Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Keeping one's promises 

The Chronicle of Higher Education this week published (subscribers' link) a full assault on the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education by Jon Gould, a professor of law and womens' studies at George Mason University. He claims that FIRE has greatly inflated the claims that speech codes on American university campuses are infringing on free speech. Moreover, he says, the demand for speech codes are from the very students bound by them, and that the students come wanting to be restricted. To wit,
It is simply not the case that "free speech no longer exists on American college campuses," a charge made in an American Enterprise article about FIRE several years ago. There is a reason that large majorities of freshman students arrive at their institutions already believing "colleges should prohibit racist/sexist speech." They're developing those attitudes, before they ever set foot on a campus, from a civil society that has supported the restriction of hate speech � not from colleges that are "indoctrinating" their charges.

One sees such general attitudes in public-opinion surveys. Last year, for example, the First Amendment Center found that 55 percent of respondents in a national survey did not believe that the First Amendment right of free speech should allow "people ... to say things in public that might be offensive to racial groups."

But universities have a special place within First Amendment law, and Gould's wrong to extrapolate from a general survey to the special requirements of academia. See for instance Eugene Volokh's summary.

Moreover, Gould's claim arises from the fabrication of taste for multiculti education by the government education establishment. Joanne Jacobs observes, for example, the Seattle government school district sending its students to a "white privilege conference" and holding an "equity summit." Thus the liberal education establishment's control of public tax dollars is used as an excuse to suppress speech on college campuses.

FIRE is running a series of rebuttals on its blog, The Torch. They make several points, but the one I keep returning to is this: All public universities are required to permit free speech, and most private and religious schools promise in their materials for prospective students that they will. Having done so, FIRE argues, the schools have a contract to uphold with students and cannot impose speech restrictions when someone is offended.

UPDATE: The interview with Evan Coyne Maloney from Indoctrinate U that we did last week is up at last (the gerbil that runs the Patriot was tired and stopped turning the wheel.) I suppose Prof. Gould would like to put Maloney's lights out too?