The Washington Post: A red flag on campus free speech

  • Case News

On election night 2016, Mark Schlissel, the University of Michigan’s president, addressed more than 1,000 students, declaring that the 90 percent of them who had favored the losing candidate had rejected “hate.” He thereby effectively made those who disagreed with him and with the campus majority eligible to be targets of the university’s “bias response teams.” That his announced contempt for them made him a suitable target of the thought police is a thought that presumably occurred to no one, least of all him.

Now, however, this leader of a public institution is being sued for constitutional violations. So are some members of Michigan’s archetypal administrative bloat — the ever-thickening layer of social justice crusaders and orthodoxy enforcers who, nationwide, live parasitically off universities whose actual purpose is scholarship. These include Michigan’s vice provost for equity and inclusion, and the director of the Office of Student Conflict Resolution. Such bureaucrats have professional stakes in finding inequities to rectify and conflicts to resolve.

A splendid new organization, Speech First, headed by Nicole Neily, is not content merely to respond after the fact to violations of students’ constitutional rights. It is suing to invalidate Michigan’s “elaborate investigatory and disciplinary apparatus” that exists “to suppress and punish speech other students deem ‘demeaning,’ ‘bothersome’ or ‘hurtful.’ ” Speech First’s complaint notes that “the most sensitive student on campus effectively dictates the terms under which others may speak.” The university darkly warns that “bias comes in many forms” and that “the most important indication of bias is your own feelings.” Speech First says that Michigan’s edifice of speech regulation, with its Orwellian threats to submit offenders to “restorative justice,” “individual education” and “unconscious bias training,” amounts to unconstitutional prior restraint speech and is too overbroad and vague to give anyone due notice of what is proscribed.

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