The First Amendment Is Back; College Campuses Resurrect This Right

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 13, 2003 | Go to article overview

The First Amendment Is Back; College Campuses Resurrect This Right


Byline: Nat Hentoff, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

One of the most dispiriting effects of the plague of political correctness on college campuses has been administrators imposing speech codes and codes of conduct that punish students for verbal or written expressions that might offend their classmates on issues of religion, national or ethnic origin, disability, race, gender or sexual orientation.

College presidents, provosts and deans act as if they have discovered a constitutional right for students not to be offended. I have heard from students at so-called elite universities as well as community colleges about how they censor themselves on campus for fear of being targeted as racist, sexist or homophobic, or otherwise being found guilty of fostering a hostile learning environment.

Under suspicion are such politically incorrect questions as whether Christian students should be allowed to have a campus club, or why the progeny of upper-class black parents should be entitled to affirmative action when whites from poverty-level families are not. In this censoring climate, large piles of dissenting student newspapers have been stolen before they're read, and even burned, at many college campuses.

After two such bonfires of conservative student newspapers a few years ago, an administrator at Cornell University told me that those protests were simply acts of free expression.

At last, a landmark affirmation of First Amendment freedoms on college campuses has come from the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR). This department provides colleges and universities that receive federal funds (and that includes some private universities) with regulations against discrimination on the basis of race, gender or other categories.

On Aug. 8, Gerald A. Reynolds, the OCR's assistant secretary, sent a letter to college and university officials nationwide that the Department of Education's anti-discrimination regulations "are not intended to restrict the exercise of any expressive activities protected under the U.S. Constitution ... OCR's regulations and policies do not require or prescribe speech, conduct or harassment codes that impair the exercise of rights protected under the First Amendment. …

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