Student Free Speech

Sohrab Ahmari had an op-ed in a recent Wall Street Journal describing the travails of a Brandeis University (of their cowardice and Ayaan Hirsi Ali infamy) student because he committed the horrible crime of speaking his piece regarding Israel and a fellow…student’s…attitude to that country.

RTWT; it’s an excellent piece in its own right.

My takeaway, and Ahmari’s, is that, in order for a student to protect his own free speech rights—much less to recover any school to its duty of fostering open inquiry and debate, no matter where that debate might lead or how uncomfortable the outcome might be for students, faculty, or administration—it’s necessary to engage a lawyer and pursue the matter in open court (or in the Brandeis student’s case, convince the school that that’s where the rest of the free speech discussion will occur).

That’s expensive, and not all students will be able to afford that. A few things about this, though.

One is that the cost of generating publicity can range from cheap to free. Continue speaking out, writing letters to editors—to newspapers outside the school, also—talking to reporters and to any radio and TV station talk show who’ll listen: keep the injustice in the eye of the school’s public. The school—Brandeis, for instance—may well threaten to expel such a misbehaving student? OK. Is such a school worth the student’s time and money—especially a high-priced private school like Brandeis? Is the student really going to get a decent education at such an arbitrarily restrictive school?

Another is to demonstrate the absurdity of the “free” speech and hurt feelings rules. Conservative students should invoke the same rules, loudly, vociferously, and determinedly every time they come under fire for the things they say.

The last is go ahead and do the lawyer and lawsuit bit. There are organizations like FIRE that often are in a position to help, and there are occasional lawyers will to take on such cases at a discount or even pro bono. Even if forced to pay full freight, though, where possible, bring the suit, and bring it hard.

The Brandeis student’s case didn’t come to fruition because the student whose feewings had got hurted dropped his university beef when he realized he’d have to defend his feelings in open court. That helped the victim student, but it helped only him.

In general, I don’t think it’s useful to settle with such schools. If those administrators had any integrity, the (threat of) lawsuits to protect free speech wouldn’t be necessary in the first place, and so such administrators cannot be trusted to honor any settlements that their mouths might speak or their pens sign. Bring the suits. Don’t give quarter; those administrators aren’t offering any. Burn such dishonesty to the ground, and scatter the ashes.

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