The Corner

In Defense of Campus Speech Codes

This might get Stan Kurtz et al. all wiggy, but I’ve got to get this off my chest. Lots of college kids and other anti-PC warriors have been emailing me to take exception to my cavalier attitude toward campus speech codes and the like. They point to these codes — which include rules against hate speech, hate crimes etc. — as a sign that, in fact, speech is not as free as I claimed.

Well, first, let me be clear. I think all of this PC stuff on college campuses is absurd, dangerous and awful. But not necessarily for the same reasons many of my conservative friends believe. I have no problem, in principle, with the idea of speech codes on college campuses. Using profanities in the classroom, screaming nigger or kike etc. in the cafeteria, making false or disrespectful accusations at professors: these are things I would prohibit were I a university president. And, in grandpa’s day, these things were prohibited by the honor codes of most universities. So, the question really isn’t one of whether or not there should be total free speech on college campuses. There shouldn’t be.

The question is, What kind of speech should be prohibited? Aging and mentally dessicated campus radicals on faculties and in administrations want to ban inconvenient speech. And that is outrageous. They want to give a free hand to their political disciples to say whatever they want and prohibit those they dislike from making arguments and persuading people. So the politically incorrect need reeducation while the politically favored can burn newspapers and shout people down and administrators turn a blind eye. They have an Orwellian approach to politics which says that history and language needs to be owned by only one side of the argument. I think that’s shameful and in violation of the basic rules of academia which were designed to encourage free inquiry and debate, not necessarily free speech for its own sake.

But, conservatives sometimes miss this. First, they argue as if universities don’t have a right to prohibit or regulate certain speech on campuses, which is absurd from the conservative perspective (unless you want to drag in the issue of federal dollars for higher ed). Second, they claim the problem has nothing to do with the content of the speech, but solely on the principle. This may be tactically necessary in terms of persuading liberals but factually, it’s just not true. And third, by concentrating on free speech rather than the relentless war on Western and traditional values, conservatives devote their energies away from the heart of the enemies forces.

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