As a long time resident of Washington, D.C., and one of the witnesses called to testify before the Oct. 29 Senate committee hearing on intellectual diversity and free speech on college and university campuses, I was deeply disappointed by Drew Johnson-Skinner’s coverage of the hearing. (“Congress Investigates Intellectual Diversity,” The Hoya, October 31, 2003, p.1 ) For one, the article stated that “Republican members of the Senate Committee . were joined by four witnesses from the academic community in blaming liberal professors and administrators for a lack of intellectual diversity and freedom at universities around the country.” I think this is a manifestly unfair and an incomplete explanation of the testimony. y testimony stressed the fact that speech codes and punishment of speech negatively affects everyone on a college campus, and that “campus censorship is quite often a simple, naked exercise of power.” I pointed out numerous incidents where the censorship had nothing to do with politics at all. While I did state that “students and professors with orthodox religious views, conservative advocates and bold satirists are more likely than others to be censored under the current campus climate,” – a simple fact in my experience – I certainly did not blame “liberal professors” in general for the problem. I do not believe any of the witnesses did so. I would never make such a statement, especially since it would implicate many of my personal heroes, from Nadine Strossen of the American Civil Liberties Union, to Kathleen Sullivan of Stanford Law, to Jamin Raskin of the Washington School of Law at American University, all of whom are outstanding defenders of free speech.

One detail that merited mentioning was the fact that three of the four witnesses – including myself – identify themselves both as liberals and as democrats. In a hyper-polarized and partisan society like the one we live in it is essential to mention such facts. The hearing addressed issues of crucial importance to all who care about liberty and higher education, and it is essential that people understand that the criticism is not just coming from one side of the political spectrum. Furthermore, the fact that no democratic senators decided to attend the hearing was a serious issue and a great disappointment to me and to the other witnesses. Members of the committee include Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and I think they could make an indispensable contribution to winning the war for free speech on campus.

Another disappointment in the article was the coverage of Georgetown’s speech code and why Georgetown earned a worst free speech rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Georgetown’s code, for example, bans harassment but defines it as “any intentional or persistent act(s) deemed intimidating, hostile, coercive or offensive.” Surely one can see that banning any intentional act that is offensive would ban a tremendous amount of protected speech. As I wrote in my testimony, “No one denies that a college can and should ban true harassment, but hiding a speech code inside of a `racial harassment code,’ for example, does not thereby magically shield a college or university from the obligations of free speech and academic freedom.” Georgetown also warns that it will “educate” (in judicial affairs circles, this always means punish, often through mandatory trainings or counseling) students who engage in “expression that is indecent or is grossly obscene or grossly offensive on matters such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual preference.” Georgetown also lists among its category B offenses sending “sexually explicit communication (i.e. electronic and voice messages, photos, pictures, graphics, etc.)”

With all these policies it was wrong to uncritically quote Todd Olson when he claimed Georgetown’s policies “are very much in alignment with the constitutional freedoms we all value.” I assure you sexually explicit e-mails or pictures, “offensive” or “hostile” expressions and even “indecent” expression is protected by the constitution. Therefore Georgetown’s is not at all “in alignment with” the constitution. To give you a good idea of how much speech is restricted under the code, try to imagine a university where no one was allowed to say anything that any other person could find offensive, hostile or critical of someone’s religion and even prohibiting saying anything that could be deemed “sexually explicit.” Under a fair application of this code many of society’s most important issues could not be meaningfully discussed without risking punishment and, at very least, it would make for a bland campus.

In conclusion I would like to extend an invitation to all students and faculty at Georgetown University who believe free speech is one of our most important values to join FIRE in repealing speech codes, liberating tiny “free speech zones” and fighting for the basic rights of all students. We need all of your help in defending the speech rights of this generation and to make sure those rights are fully intact for the next.

Greg Lukianoff is the Director of Legal and Public Advocacy for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

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