Greg Lukianoff: How Campus Censorship Breeds Incivility, An interview with Wendy Kaminer

December 27, 2012

I am both psyched and honored that Marc asked me to contribute to The Legal Satyricon. I am a First Amendment lawyer and president of FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Marc and I know each other through the First Amendment Lawyers Association, a group of bad-ass attorneys that have devoted their careers to defending the rights that make all other freedoms possible.

For my first post, I’d like to debut a great new interview I did earlier this year with author and Atlantic columnist (and FIRE Board of Advisors member) Wendy Kaminer. Wendy is a no-nonsense defender of civil liberties who shares a deep understanding of why campus censorship—the field in which I work—should concern everyone right, left, and center.

The interview includes discussion of everything from the rise of wildly broad bullying policies, to the role of pop psychology in leading to the campus-speech-codes movement, to how campus censorship interferes with opportunities for students to develop critical thinking skills (a point I hit repeatedly in my new book Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate. All royalties from the sale of the book go to FIRE, by the way).

I thought her point here was particularly interesting:

There is this trend towards protecting students from whatever is considered offensive or insulting or uncivil speech. And the consequence of that is that they get out into the world and they don’t know how to argue. I’m afraid we’re going to be plagued for a very long time by these mindless, stupid mindless shouting matches that now dominate our political debate.

You know, it’s one of the ironies of this drive for civility that when you label argument or any kind of offensiveness as incivility and you write all these civility codes and you discourage people from vigorously arguing or engaging in satire that makes fun of other people or makes fun of their sacred cows. The irony is that you end up encouraging incivility because people don’t know how to argue. They don’t know what to do when confronted with an idea they really don’t like. They don’t have an administrator they go complain to, and so they just shout it down because they haven’t learned how to do anything else.

Sing it, Wendy.

Both Wendy and I fully agree that civility, otherwise known as “politeness,” has some value, but it is nowhere near in value to the crucial role of debate, discussion, and candor in a free society. I think she is right when she says that attempts to force civility actually foster group polarization and what I call in my book, an unscholarly certainty about complex issues.

I encourage readers to check out Wendy’s recent column about a controversy at Harvard where, as is often the case in my experience, the campus interpreted an obvious piece of satire and social commentary to mean precisely the opposite of what it almost certainly meant (and don’t take my word for it, the experts over at Comedy Central agree, as well.

In closing, Marc suggested I just come out and ask that you support FIRE. No nonprofit works harder or gets more done with less than this little organization that punches way above its weight. Thanks again to Marc, have a happy new year, and I hope to write again after I get back from my long-delayed honeymoon in late January.

-Editor’s note – we put our money where our mouth is. I donated to FIRE this year. I urge you to as well.


Let the punishment fit the crime?

October 19, 2012

This year, Highland Middle School in Anderson, Indiana purchased iPads as an enhancement tool for student education.  Unfortunately, the teachers weren’t given a crash course on how iPads work before the tablets were introduced to the kids.  One teacher at the school decided to take some topless photographs of herself on her iPhone and proceeded to accidentally sync her naked pics to one of the school’s iPads.

Inevitably, four boys borrowed the offending iPad, opened up iPhoto, found themselves confronted with their teacher’s boobs, and did what any 13 year old boys would do in that situation.  They turned the iPad over to the administration so that other students wouldn’t see the photos.  Wait, what…?

Alright, these may be the most honorable 13 year olds on the planet.  So, of course, Highland Middle School recognized this and gave the boys the credit they deserved for not circulating their teacher’s naked chest all over the school.

Actually, no.  One of the students was given a warning.  Two were suspended.  And the fourth was expelled.

Highland Middle School is defending the punishment, claiming that the students violated its technology policy.  However, the school won’t explain how.  While the school tries to figure out what, exactly, these kids did wrong, the rest of the country can be thankful that they don’t live in Anderson, Indiana.


Happy Banned Books Week!

October 2, 2012

Read this today


In 1982, the Supreme Court found that students’ First Amendment rights were violated when the Island Trees School District removed Slaughterhouse Five and eight other books from library shelves. This served as the inspiration for a week-long celebration of the freedom to read, and thirty years later, Banned Books Week is still going strong. Source.

