The speech police in Michigan are mortified over an opinion piece authored by University of Michigan professor Susan J. Douglas titled “It’s Okay to Hate Republicans.” It appeared Monday at the website In These Times. Douglas explained her position:
“I hate Republicans. I can’t stand the thought of having to spend the next two years watching Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Ted Cruz, Darrell Issa or any of the legions of other blowhards denying climate change, thwarting immigration reform or championing fetal ‘personhood’.”
Not surprisingly, the commentary sparked discussion over the appropriateness of her remarks — that’s fair game, but using the editorial as reason to create a double-standard for acceptable speech by abrogating constitutional protections for some, but not others, should not be an option. Was it impolitic of the professor? Definitely. However, it is not license to silence her opinions.
U of M student Grant Strobl, chair of the conservative student group Young Americans for Freedom – U of M chapter is shocked… shocked!.. that Douglas should voice such things.
“This is blatant intolerance, and the University should take action on the behalf of intellectual diversity and all of the students who are intimidated into silence. In the position of an instructor, she can intimidate and inhibit the student’s freedom of expression.”
The Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center offers this bit of advice to those offended by another’s freedom of expression:
An offended person’s decision not to speak is hardly a reason to suppress the speech of others. Those who find an idea, epithet, literary work or other form of expression offensive can oppose, counteract and perhaps refute it with further speech — not by banning the speech deemed to be offensive.
As Justice Louis Brandeis said in a famous quote, “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”
Apparently though, the notion of freedom — of the First Amendment variety — should extend only to the student body according to some students. The 146 member Facebook group for Young Americans for Freedom – U of M doesn’t seem to grasp the hypocrisy of their call for censorship of the professor in the service of protecting their delicate sensibilities, while demanding for themselves an exemption from the shackles of circumspect speech.
Here’s a recent post on their Facebook page decrying the scourge of political correctness on campus:
The post directs readers to a Breitbart article written by Ashley Pratte which contains a citation link to a YAF report she also penned. Pratte is incensed that U of M requires a three credit course on the topic of race and ethnicity for graduation. Her words suggest to readers that this is a university-wide mandate, as opposed to applying to the much smaller College of Literature, Science and Arts — a liberal arts school where this type of course is to be expected. Pratte’s breed of patriotism is apparently so rarefied that it can’t withstand historical fact. She writes:
“One student in weighing his options discovered that in order to graduate from the University of Michigan you must first take a course to learn how racist and intolerant the United States of America is toward minorities and different ethnicities.”
The screed goes on to posit that U of M would never require a course on capitalism and free enterprise:
“The fact that students need to take a course on [race and ethnicity] topics is absolutely outrageous-almost as outrageous as sensitivity training on college campuses. What if there was a requirement to take a course on capitalism and free enterprise, I bet that would never be allowed at the University of Michigan.”
She’d lose that bet. They’re called Economics courses, and many a major require them.
Okay, so let’s review: Liberal Professors must exercise political correctness and therefore should be prohibited from expressing personal opinions that conservatives find offensive, but political correctness rules should not apply to those easily offended folks on the right. Plus, curricular requirements should never be tinged with politically correct notions — in this case, also-known-as, historical facts.
The cognitive dissonance must be excruciatingly painful for these young YAF members. Good thing there’s the Affordable Care Act allowing them to stay on their parent’s policies until age 26. Thanks Obama. (Plus there’s that socialist free clinic for all U of M students.)
Now, On the Question of Faculty Free Speech…
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) assert that First Amendment protections are all-encompassing, including faculty. In a current case at the University of Iowa, the organizations jointly submitted a letter to UI administrators over their decision to remove artwork displayed on campus created by faculty member Sehat Tanyolacar. FIRE reports:
[S]ome students claimed they were disturbed by its imagery, consisting of newspaper clippings reporting on racial violence printed onto a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood. UI also publicly denounced the artwork, ignoring its anti-racist intent and its success in facilitating dialogue on race relations among its viewers.
FIRE and NCAC wrote to UI on December 12, criticizing the university for “effectively announc[ing] that Tanyolacar’s artwork is not protected by the First Amendment due to the discomfort it caused to some of those who encountered it”
“Purging disturbing images and ideas from college campuses in the name of protecting vulnerable groups goes against the very mission of the university as the quintessential marketplace of ideas, governed by the principle of academic freedom,” said Svetlana Mintcheva, NCAC’s Director of Programs.
Attempts to single-out faculty for special censorship also raises questions under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
It will be interesting to see if they abide by their own policy. There will be calls for the professor’s dismissal using the argument that she committed a “hate crime.”
Just using the word “hate” does not constitute a “hate crime”, any more than saying “ribbit” makes one a frog.
According to the U of M policy, the professor should be in the clear:
What is a hate crime?
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a hate crime is a “crime of violence,
property damage, or threat that is motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias
based on race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, gender, physical or mental disability, or sexual orientation.”
Within the State of Michigan, a person is guilty of ethnic intimidation if that person
maliciously threatens or physically contacts a person with intent to intimidate, harass or damage the property of that person because of his or her race, color, religion, gender or national origin.
The University of Michigan also recognizes additional categories of potential bias, such as sex, gender identity or expression and age.
What are some examples of hate crimes?
Painting racial slurs on the side of a campus building, assaulting another person
because of his or her perceived national origin, or throwing a rock through someone’s
window while yelling derogatory comments about his or her religion are hypothetical
examples of a hate crime.
What is a bias-related incident?
Similar to hate crimes, bias incidents are non-criminal activities that harm another
because of that person’s membership in a classification, such as race, color, ethnicity,
national origin, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disability, age or religion.
What are some examples of bias-related incidents?
Depending on the totality of the circumstances, writing a racial epithet in erasable
marker on someone’s dry-erase board, making fun of another person because of his
or her language or accent, or making insulting comments about someone’s traditional
manner of dress or geographic origin are hypothetical examples of a bias-related
Yep, right there, in their own words.
Updated for content 12-23-14