UA Faculty Senate Should Rescind
Their “Hate Speech” Resolution

by Richard Patrick Samples

We dare defend our rights! That is the Alabama state motto. That is also what the UA Student Senate said to the UA Faculty Senate and Administration when it unanimously passed a resolution fearlessly defending UA students’ inalienable human and civil right to free speech on Feb. 24, 2005.

In an act of gross overreaction to an incident involving alleged anti-gay comments by a comedian on campus, the University of Alabama Faculty Senate passed a Resolution claiming that The University of Alabama “has a duty reflected both in law and in standards of civility to control behavior which demeans or reduces an individual based on group affiliation or personal characteristics, or which promotes hate or discrimination, in all formal programs and activities.” Such a broadly-worded statement clearly opens the way for the University to adopt a speech code that would violate the civil rights of UA students.

The wrong-headedness of this approach to dealing with even legitimate hate speech should be obvious to any American. The best and only truly effective way to combat bad speech is with good speech. Ultimately, only good ideas can fight and defeat bad ideas. Thomas Jefferson expressed this fact when he said “Error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it”.

The resolution goes on to advocate that the University “develop clear policies restricting any behavior which demeans or reduces an individual based on group affiliation or personal characteristics, or which promotes hate or discrimination, in any approved University program or activity.” Depending on how broadly one interprets the phrase “any approved University program or activity”, this proposal could severely limit the freedom of speech of any student that the Administration or Faculty arbitrarily deems to be engaging in “hate speech” or “malicious aggression”.

In one of the most disturbing clauses of the resolution, the Faculty Senate states that “while freedom of speech should be less restricted in activities that are not formally recognized or facilitated by the University, all members of the University community and guests should be encouraged to behave in a civil manner and to avoid any behavior which demeans or reduces an individual based on group affiliation or personal characteristics or which promotes hate or discrimination”. One can reasonably infer from this that Faculty Senate believes that it has the authority to regulate the speech of students not only in official University activities but also in their private lives away from campus.

Speech codes in various forms, including that of harassment codes, have been part of American college life for the last two decades. The main purpose of these speech codes has been to suppress dissenting opinion, especially conservative opinion critical of liberal and Leftist university policies. Herbert Marcuse, a Marxist theorist, wrote a famous article in the 1960's that advocated a “repressive tolerance” that would repress the Right and tolerate only the Left. Why college administrators and professors of all people would think that they had the right to engage in this kind of totalitarian thought control is beyond comprehension. These codes invariably are used to justify “malicious aggression” against those who do not conform to the narrow ideology of the campus Left. Labeling dissenters as “haters” or “harassers” is a cowardly and immoral way of avoiding real, substantive debate.

Free speech is absolutely vital to the mission of any university, where new and often controversial ideas must be discussed openly and rationally in order to make advances in knowledge. Tolerance of views that one considers objectionable or offensive is a necessary part of university life. As long as free and open debate is allowed, everyone has the opportunity to defend and promote his own views.

Academic freedom is the very heart of a university, and freedom of expression is the very heart of academic freedom. To infringe on that freedom is to tear the heart out of a university.

The issue has struck a chord with students of all races, ethnicities, sexual preferences, and ideologies. Some feel censored. Some feel ignored. All feel that their right to free speech is being violated in some way. Now is the time to address these concerns.

While their collective heart may have been in the right place, the collective mind of the UA Faculty Senate certainly was not when they passed their resolution. They should exercise academic leadership and admit that they made a mistake, then rescind their resolution. That will be an act of courage and decency that we can all admire.

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