Intolerance and Stanford’s Free-Expression Tax

by Mike Gonzalez

There’s tolerance aplenty on today’s campuses. Too bad it runs only in one direction.

Last week, we learned that at universities such as Duke, making pornography is something that administrators don’t just refuse to condemn, but now even affirm. Meanwhile, this week, we learn that places like Stanford consider speaking in defense of traditional sexual ethics and marriage to be “hate speech,” and they will go all-out to stifle it on campus.

What happened at Duke is now well-known. A young woman called Miriam Weeks was discovered making porn movies to pay for her tuition. The student newspaper the Chronicle wrote that Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta had communicated with Weeks and had “affirmed that the University’s policy was to be supportive of all student identities.”

Across the country in Palo Alto, meanwhile, the Stanford Graduate Student Council (GSC) and the administration are remarkably intolerant — of activities that support traditional sexual ethics and marriage.

The GSC last week voted to deny funding for an event organized by the Stanford Anscombe Society, a group that believes that sexual relations should be only within marriage, which they define as being between a man and a woman. The university itself told the Anscombe Society it could find the money elsewhere (how generous), after students raised objections that labeled the society’s work “hate speech.”

So the Anscombe Society raised the money themselves from other sources and when they found the money this week, the university upped the ante, saying they’d have to pay an extra $5,600 for “security” — ten security personnel at a conference with an expected attendance of 120. The security was only deemed necessary after students at Stanford argued they felt threatened by the idea of the conference.

Today the Anscombe Society, which had been playing nice until now, finally cried foul. In a strongly worded press release, it demanded that Stanford remove this burdensome tax, adding:

This fee is a tax on free speech. We love Stanford’s commitment to academic freedom and freedom of speech, so we are disappointed to see them set a precedent of taxing speech that they don’t like.

The student-government decision was based on a supposed fear that the Anscombe Society event would create a “climate of fear” that would be hurtful to members of the “LGBT community” attending Stanford.

One of the speakers at the planned event is my Heritage Foundation colleague Ryan T. Anderson, our William E. Simon Fellow and a Princeton grad who is about to receive his Ph.D. from Notre Dame. Ryan is a soft-spoken, thoughtful conservative whose book on why marriage should be between a man and a woman, What is Marriage?, was quoted by the Supreme Court in its DOMA decision last year. One of his co-authors, Robby George, is a Princeton don and one of the foremost authorities on the argument for marriage.

Even those who don’t know Ryan or like him can see that this is a matter concerning the free exchange of ideas. Stanford is trying to quash a view that the president of the United States held only 18 months ago, when he began “evolving” rapidly.

At the Stanford GSC debate, some students at least saw it as a matter of free speech. According to the minutes, a student named Addy reminded GSC that in the past it had “sponsored events with keynotes speakers being dictators, convicted rapists” and that sponsors “don’t necessarily have to agree with what someone is saying.” No matter.

Decrying liberalism at our universities has been a conservative preoccupation at least since William F. Buckley wrote God and Man at Yale in 1951. Yet Academia seems to become more antagonistic to traditional ethics every year. Events at Duke and Stanford may finally make parents wonder, however, whether they want to invest their hard-earned treasure to have their little treasures enroll in institutions like these.

— Mike Gonzalez is vice president for communications at the Heritage Foundation.