the flaws in speech codes at colleges that they give a green light to. Just today, I posted an essay on Academe Blog about Liberty University, noting that it has one of the worst speech codes in the country (and one which conservative groups typically refuse to criticize). It's ridiculous to declare, as Peter Berkowitz does, that President Obama was obligated to tell colleges that they must “abolish campus speech codes.” Regulation of speech is a necessary part of any society and any campus. Otherwise, people could shout down speakers, make threats, steal newspapers, and so on, claiming free speech as their defense.

The problem is not that colleges regulate speech with codes; the problem is that their speech codes are badly written, vague, and repressive. We need better speech codes, not a nonsensical ban on speech codes. Unfortunately, it is not so easy to advocate making marginal adjustments in obscure campus regulations in order to reduce (but not eliminate) the likelihood that administrators can abuse it. Nor do I think that the federal government should be dictating speech codes to colleges. If anything, we should be urging President Obama to protect the free speech rights of federal employees in the age of Garcetti, not calling upon him to make uninformed judgments about college campuses.

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