Sadly, book banning is not something that has been relegated to the dark days of an intolerant past. There are plenty of pearl clutchers and busybodies out there who work diligently to make sure that theirs is the only viewpoint that matters. You know…to protect the chiiiilllllldren. The group seeking to ban books is overwhelmingly parents (shock) and sexual activity is the most popular reason. Just so you know, violence came in at fifth place behind bad language and “other”. Source.

So please take some time this week to celebrate the written word and give a virtual middle finger (or literal if the opportunity presents itself) to those who think a book on a shelf can hurt anyone or anything.


Rape – now provable by the lowest burden of proof available.

April 25, 2012

By J. DeVoy

Last year, the Education Department’s Office of Civl rights issued a now-infamous “Dear Colleague” letter to universities across the country, reminding them of their Title IX obligations to students in disciplinary proceedings.  That letter’s consequences are now being seen at the University of North Carolina, which has enacted a two-tiered disciplinary system.  Infractions of UNC’s 100+ year-old honor code will be handled by its long-standing adjudicative process, and require the accused to be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  As this standard applies in other criminal proceedings, it seems reasonable.

But, where sexual abuse is alleged, the accused needs to only be found guilty by a preponderance of the evidence – the lowest civil burden of truth.  If it is simply more likely than not that the accused committed sexual assault, up to an including rape, he or she is considered guilty in the university’s eyes.

That is hardly the end of it, though.  While the final UNC system for sexual assault charges is awaiting finality, what the ultimate system will entail is bleak.  The procedures UNC administrators found too onerous on the accuser victim were already slanted starkly against the accused:

 • “Neither a licensed attorney nor a person who has passed a state bar examination may serve as the investigator or defense counsel or be present during proceedings.”

• If the accuser has simultaneously filed a criminal charge, “the accused student may be accompanied to the hearing by a licensed attorney who may confer with the student during the hearing so long as the attorney does not address the hearing panel, those hearing the appeal, or other parties or witnesses, and so long as the attorney does not delay or disrupt the proceeding.” (emphasis added)

• In either case, the right of the accused student to present evidence to clear his name is severely limited by a clause that prohibits presentation of evidence that “does not otherwise infringe the rights of other students.” (source)

These provisions are somehow unfair to accusers?  One can hardly imagine the procedures, or lack thereof, that will take their place.

Even if UNC maintains its current procedures and creates a separate body to adjudicate sexual assault charges on a preponderance-of-the-evidence standard, the outcome is clear an unmistakable: An allegation of sexual impropriety will result in university discipline.  Given the severity of sexual assault, such discipline is likely to entail expulsion – and career ruination even if it does not.

Seeing the liability that rushing to believe accusers has caused universities in the past, and that flimsy due process protections have harmed them before, it is surprising to see UNC (and doubtless other schools) moving in this direction.  And while there are many things wrong with higher education that keep men away – skyrocketing tuition untethered to any measure of value, diminishing job prospects, the dilution of bachelors and even graduate degrees due to for-profit diploma mills ranging from the University of Phoenix Online to Florida Coastal University that confer degrees upon even the most marginally qualified students  – turning higher education into a gauntlet where a man can have his life ruined on only the allegation of a classmate, evaluated by the lowest standard of proof and without any input from actual attorneys, is unlikely to reverse the gender skew of college attendance and graduation.


This is COLUMBUS DAY!!!

October 7, 2011

Pick another day, Crybabies!!!!

Pick another day, Crybabies!!!!

This is COLUMBUS DAY.

I’d like to invite anyone whose name ends with a vowel (Persians excluded) to raise their hands, extend their middle fingers, and flip off the Native Americans, the hippies, and everyone else in the International Association of Crybabies who has a piss and a moan about Christopher Columbus.

This is not “indigenous people’s day,” it is not “la dia de la raza” and it isn’t frigging “wear a beret, listen to Joni Mitchell, and wear patchoulli day.”

To the “Native Americans” who have a beef with Columbus Day — suck it. First off, it isn’t as though you sprang from the goddamned earth in Foxwoods. You’re immigrants too. You just wandered across ice to get here. We took boats. You were here first? I give a fuck?

There was a war. You lost. That’s how it works. That’s why the Celts wound up living in Ireland, Scotland, and every shitty rain-soaked crag in which they could cling to life — because they lost wars. That’s why nobody speaks Gaulish or whatever Vercingetorix spoke. They lost the damn war.

