A new civility


College campuses across the country have been roiled by attempts from the politically correct to establish speech codes, free speech zones and bias and hate crime policies. All for the sake of never offending anyone in any way, anywhere.

UNLV was no exception. In 2009, then-university system Chancellor Jim Rogers declared it was time to "tear-up and redo" a Draconian policy that required campus cops to respond to allegations of any sort of perceived bias, slur, harassment, intimidation or put-down. The rewrite pared the document from 14 pages to four and largely jettisoned any reference to bias.

A week ago, the UNLV Faculty Senate adopted what amounts to a codicil to that revised policy called the "UNLV Civility Statement."

The statement declares the university's intent to foster "a civil, respectful, and inclusive academic community defined by a concern for the common good, by developing relationships and a culture that promotes the rights, safety, dignity, and value of every individual."

Refreshingly, it also says, "We embrace the articulation of unpopular and unsettling ideas as an integral part of intellectual inquiry."

Some critics are upset that there is no mechanism whatsoever for enforcing that laudatory civility.

UNLV's campus newspaper, The Rebel Yell, quoted UNLV general counsel Richard Linstrom explaining why.

"There's no way you could be disciplined for being uncivil because I don't even know what civility is," Mr. Linstrom said, noting the statement doesn't even try to define what civility is, but merely calls on those on campus to value civility, whatever it is.

Sounds a bit like Justice Potter Stewart on "movie day" at the Supreme Court in the early 1960s, when the justices were asked to determine obscenity: "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced … [b]ut I know it when I see it …"

Sadly, the same edition of the Yell that carried the quotes from Mr. Linstrom included an editorial bemoaning at some length the fact there is no enforcement mechanism.

"We are thrilled that UNLV's faculty senate would endeavor to foster a community of genuine respect and mutually beneficial dialogue, but the unenforceable nature of the policy makes it rather limited in scope," the editorial complained.

Its call for action was, "We do hope the university makes more concrete progress toward a written policy with repercussions."

We kindly refer the Yell editorialists to a 1994 statement from the American Association of University Professors on campus speech codes that says: "An institution of higher learning fails to fulfill its mission if it asserts the power to proscribe ideas -- and racial or ethnic slurs, sexist epithets, or homophobic insults almost always express ideas, however repugnant. Indeed, by proscribing any ideas, a university sets an example that profoundly disserves its academic mission."

To the advocates of civility enforcement, we suggest you be careful what you ask for, you just might get it -- as the recipient.

 

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