Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Guidance on free speech 

Not that our universities will listen, but the Office for Civil Rights at the Dept. of Education has issued an open letter (reprinted by FIRE)
Thus, for example, in addressing harassment allegations, OCR has recognized that the offensiveness of a particular expression, standing alone, is not a legally sufficient basis to establish a hostile environment under the statutes enforced by OCR. In order to establish a hostile environment, harassment must be sufficiently serious (i.e., severe, persistent or pervasive) as to limit or deny a student's ability to participate in or benefit from an educational program.
The letter invokes a "reasonable person" standard for evaluating claims of harassment, a standard which has been stretched beyond any semblance of meaning on campuses in America. In an accompanying press release, FIRE's Harvey Silverglate finds that
All too often, the proponents of campus restrictions on speech bizarrely have presented civil rights for women and minorities, on the one hand, and civil liberties, on the other, as somehow at odds with one another. OCR recognizes that there is no inconsistency between civil liberties and civil rights and that civil liberties are a necessary precondition for the continued survival of civil rights.