Gee, who could have predicted that progressives would support the restriction of free speech on college campuses?

Joseph Cohn and William Creeley of The FIRE report.

ThinkProgress’ Defense of ‘Blueprint’ Misses the Mark

Earlier this week, ThinkProgress intern Kumar Ramanathan posted a blog entry on the organization’s website arguing that FIRE and others have misconstrued the Departments of Justice’s (DOJ) and Education’s (ED) May 9 blueprint for college and university sexual misconduct policies. In his piece, Ramanathan writes:

The charge against the resolution has been led by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which alleges that the [Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights; “OCR”] OCR and DOJ have created unconstitutional speech restrictions by imposing “a breathtakingly broad definition of sexual harassment that makes virtually every student in the United States a harasser,” citing examples of what sort of conduct should be reported rather than punished. Contrary to the assertions of FIRE and subsequent commentators, the OCR agreement only calls for punishment of harassment that meets the legal definition of “severe or pervasive” and demonstrably creates “a hostile environment.” It encourages reporting of other kinds of conduct so that students will be more likely to over- rather than under-report and allow the University to determine what meets the legal definition of punishable harassment.

Ramanathan’s criticism is misleading and incorrect. Worse still, it suggests that the author is troublingly comfortable with both the prohibition of protected speech and with government-mandated reporting of protected speech for official investigation. And, frustratingly, it ignores the threat presented to expression from every point across the ideological spectrum—including a vast range of advocacy that ThinkProgress would presumably support.

Of course, students can and should be able to report conduct that makes them uncomfortable—but if the offending conduct is solely speech protected by the First Amendment, it cannot be labeled as “sexual harassment” by order of the federal government. Labeling protected speech “sexual harassment” and stating that protected speech is “prohibited under Title IX” undoubtedly chills speech.