Which is why it has earned FIRE’s Speech Code of the month.
Samantha Harris reports.
Speech Code of the Month: Auburn University at Montgomery
Another year, a dozen more ridiculous speech codes. To kick off the new year, FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for January 2013: Auburn University at Montgomery (AUM).
AUM’s Policy Regarding Harassment and Discrimination of Students (PDF) prohibits harassment, which at AUM includes “jokes or other graphic or physical conduct relating to a student’s race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, sexual orientation, disability or veteran status.” After years of writing this monthly feature, I often feel like a broken record, but I will keep repeating myself so long as universities continue not to understand: a public university bound by the First Amendment cannot simply prohibit offensive jokes! As the U.S. Supreme Court has held, “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397, 414 (1989).
As one would hope that someone in the AUM administration would surely know, harassment in the educational setting actually has a specific legal definition: it is conduct “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, and that so undermines and detracts from the victims’ educational experience, that the victim-students are effectively denied equal access to an institution’s resources and opportunities.” Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, 526 U.S. 629, 652 (1999). Any definition falling short of this standard threatens students’ free speech rights, and AUM’s definition falls far short.
The section of the policy quoted above would alone be sufficient to earn AUM the title of Speech Code of the Month… but wait! There’s more!
The same policy also bans “abusive behavior,” and provides (emphases added) that:
Abuse in an academic setting is emotional and psychological abuse inclusive of put-downs, bullying, intimidation, harassment, shame, coercion, exerting values of power, lying, condescension, creating feelings of powerlessness, being made to feel insignificant or inferior, excessive demands of perfection, inconsistent application of practices, not providing employees sufficient information to perform, depriving of rights/benefits, inappropriate nonverbal behaviors, ignoring, belittling, talking down to another, making judgments and setting up situations for failure.
Speech Code of the Month: Auburn University at Montgomery (FIRE - News)