Raleigh, N. C.—Although two-thirds of colleges and universities have speech codes, administrators reveal their biases in enforcing them, noted scholar Alan Kors demonstrated in a speech here last Saturday.
In a talk here at the John William Pope Center for Higher Education, Dr. Kors gave an overview of the speech codes that schools have enacted in just the past 10 years:
Bowdoin bans offensive jokes;
The University of Connecticut bans offensive jokes and stereotypes;
Colby bans speech threatening what Dr. Kors describes as “a vague sense of danger;”
Syracuse University bans sexually offensive staring;
The University of Maryland forbids sex chatter and “holding or eating food provocatively;”
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill forbids unwelcome jokes and pejorative comments about sex;
Wake Forest bans verbal abuse.
Conversely, “artist” Andres Serrano’s photograph of a crucifix dipped in urine continues to make the rounds of college campuses as does the work of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, Dr. Kors says. One of the Mapplethorpe photographs circulating on many campuses features a black man urinating on a white male. “If you reversed the races, administrators would be up in arms over the exhibit,” Dr. Kors observes.
Taking the comparison beyond the hypothetical, Dr. Kors told the audience of what some might call an academic double standard.
After the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, Dr. Kors notes, “the American Association of University Professors decried demonization of professors who disagreed with the war on terror.” In like fashion, on October 6, 2001, the senate at Columbia University voted to reaffirm freedom of speech and free and open debate.
The latter body was nowhere to be found when Columbia’s powers-that-be threw Accuracy in Academia and its conference speakers—Dinesh DeSouza and Ward Connerly—off campus after AIA had rented university space for its affirmative action discussion.
An historian at the University of Pennsylvania since 1968, Dr. Kors started the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) in the 1990s with Harvey Silverglate. The FIRE has a nationwide network of attorneys who work pro-bono defending students who are brought up on charges of violating campus speech codes.
Public universities are bound by the U. S. constitution to protect free speech rights, Dr. Kors argues. In contrast, Dr. Kors says, “Private universities are not bound by the first amendment but are bound by contract law.”
“To promise one thing and deliver another is fraudulent: most private universities promise academic freedom.”
Dr. Kors blames the totalitarian approach taken by colleges and universities on Vietnam-era college activists who have chosen careers in higher education and moved up the academic food chain to administrative offices.
“The same generation that thrilled to the Phillip Ochs song, ‘I’m gonna say it now,’ now openly impose speech codes on students,” Dr. Kors concludes. The irony became clear when Dr. Kors recited some of the words of the ‘60s protest anthem for the audience:
Ooh, you’d like to be my father you’d like to be my Dad
And give me kisses when I’m good and spank me when I’m bad
But since I’ve left my parents I’ve forgotten how to bow
So when I’ve got something to say, sir, I’m gonna say it now.
“Campus radicals of the ‘60s have changed their slogan from ‘don’t trust anyone over 30’ to ‘don’t trust anyone under 30,’” Dr. Kors told the audience.
With Silverglate, Dr. Kors authored The Shadow University in 1998. A specialist in European Intellectual History, Dr. Kors served as editor of the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment (four volumes, 2002).