Today as I am busy culturing parasites and labeling microscope slides, a thought came to me. What does VT think about free speech? My undergraduate college was pretty unclear about what could be said, but as it was private, they reserved the right to disagree and stop you from expressing your opinion in any situation. One of VT’s official statements concerning free speech is:
“Virginia Tech is a place where the free exchange of ideas is valued and every person’s perspective is important. Freedom of speech in the United States is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and by many state constitutions and state and federal laws. Free speech provisions protect many forms of intolerant statements, expressions, and conduct. Depending on the circumstances, a bias‐related incident may not be a crime. In certain contexts, courts have found hate speech to be protected even though many in the university community find it repugnant. If these expressions are inconsistent with Virginia Tech’s Principles of Community, they may present an educational opportunity for better understanding protected speech and the role of tolerance in the campus community.”
In other words, it is a protected right, weather in good taste or not, but it all come back to the Code of Conduct. If it violates the student Code of Conduct, then it isn’t protected. Another thing that catalyzed this blog post is an article from the Chronicle of High Education from yesterday, The Free-Speech Stronghold. This article looks into Purdue U., their fervent protection of free expression, and their orientation skits. I won’t summarize the article, but it got me thinking about how it contrasts with VT. So much so that I looked up the official Perdue stance on free speech (http://www.purdue.edu/purdue/about/free-speech.html) , an interesting excerpt is below:
“In a word, the University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose. Indeed, fostering the ability of members of the University community to engage in such debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of the University’s educational mission.”
The article mentions how the university president, Mr. Mitch Daniels, responds to white supremacists, and how mixed the responses were, even from faculty and students. At this point, what would have been his response to what happened at UVA. The lines of tiki-torch wielding marches, invading a college campus, were reminiscent of how the KKK marched during the Civil Rights Era to protest the equal treatment of African-Americans. They carried the same flag, they spread the same message. Were they wrong then in the eyes of history? Are they still wrong? Would they be allowed to do the same today?
Thankfully, Mr. Daniels of Purdue U. gave a statement on the UVA marches, but it think the best quote I could find was from Mr. Robert Zimmer from The University of Chicago, upon which Purdue U. based their policies: “It is a travesty to label as free speech the combination of brandished weapons, the killing of an innocent person, threats, and the symbols that represent destruction to so many.” I don’t think the problem with free speech is being too restrictive or too accepting of hate, I think it goes with how we were raised to use speech in a productive or unproductive manner.