The New Victorians Strike Campus Yet Again (VIDEO)

By Greg Lukianoff

While they are rightfully accused of being hyper-politically correct, college campuses these days sometimes seem downright Victorian. Take, for example, the case of Isaac Rosenbloom, a student whose quest to complete college so he could become a paramedic was nearly ended after he complained to another student about an assignment after class. Rosenbloom told his classmate that the grade he got on the assignment was “going to fuck up my entire GPA.” When his professor overheard him, she threatened the 29-year-old father of two with (I kid you not) “detention.” Rosenbloom was brought up under the charge of “flagrant disrespect of any person”—an actual offense at Hinds Community College in Mississippi.

Check out Isaac’s story in this new video.

One might think that such a ridiculous incident would quickly resolve itself as soon as the charges got in front of the university counsel. But one would be wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong. Ignoring cases like Cohen v. California (1971) and, even more on point, Papish v. Board of Curators (1973), the administration went ahead with a surreal hearing. Rosenbloom was found guilty of “flagrant disrespect,” given 12 “demerits,” and was no longer eligible for his Pell Grant, (which effectively meant expulsion for Rosenbloom). The university only backed down after my organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), found a lawyer for Rosenbloom and secured a favorable settlement in July 2010.

Cases like this are not rare on campus. Indeed, just as the Isaac Rosenbloom case was ending, the perhaps even sillier swearing case of Jacob Lovell at the University of Georgia was just beginning (you can watch a video about his case here, complete with Lex Luthor allusions). As I pointed out last fall when I unveiled a video about a professor who vandalized a “free speech wall” in Texas because someone had written “fuck Obama” on it, if there is one thing that seems to unite the Right and Left on campus, it is that some subset of both groups really, really hate swearing. Because of this fact, unfortunately, campus administrators are too often able to get away with punishing students for cases that involve swearing.

I tried to call out this practice in my book Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate. While swearing is sometimes the purported justification for punishment, it is clear that in case after case students are not really being punished for swearing, they are being punished because they swore in the process of complaining about the university.

Lately it seems as though the “campus censors as Victorians” theme is popping up all over the country. Just last month one college in upstate New York banned a campus event involving a gay porn star, another college in New Mexico shut down the student newspaper after they produced an issue about sex, and in an ongoing saga, a professor at Appalachian State University was suspended after showing a graphic video that was critical of the adult film industry.

Today’s campus censors appear to be haunted by the spirit of Anthony Comstock, and they’re likely to have the same level of success in the long run that Comstock did. But in the meantime, these efforts to appease the uptight are doing real damage by harming discourse on campus, impoverishing the marketplace of ideas, and higher education just a little bit dumber.

Greg  Lukianoff is the president of Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).  He is also the author of “Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate.”

10 Responses to The New Victorians Strike Campus Yet Again (VIDEO)

  1. Larry Sutter says:

    Greg’s organization gets a well-deserved shout-out in today’s Wall St. Journal op-ed page (“A Mother, a Feminist, Aghast.”) Due Process comes in right behind free speech, it would seem, on the list of rights being extinguished on today’s campuses.

  2. bill says:

    It’s really sad how this works – take it to the bank that if you use profanity against anyone or anything they don’t like, you’ll be fine. The powers that be do unite around profanity, but as long as you direct it at things they don’t like, they’ll tolerate it. If you direct it at them – you’re in trouble. The pompous “marketplace of ideas” is such BS – College campuses are more restrictive in terms of speech than any other area I can think of other than maybe a trial.

    • Jack S says:

      As you point out, it is terribly sad – but what is downright suicidally depressing is the fact these people are paying the school $20,000 – $50,000 a year to be subjected to this. At least in a trial you have Judge at the front of the room who, at least sometimes, is a sensible adult whereas at college the only presence at the front of the room is the bearucracy of disciplinarians, anti-bullying experts, and an overly entitled student panel.

  3. [...] a piece that was covered by The Daily Caller and The Legal Satyricon, Greg discusses the peculiar persistence of Victorian tendencies among campus administrators. He [...]

  4. Don’t mind me. I am just here to blow up the sun.

  5. Brazil says:

    To bill, that’s the way things work in most of the campuses of the world, sadly. here in Brazil it works the same way.

  6. dkenner says:

    Why is it whenever I read about such persecution, the student being raked over the coals always has a Jewish name? Granted, I don’t keep up with every instance, but there seems to be a preponderance of Jewish victims of political correctness. Given the resurgence of anti-semitism on campuses and the irrational hatred of anyone who might have the slightest positive feeling for Israel, I cannot help but wonder if Jewish students are not statistically more likely to be singled out for such treatment.

  7. […] 28. The Legal Satyricon takes a sometimes lighthearted, often irreverent and satyrical look at legal matters. With a world full of many serious legal blogs, this may be a welcome change of pace for many. Highlight: The New Victorians Strike Campus Yet Again […]

  8. Patrick K says:

    That is just crazy! I have to agree with Jack S. with how much students pay these colleges you think they would be treated better. Also I thought college was supposed to be about speaking out, I’m sure that was a bit harsh to say in front of your professor but his spoke his mind and I’m pretty sure when I was in college that was what I had been taught to do.

  9. Sandra Dotch says:

    Crazy! How can a college punish a student for stating something like that, I understand that he should not have said it infront of his professor but still students are going to complain about there grades. I know I used to all the time

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