Sorry you crybaby fucks. That’s what happens when you LOSE A WAR. Trust me, the Italians know how you feel. We suck at wars. We used to be awesome at them. That ended some time around 400 A.D. Italians are the Chicago Cubs of warfare. (But you’re the Padres)

Tons of us came here to get away from the consequences of being really shitty at fighting wars. It worked out for us. We gave the world the thermometer, barometer, piano, electric battery, nitroglycerin, eyeglasses, the radio, and The Telephone.

We turned ghettoes into neighborhoods where people would kill to have a studio apartment. (Yes, I know that is the Gays’ job now, but it used to be ours) We taught the mayonnaise-faces what good food tastes like. We gave America 39 Medal of Honor recipients. We gave America Filippo Mazzei, John Basilone, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Bruce Springsteen, Vince Lombardi, and Gino the Ginny. You know what their middle names are? “Fuckin” that’s what.

We gave America its NAME for chrissakes.

You know what America gave us in exchange? A holiday. Good enough for us.

And you know what? America didn’t even give it to us, we took it. You know why? Because at the turn of the last century, Italians and other Catholic immigrants weren’t exactly what you would call “welcome” here. Yes, they used to lynch Italians too. So, the Catholics and Italians started organizations like the Knights of Columbus as a way to band together against the bigotry they encountered. They thought that by choosing Christopher Columbus as their symbol, it would show that if an Italian “discovered” America, then as Italians, they belonged here.

So you assholes can run your little left-wing crybaby agenda on any one of the 364 other days. I don’t give a damn if you managed to get every crap stained woodstock love child, fucking peruvian flute band, and liberal academic to weep with you as you look at the pollution on the highway. This is our holiday, and you can kiss my ass if you have a problem with it.

Don’t get me wrong. I generally have nothing but love for my Native American brothers and sisters. I think that they got a crappy deal. I’m with them when they get pissed off at the completely racist Cleveland Indians logo, and I don’t think you should call a team “The Redskins” if you wouldn’t call it “The Jigaboos” (yes, its the same damn thing). I think that America DOES owe the Native Americans a little something — and it ought to be something better than the right to build casinos. We owe them respect, help, and dammit, we ought to put a hell of a lot of effort into preserving their culture.

Shaddap about Columbus Day or I'll give you somethin' to really cry about!

This guy is actually SICILIAN.

But you know what, Tonto? If you have a beef, its with the damn British, the French, the Spanish, and the white-bread assholes who kicked your asses. Lord Jeffrey Amherst gave you the smallpox infected blankets, not Al Pacino. You picked a fight with the wrong people, because the Italians never did jack to you. So get the fuck off my holiday.

Personally, I don’t know why we’re all down on the Conquistadors anyhow. Leonidas killed 20,000 ill-equipped, poorly trained, forced-to-fight losers and we call him a hero for the ages. A couple hundred Spaniards kick the crap out of an entire empire of human sacrificing, child-raping, savage nutbags who make Jerry Falwell look sane, and we think it was an awful sin?

Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 and then your lives started to suck. Boo hoo frigging hoo. The Conquistadors followed Columbus and took all the gold. Yeah that sucks. I got news for you, your lives sucked before Columbus got here.

You know what else sucks? When you screw with our holiday.

So here’s the deal. Take out the calendar. No, not that stupid Mayan one that is going to be worthless next year, the REAL calendar.

You want a holiday? Be my guest. Pick any day on the calendar except October 31, February 14, March 17, January 1, or July 4. I don’t even care if you want Christmas, but picking THAT will be a marketing nightmare.

You know which day would be an awesome Indigenous People’s Day? How about the Friday after Thanksgiving? Most of us have the day off anyhow. The pilgrims wouldn’t have survived without your help. So, the day after Thanksgiving, as we’re all resting up and glad that we have four days in a row off, we can thank you. Thank you for saving the Pilgrims’ asses. Thank you for basketball, and chewing gum, and chocolate. Thank you for potatoes and tomatoes. Thank you for the windtalkers. Thank you for really cool art. Thank you for whatever the hell else you did for us. Thank you for not stabbing every person in a Cleveland Indians shirt. Thank you for not setting off bombs at Redskins games. Thank you for being pretty damn cool about one of the most royal screw jobs in the history of mankind.

But most of all, thank you for quitting your damn bitching about Columbus Day.


Toilet Law School Files Feces Defamation Suit

September 30, 2011

Thomas M. Cooley Law School Diplomas - Take One!


