Hate Speech: The History of An American Controversy

By Samuel Walker | Go to book overview

7
The Campus Speech Codes: Hate Speech in the 1980s and 1990s

Crisis on the Campus

The Skokie affair, which seemed to settle the hate speech issue, was only a prelude to the storm ahead. To the surprise of most First Amendment experts, the controversy made a dramatic and surprising reappearance in the 1980s. Across the country, colleges and universities adopted codes of student conduct restricting offensive speech. The University of Michigan policy, for example, prohibited "any behavior, verbal or physical, that stigmatizes or victimizes an individual on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation, creed, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, handicap or Vietnam era veteran status."1

The campus speech code movement was, for a few years anyway, enormously successful.The Carnegie Fund for the Advancement of Teaching estimated that by 1990 60 percent of all colleges and universities had some policy on bigotry or racial harassment, while another 11 percent were considering one.2 Not all of these policies prohibited hate "speech" as I have defined it; many covered only overt acts of discrimination. Nonetheless, restrictions on offensive speech were widespread, and a number of the student codes were adopted by the leading universities in the country: Michigan, Wisconsin, Stanford, Emory, and others.

The proliferation of restrictive campus speech codes was wholly unprecedented: never had there been such strong support for punishing offensive speech. By comparison the support for group libel laws in the mid-1940s was extremely weak and produced little in the way of tangible

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