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Wednesday, November 15, 2023

More campus speech

Three private universities--Brandeis, Columbia, George Washington--have suspended campus chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine and/or Jewish Voices for Peace. Columbia and GW said the groups violated university policies--holding events or rallies without notice or permission or following procedures (Columbia) and for projecting images onto campus buildings. Press reports (or the universities) have been unclear as to whether they also acted against offensive messages in those unauthorized rallies or light projections. Assuming the universities bind themselves to free speech and academic freedom principles (as I imagine all, as prestige universities, do), that makes a difference as to whether they acted consistent with those principles. Universities can ban groups for not getting permits or for misusing buildings as a projection screen; they cannot ban groups when the problem is the content and viewpoint expressed. Relatedly, to the extent they acted to enforce these neutral policies, the decision must be consistent with past enforcement of those policies against other groups. Is a 90-day suspension the usual sanction for improper projection--or did GW act more harshly against SJP because it disagreed with its messages or viewpoint.

Two other new writing on this. The Academic Freedom Alliance yesterday issued a statement on campus protests, identifying principles that should guide universities in the current environment. Without naming names, AFA hits may point:

Members of the campus community have the right to engage in vigorous political debate and even to articulate extreme political views, but they have no right to try to intimidate or menace other members of the community, violate university policies or state and federal laws, or interfere with the education or lawful activities of other members of the campus community. Any violations of university policies should be expeditiously investigated and university rules protecting the integrity of its mission should be stringently enforced.

Eugene Volokh wrote about the phenomenon of "censorship envy"--a group demands censorship of offensive speech by pointing to past censorship of speech offensive to some other group. As Eugene describes it, the reaction is "[i]f my neighbor gets to ban speech he reviles, why shouldn't I get to do the same?" This principle captures the controversy over failure by universities and DEI offices to prohibit or even criticize some anti-Israel/antisemitic speech, in light of how universities and DEI offices have responded to other hateful or offensive speech in recent years.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 15, 2023 at 04:38 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink


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