By Marc J. Randazza

I’m not much of a prestige whore, but I’m not blind to the reality that Thomas M. Cooley Law School is a standalone punchline within the legal profession.  I’m familiar with its absurdly large class sizes, its questionable practice of culling the bottom few percent of its students each year to ensure high enough bar passage rates to maintain its tenuous grasp on ABA accreditation, and its bizarre self-ranking system that places an inordinate emphasis on library seating capacity.  After all, “[t]o study, a student needs a place to sit”! (source at xiv.)  Also, if the NFL based its draft selections on US News-style rankings – if they applied to football programs – only 30% of NFL quarterbacks would be on a roster!  Think that sounds like Bullshit?  It’s a major rationale for Cooley’s student recruiting.  Still confused?  Welcome to Cooley Law.

Cooley is an abysmal institution. And, as a blind squirrel eventually finds a nut, and a broken clock is right twice a day, Cooley does accidentally drop decent lawyers into the system on occasion. However, the general public’s esteem for lawyers would improve above cockroaches and approach Nigerian e-mail scammers if this dump were to close its doors — at all four(!) campuses.

And as evidence that Cooley really is the Righthaven of law schools — I present to you this lawsuit it filed against four critical John Doe defendants is even worse.

Naturally, those who climbed up out of the Cooley garbage disposal, only to find themselves with a mortgage-sized chunk of non-dischargable debt and the indelible resume stain of a Cooley law degree, were a bit pissed at the school.  So, a number of people – presumably alumni, former students, or even current ones – began posting at a blog titled “THOMAS M. COOLEY LAW SCHOOL SCAM.”  This is the basis for Cooley’s lawsuit.

If the four defendants had asked me for pre-publication review, I would have advised them against making some of their statements without presenting supporting evidence.  But that poses an even larger issue for Cooley: What if the people it’s suing for claiming the law school’s employees conceal their identities, and are on the take from financial institutions, are correct?  Is Cooley ready for discovery relating to the alleged investigation of “serious Title IV violations”?

Plain and simple, this is a SLAPP suit.  If Cooley were in California, Oregon, Texas, or DC, the Doe defendants would be looking at a healthy payday from Cooley, and would have pro bono representation lined up around the block.  Alternatively, if Rep. Steve Cohen had his way in enacting a federal anti-SLAPP statute, the defendants would have that protection at home.  But because this action is pending in Michigan, the defendants have no such recourse.  Hopefully they won’t have to retain Cooley grads to defend them!

It’s out of character for me to dump on law schools and their graduates out of prestige concerns.  But Cooley truly is on a level all its own in embodying all that is wrong with legal education.  At the very beginning of its Complaint, Cooley brags about having the largest enrollment and four campuses, as if this is a mark of accomplishment.  Harvard and Georgetown have large law school enrollments – but they also send many of their students, and likely the preponderance of them, onto gainful employment – or employment period.  

Can Cooley say that more than half of its graduates in any given year are employed in the law, or at all?  If someone is accusing your nationally mocked law school of being a scam, perhaps bringing a lawsuit over such allegations isn’t the best way to disprove them.  The louder one screams about something, the more likely it is to be the truth – and allegations of “lur[ing]” students to a school so they may be “prey[ed]” upon isn’t something that should be dignified, let alone potentially substantiated, with a lawsuit — if it’s untrue.

Even if the allegations against Cooley are false — so what?  They’re anonymous comments on a blog that are not going to be heralded as being immutable reality.  If the comments are true, then this is the dumbest thing Cooley could ever do.  Considering how many members of Cooley’s faculty are school alumni, though, is it any surprise nobody advised the school otherwise?  

This lawsuit is a heinous crime against free expression.  May an even worse pox than the one currently afflicting it befall that institution for turning the courts into an instrument to beat down free speech and censor the reality that everyone – including many jobless and hopeless Cooley alumni – knows to be true: Cooley sucks.

Read the Complaint.


S.C. Public School Invites Christian Rapper to Perform

September 27, 2011

I understand why people want the government and the public schools to back up their religion. Here you have a bastardization of a 2000 years old cult. It is based upon lies, fairy tales, and superstition. How else are you going to perpetuate this set of beliefs without brainwashing impressionable young kids with it, or getting the government to stamp its seal of approval on it?

If christianity is such a good idea, it ought to sell itself without this blatantly unconstitutional foolishness.

H/T Death and Taxes


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