5104- “What did you say?” Free Speech on Campus

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.

6 thoughts on “5104- “What did you say?” Free Speech on Campus

  1. That quote from Mr. Zimmer sums up my opinion on the abuse of freedom of speech. And it brings up the question, just because we CAN do something, does it mean we SHOULD?


    • Exactly. I believe that speech can be protected, but any speech that is given in bad judgement or with bad intentions constitutes unprotected speech. And I’d say white supremacists always fall into both categories as their beliefs are counter-culture to the advancement of humankind. There is no scientific basis for race, no superiority, and no reason that the expression of ideas opposite to that should be protected.


      • The thing that always comes to mind for me with free speech is that people treat the freedom of expression like an absolute thing It must never be infringed upon, no matter how much the content infuriates us. However, I would say that we already accept limits to the freedom to express ourselves. We have laws that prevent certain acts of written or spoken expression. There are laws against libel and slander. There are cultural norms that limit the usage of words that may have been used at one time. Even getting a trademark on a phrase or name would constitute a limit in expression, in my eyes anyway. Honestly, it seems almost every government official had condoned white supremacy. So why not amend the Constitution to no longer protect such hateful speech? I would imagine it would have widespread support. The Constitution can be amended for a reason. Times change and governing document needs to reflect that.


      • That gets into Strict vs. Loose interpretation of the Constitution. Those who are strict would not be in favor of amending the Constitution, especially the First Amendment, because they believe that Americans must follow exactly what was stated and allowed in the document. Amending the Bill of Rights would also set a legal precedent that could be used to amend other fundamental rights. There was a free speech case, Matal vs Tam, this year that had an important quote from the opinion: “[The idea that the government may restrict] speech expressing ideas that offend … strikes at the heart of the First Amendment. Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express ‘the thought that we hate.’ ” So, I agree it would be great if our society could stamp out hate speech, but even own Supreme Court would strike it down.


      • I agree with your notion of an “unprotected speech.” I think hate speech is free speech but not protected speech. I believe hateful people also have the right to speak but not the right to be heard or respected.
        Also, it is funny that the Charlotteville “hateful” match took place at the UVA campus, an institution still lacking, I think in many ways, a thorough examination of its slavery past.


      • I’m not sure the past of the university contributed too much to the UVA march. I think it was more a decision to march in a place steeped in the Confederate heritage as Virginia was one of the leaders of the CSA, and supplied the major armies/generals. Plus, UVA was given a green light rating which means that the school in its behavior and policies will generally protect the right to free speech, by FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which has ratings on how much an educational institution’s policies protect free speech. (Just for information, VT and UC-Berkley, for example, only has a yellow light rating which means they both have “at least one ambiguous policy that too easily encourages administrative abuse and arbitrary application.”)


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