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EDITORIAL: Nevada must avoid University of California’s laughable speech policy

In its ongoing quest to make college more stilted, more politically correct and generally less fun, the University of California has found yet another way to foster a culture of anonymous tattle-taleism.

The university has launched a systemwide “intolerance report form,” which allows people to anonymously report any violation of the university’s “principles of community,” including expressions of bias, hate speech, hate crimes, graffiti or vandalism, intimidation, bullying, or bias incidents. But it’s the “hostile climate” category where things really get disturbing: “A focus on the race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender or sexual orientation of another person or group which is severe or pervasive enough to affect campus academic life. Examples include unwanted jokes or teasing, derogatory or disparaging comments, posters, cartoons, drawings or pictures of a biased nature.”

How could officials have left out “knowing laughs, winks or smirks”?

Perhaps more troubling is this: Under the “expressions of bias,” and “bias incidents” categories on the form, the university stresses that “expressions of bias may violate student conduct code or other university policies; other expressions of bias may be fully protected expressions of speech.” But when it comes to the “hostile climate” category, there is no such language, despite the fact that jokes, teasing, derogatory or disparaging comments, posters, cartoons, drawings or pictures of a biased nature are all examples of things that are fully protected expressions of speech

When it comes to enforcing Ari Fleisher-style “watch what they say” rules designed to salve the tender sensibilities of the next generation of delicate snowflakes, the nation’s schools really ought to respond with a healthy wave of unwanted jokes, teasing and derogatory or disparaging comments.

For all the academy’s high-minded objections to plagiarism, the cut-and-pasting of sensitivity policies from one campus to another is widespread and quite dispiriting. Nevada’s universities would be well-advised to stay far away from this kind of foolishness.

And you don’t need a Boyd Law School professor to tell you why, either. Although if one were to be consulted, she or he would likely note the policy denies alleged perpetrators the rights to free speech, to confront their accusers and to enjoy due process of law, depending upon how discipline under the policy is meted out.

One final discouraging note from the California policy is this handy reminder: “Even if you don’t want or expect any action to be taken, having a record of all campus incidents helps the university to better address issues of culture, climate and inclusion. Your report can make a difference.”

Yes, indeed, your report can help transform a campus culture from a robust, free-flowing, full-throated forum for debate and the exchange of controversial and uncomfortable ideas and to a hovel of Joyceian silence, exile and cunning, where somebody’s always listening for an inappropriate word, lest some offense be given or taken.

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