The Corner

Politics & Policy

Is Free Speech So Diminished That Only Recidivists Should Be Punished?

In response to Rock-Boring-Nuke-Hunters

Stanley’s important post on the free-speech provision enacted in Louisiana shows how out of touch I am. My first reaction, upon reading the part about how a second offense for shutting down a speaker mandates a one-year suspension or expulsion, was that the law needs a provision along the lines of: “The mandate of a one-year suspension or expulsion penalty for a second offense should not be construed to preclude imposition of those penalties for a first offense.”

To my mind, an essential purpose of the university (if the universities we now have can still be thought essential) is the free exchange of ideas, very much including ideas that students may find disagreeable or noxious. If that exchange is prevented in the university, then the university is not worth having – there being plenty of ways to access and learn important information in the 21st century without attending a college campus.

We are dealing with young people, of course. Having been one, I can attest that there are many foolish things done that might warrant discipline short of suspension or expulsion. But we are talking here about behavior that undermines the core educational mission – and, in many instances, does so through behavior that violates criminal laws against assault and damaging property. I don’t question the proposition that there could be extenuating circumstances in the rare individual case that might warrant less severe penalties. But it seems to me that preventing scholars and other experts from engaging with students should presumptively result in suspension or expulsion.

Alas, as Stanley explains, the biggest hurdle the model Goldwater legislation faces is the mandatory penalty for a second offense. I guess I’m old school when it comes to school, but I think that’s nuts.