Friday Ephemera
Old Fantasies Revisited

Herring Not So Red

While we’re on the subject of campus censorship, this may be of interest. In a review of Evan Coyne Maloney’s film Indoctrinate U, Professor Stanley Fish argues that criticism of “speech codes” is misplaced:

Then there’s the matter of speech codes. This is a fake issue. Every speech code that has been tested in the courts has been struck down, often on the very grounds — you can’t criminalize offensiveness — invoked by Maloney. Even though there are such codes on the books of some universities, enforcing them will never hold up. Students don’t have to worry about speech codes.

Setting aside for a moment the loaded and often ludicrous nature of campus speech codes and their potential for malicious exploitation - and setting aside the enormous waste of time, effort and money that attempts to enforce them entail - Fish’s claim is still glib and disingenuous. Perhaps Professor Fish imagines that every student unfortunate enough to be charged with a speech code violation – say, for causing “embarrassment” while on college property - has the perseverance and wherewithal to challenge those codes and fight their enforcement in court - a process that may take months, even years, and no small amount of money.

Given the loaded nature of many speech codes - and given the leanings of those most keen to implement them and most keen to file complaints – unilateral license can be given to the feelings and beliefs of certain “protected” groups. It would be naïve to assume that some members of those groups - and of some groups in particular – won’t exploit that advantage for purposes of their own. If designated victim groups discover that they receive compensation for injured feelings, or some other leverage, then those groups have an incentive to be “offended” all the more - and all the more emphatically. Thus a climate is created, and possibly a feedback loop. Professor Fish may assume that the pretentious, neurotically ‘sensitive’ atmosphere in which such codes exist – despite their alleged ineffectiveness – is a trivial, costless matter and something to be dismissed out of hand. But students on the receiving end may disagree. 

Related, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. And.


The Thin Man

"Students don’t have to worry about speech codes"

Thanks Prof. Fish. You've completely assuaged my fears with your powerful insights and incontrovertible logic.

If this kind of thinking is indicative of the level of insight in Prof Fish' academic work, the institution that he works for is getting a poor return on its' investment.

So my question for anyone who is against the removal of speech codes is - why are you for the institution of rules that are so plainly illiberal, unjust and, in the US, probably unconstitutional?

What possible excuse could there be for wasting the resources such codes, and the panels or commissions that run them, would consume, if NOT for the value of making students afraid of speaking their minds.

In other words, if speech codes can be sucessfully challenged in the courts, the only reason for not simply removing the code is to force students to run the gaunlet of a legal challenge - to make speaking ones' mind an act requiring courage well beyond the level most students will be capable of demonstrating.

And if Prof. Fish does not understand the chilling nature of the arguments he has put forth, we should certainly not be paying heed to his argument


If a person doesn’t see the spread of “speech codes” as problematic (to say the least), it seems to me that person hasn’t spent much time pondering the unsavoury implications and the potential for absurdity. Unless, of course, that person simply approves of those implications, or has some other agenda with which those implications dovetail.

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