With speech codes and “free speech zones” now entrenched in many campuses, students are becoming more aware that their First Amendment rights are at risk.

Cornell University student Julius Kairey offers his insights on this disturbing trend in The Cornell Daily Sun.

Are American free speech norms too permissive of offensive and hateful speech? Many university administrators and professors seem to think so. Over the past few decades, they have launched dangerous new campaigns at schools across the country to limit the extent of free speech on campus.

Examples are easy to find, but difficult to stomach. Western Michigan University prohibited students from holding “condescending sex-based attitudes.” The University of Delaware banned “teasing” and “ridiculing.” California State University at Chico prohibited students from using “generic masculine terms … to refer to people of both sexes,” literally prohibiting students from using the term “guys” to get the attention of a group of friends. And Drexel University’s speech code proscribed — if you can believe it — “inappropriately directed laughter” and “inconsiderate jokes.” One might as well require students to “play nice with others.”

….Our University is no stranger to this fight. Just a few years ago, the Student Assembly adopted “Resolution 6” after an article in the Cornell Review criticized “angry minorities” who are too quick to “complain about discrimination from whitey.”  While students rightly condemned the unsubstantiated arguments and insensitive terms contained within the article, the Assembly went further, urging a revision to the Campus Code of Conduct to “prevent future hateful terminology.” Ironically, the Assembly used Cornell’s “Open Doors, Open Hearts, Open Minds” Statement on Diversity, which purports to nurture minorities, to suppress ideas deemed hostile by a majority of the campus.  Thankfully, President David Skorton decided to intervene to defend the principle that “the antidote to offensive speech … is more speech, not less speech” in an article in The Sun.  Still, it is disappointing how hollow the ubiquitous rhetoric surrounding diversity rings when it is intellectual diversity that is on the chopping block. To this day, Cornell prohibits making “bias-motivated jokes or statements” that create an “offensive environment” — criteria subjective enough to prohibit speech on key issues such as affirmative action or immigration.

What lies at the heart of this dispute over free speech on campus?  In my view, it is fundamentally about what role a university ought to play in the ideological development of its student body.

….If our Supreme Court sees fit to protect the First Amendment rights of those who protest against the very people who defend those rights overseas, then surely we can take the smaller step of keeping our universities out of the business of regulating offensiveness.