Phi Beta Cons

What About “Snowflake” Professors?

We have heard a lot about America’s “snowflake” college students — kids (they certainly act like little kids rather than adults) who claim that they simply can’t tolerate speech or action that conflicts with their beliefs. We also have some snowflake professors, though.

In this post on FIRE’s blog The Torch, Will Creeley discusses the lamentable decision by the Ninth Circuit in O’Brien v. Welty.

A student at Cal State Fresno, Neil O’Brien, founder of the school’s Young Americans for Liberty chapter, wanted to find out what two professors who had assigned a poem he found objectionable had to say about it. So he went to their offices, camera rolling, trying to get their opinions on it.

Neither chose to answer him, which would be perfectly fine. Faculty members are not obligated to discuss material with students, especially on camera. The professors, however, weren’t content merely to tell O’Brien to stop bothering them. They called the police and later filed a complaint against him, arguing that he had violated the school’s policy against harassment.

O’Brien took the matter to court, assisted by FIRE, the Student Press Law Center, and famed First Amendment scholar Eugene Volokh of UCLA law school.

The district court ruled against O’Brien and so did the Ninth Circuit on April 7.

Professor Volokh has written that the case threatens student journalism because it leaves students having to guess where the “harassment” line might be drawn.

George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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