When one embarks upon a mission to eliminate speech codes from college campuses it’s tough to know where to start. Some codes ban speech that is merely “offensive.” Some ban speech that is “maligning.” Others ban speech that “challenges.” Imagine a college that guarantees a four year education without any fear of being challenged. It’s as easy as imagining a worthless college education.
Whatever the reasons, it was just over a year ago today that we agreed to target the speech code at Appalachian State University. The “we” began as a joint effort between the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in Raleigh and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education in Philadelphia. The FIRE and the Pope Center wrote a report on censorship in the UNC system, which got surprisingly good coverage in the mainstream media.
Next, the Pope Center sent me out on a brief speaking tour covering several UNC campuses. Appalachian State was the third stop on the tour.
My speech at ASU went pretty well until I accidentally let my voice (which was raspy from a minor cold) slide into an impression of William Jefferson Clinton. As one who is well-known for his political impersonations I could not resist a little wisecrack. Looking down beneath the podium, I said – in my best Clinton accent – “Get up off the floor, Monica! I think I hear Hillary coming.”
That’s when I got an abrupt reminder of the “right to be un-offended,” which is sincerely felt – though not actually held – by all of the liberal dope smoking hippies (about 2/3rds of the student population) at ASU.
In fact, two long-haired Clinton supporters got up and stormed out of the auditorium – turning off the lights as they left the room – just as soon as I made them uncomfortable with a flashback of Monica in thong underwear on the Oval Office floor. (I thought it was a pretty symbolic gesture. Once the first person gets offended, it’s time for everyone else to go home.)
Of course, it wasn’t exactly time to go home that evening. I finished my speech and then got to move on to the question and answer session. During the Q and A, a freshman at ASU asked me about the speech code. Specifically, he complained that a political science professor kept reminding him of the speech code every time he espoused a conservative idea in class discussion. But - no matter how far off the charts their comments might be - leftist students were never seen as running afoul of the code.
When the student asked if he had a legal case, I put him in touch with the Alliance Defense Fund. But while the legal complaint was still being drafted, something unexpected happened. The local ACLU did the right thing and got involved.
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