Friday, March 13, 2015

Congratulations, University of Oklahoma, In Your Outrage You Just Violated the Law

This week several University of Oklahoma frat boys were caught on tape singing a vile, racist song (and, no, it wasn’t “unconscious” racism or “coded” racism — it was straight up segregation-era hate).

The video triggered a tidal wave of outrage on and off campus. A top football recruit “de-committed” to OU and committed to Alabama, the national fraternity expelled the local OU chapter, and students, coaches, professors, and administrators marched in protest. 

To this point, the matter is rather simple. The SAE students engaged in racist expression, and private citizens countered with expression of their own — doing what the marketplace of ideas does best, countering bad speech with better speech.

Then, the government got involved. OU president David Boren has summarily expelled two students allegedly responsible for the chant.  I agree with Eugene Volokh. This action is almost certainly unconstitutional. I’m not going to repeat his entire analysis, but his first point should be sufficient:

"[R]acist speech is constitutionally protected, just as is expression of other contemptible ideas; and universities may not discipline students based on their speech. That has been the unanimous view of courts that have considered campus speech codes and other campus speech restrictions — see here for some citations. The same, of course, is true for fraternity speech, racist or otherwise; see Iota Xi Chapter of Sigma Chi Fraternity v. George Mason University (4th Cir. 1993)." 

Our public universities are becoming national leaders in trampling the Constitution to legislate their brand of “inclusive” morality. FIRE’s Robert Shibley gets the issue exactly right:

"Censorship isn’t necessary for those who are confident in the truth of their views. It’s a signal of insecurity and displays a fear that if an idea is allowed to be expressed, people will find that idea too attractive to resist."

Somehow, college administrators are convinced that if they don’t officially punish racism, their students will be drawn to it like moths to a flame. But there’s simply no reason to expect that. Given the history of campus activism in our nation from the civil rights movement onward, there are myriad reasons to expect the opposite.

I hope these students find the courage to sue — not because anyone agrees with their words but because the First Amendment needs a defense. They said terrible things, but they did not violate the law. Ironically, the only lawbreaker here is a university so incompetent that it created First Amendment martyrs out of students who redefine the word “crass.”


The students concerned are certainly facing a lifetime of public obloquy. There was no need for official punishment as well.


Anonymous said...

Some administrators believe that is their duty to protect the world.

Anonymous said...

If they sue for loss of employment opportunity and damage to them by the actions of the university they could receive millions and never have to work. Seems fitting for the university to pay for a life on indolence for those they despise.


Anonymous said...

It is interesting that liberals are all in favor of denouncing and shaming those that do things similar to what these students did (it is quite effective at moderating behavior) yet they oppose the use of shaming of criminals because it might hurt their feelings.

Bird of Paradise said...

David Boren needs to be expelled for the entire collage session and his paycheck be deducted by 75% and make the jerk read the U.S. Constitution and write I WILL NO LONGER EXSPELL STUDENTS FOR EXPRESSING THE FREE SPEECH one million times on the blackboard

Anonymous said...

While I agree with the general thrust of the article I disagree that Universities try to shut down racist speech because they are worried that students will be drawn to an "idea too attractive to resist".
They do it because they believe it reflects poorly on the University - a much simpler explanation, vindicated by Ockham's Razor (and also not so paranoid).