WASHINGTON, DC – A California State University professor didn’t get fired after tweeting the night former first lady Barbara Bush died that Mrs. Bush was an “amazing racist” and Fresno State President Joseph Castro confirmed that Randa Jarrar wouldn’t be fired.
Jarrar’s tweet, which was laced with profanity, is protected, Castro said in a statement after the incident. In New Jersey, a professor at Brookdale Community College, Howard Finkelstein, berated a student, also using profanity, because of the student’s conservative beliefs.
“There were no consequences for what Jarrar and Finkelstein did, but across the country, the free speech rights of students at many institutions of higher learning are being restricted,” says Dan Weber, president of the Association of Mature American Citizens. “And, there appears to be a trend among educators to suppress the rights of students in a manner bordering on indoctrination.”
The fact is, he says, hundreds of colleges and universities have gone so far as to establish strict new rules against so-called “offensive speech” on campus.
“Institutions of higher learning used to be a place for dialogue but these days it seems that only progressive students have a right to express their views. Perhaps there is a correlation between that observation and the fact that the vast majority of college professors are liberals,” according to Weber.
He cites a recent survey that revealed 39% of American colleges don’t have even one professor on their faculties who identifies himself or herself as a Republican. “As Professor Walter Williams of George Mason University points out, ‘many professors spend class time indoctrinating students with their views’.”
Weber believes that it is an “alarming notion” to think that conservative speech and thought are being stifled on our college campuses.
But perhaps even more alarming is that many schools have set up Bias Response Teams [BRT] to investigate and enforce rules regarding so-called ‘offensive’ speech. When a student is accused of making a comment or using a word in a conversation or on social media that offends another student, the offended party can file a complaint, anonymously if he or she wishes. The school’s BRT then investigates the incident and can punish the offender. The punishments can include anything from ‘unconscious bias training’ to suspension, in some cases. Many campus BRTs include not only designated administrators but campus police as well.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education [FIRE] says its survey has identified 232 schools that restrict “insensitive” talk on campus.
“Could anything kids say or write on campus be any more ‘insensitive’ or ‘offensive’ than what Randa Jarrar tweeted about the late Mrs. Bush or the verbal abuse Howard Finkelstein inflicted on his conservative student,” Weber asks. “Yet they apparently need not be concerned that they will be visited by the speech police.”
Meanwhile, another free speech advocacy organization, Speech First, is taking the matter to court and has filed a lawsuit against the University of Michigan asserting “speech codes like Michigan’s flagrantly violate the First Amendment.”
The president of Speech First, Nicole Neily, says “a bias response system has no place in America, much less on a modern-day college campus. Because it’s impossible to know what comments might be ‘perceived’ by others as offensive, students don’t contribute to conversations and debates, ask questions, write papers, or invite speakers they might otherwise. This is not a real educational experience, and Michigan students deserve better.”
Some of the on-campus bias incidents can be downright absurd, according to Weber. He described an incident in which three young women were reported to the Bias Response Team at the University of Wisconsin for dressing up as the “Three Blind Mice” on Halloween because it was offensive to the handicapped. And, he says, at the University of Kentucky smoking, apparently even in designated areas, is cause for a BRT investigation.
“The speech police can be called in if a student draws a political cartoon.”
It’s not just outspoken students who face the wrath of campus speech police, either: even professors who dare to speak out of turn risk losing their jobs.
Dixie State University, a public college in Utah, is currently the subject of national controversy after issuing a nebulous speech restriction to a returning professor, Ken Peterson, who had almost been fired for gossiping about a colleague.
The restriction, which the university calls a “Last Chance Agreement”, essentially tramples Peterson’s right to speak openly on campus under a series of provisions that restrict his right to use “harsh, foul, or coarse” language. A clear definition of such unacceptable language, however, was not provided in the agreement. So who exactly draws the line and decides what speech is too harsh?
To be clear, the issue in this situation is not that the agreement stipulates Peterson be kind and civil in the workplace, it’s that the definition of “coarse” and “harsh” language is left vague. By signing the agreement, anything Peterson says can be subject to broad interpretation and considered grounds for termination. Make no mistake, this is a direct threat to free speech.
Weber says that while some of these incidents might sound ludicrous, “We should be concerned for the long-term implications of such trends. Inga Andrews, a German woman who lived through the holocaust, put it this way: ‘What reminds me more of Hitler than anything else [is] the destruction of freedom of speech on the college campuses — the agendas fueled by the professors. That’s how Hitler started, he pulled in the youth to miseducate them, to brainwash them, it’s happening today’.”
Cole Zail contributed to this report.