The University Record, February 8, 1993

The pros and cons of a policy covering hate speech

Senate Assembly Chair Ejner J. Jensen offered the following pros and cons of a faculty anti-harassment policy as the basis for discussion of the topic at the Feb. 1 Assembly meeting.

PRO

1. Universities have a right and duty to provide an educational environment, a climate of civility, where all students can learn and live free from bigotry.

2. A university’s objective is to educate and to instill within students fundamental values of human decency.

3. Numerous responses from students to the rights and responsibilities document last summer indicated that a significant proportion of the harassment experienced by U-M students comes from faculty. They described in-class harassment, racial harassment at a public event, harassment based on ethnic origin, and clear cultural bias in classroom settings.

4. Speech codes publicly announce a university’s support of civil rights and equal dignity of all persons; the failure to adopt a speech code implies that the University condones hate speech.

5. The University may be held liable for damages by persons who were subjected to harassment, if the University knowingly tolerates such conduct.

6. Faculty and staff, as well as students, should be prohibited from violating the rights of other members of the University community.

7. While harassment by faculty may be quite rare, it is important to have a mechanism for dealing with reported incidents and resolving misunderstandings that may be interpreted as harassment.

CON

1. Any regulation of speech thwarts the truth-seeking process, inhibits the sharing of knowledge and encroaches on academic freedom.

2. The toleration of hate speech is the price to be paid for individual liberty.

4. Restrictions on hate speech represent a step down the slippery slope toward censorship and, ultimately, totalitarianism.

4. Universities are the last place where speech should be restricted, since the essence of a university is the free and unfettered exchange of ideas.

5. Those who are disciplined by codes become martyrs for the cause of free speech despite their hate-filled message.

6. Those victimized by hate speech are overly sensitive and self-conscious, the university’s role not being to protect students.

7. Codes are not an effective means to stop hate, and only strong counter-speech prevents hate.