Chancellor Wiley, listen up, because the constitution is being threatened on your campus. Wisconsin's latest speech code, the "Think. Respect." program, has justifiably drawn the ire of First Amendment libertarians, who take issue with the program's means of achieving a "Bias-Free Campus."
At the outset, the University of Wisconsin's attempt to stop discrimination on campus is admirable. But the witch-hunt they are utilizing is a dangerous, ineffective ploy that will undoubtedly yield results opposite of its stated goal.
For those unaware of this program, UW has proposed, in response to the harassment in Ogg Hall and Wisconsin's fading reputation for diversity, a program called "Think. Respect."
The program calls for university students to search for forms of discrimination and harassment on campus, and when present, to download a "bias incident report form" to be submitted to the Student Advocacy and Judicial Affairs unit of the Dean of Students for a potential investigation. Implicit in this reporting scheme is that students who harass will be punished or reprimanded in some way.
However, major legal problems exist for the program, if implemented. The university has only outlined a few categories that constitute harassment, and they are the usual suspects of "race, sex, sexual orientation," and a variety of other new categories. The university leaves no open door for the possibility that harassment may occur outside of these categories.
If the mission of this program is to move toward the aforementioned bias-free campus, then the university is already off to a shaky start.
Whether we like it or not, the United States Supreme Court has ruled, on numerous occasions, that bigots, even as extreme as the Ku Klux Klan, have First Amendment rights of expression, despite their vile message.
The court has even gone as far as ruling that limiting a harassment policy, such as the one the university is imposing, to categories of race, ethnicity and so on would be a violation of First Amendment protections, even if their form of expression was not legal in the first place.
That's right, even if a policy stops the most horrendous kinds of harassment, if the policy also states certain kinds of harassment are okay and others are not, it is unconstitutional.
And that is exactly what the university is doing. They are implicitly stating that certain kinds of harassment, or those that do not fit into the prescribed categories, are more OK than others. This may be a crazy take on this issue, but certain kinds of harassment do not deserve more protection than others because harassment is equally wrong regardless of on what it is based.
Ironically enough, the university's protection of students against bias includes political affiliation, in which case the university has undoubtedly violated their own goal for this policy. When bigoted views are considered to be political, the university is creating an environment in which those students who hold those views cannot feel welcome on campus.
Certainly this isn't achieving the bias-free campus that it's supposedly promoting, and what's worse is that it is inconsistent with the purpose of a university. The goal of a university isn't to brainwash, but to educate and innovate, and that's precisely where this program falls short.
While I grant that the university's program takes some positive steps toward reducing discrimination by pushing for students to create a culture of diversity and acceptance, the university violates this goal by punishing students who have different viewpoints rather than confronting these misguided notions.
Rather than continuing to debunk institutionalized forms of discrimination, UW is taking the easy way out, playing the role of judge and jury by punishing students, and this result doesn't necessarily translate into any real attitudinal change.
UW can expect students to watch their words, not out of actual concern for minorities on campus, but out of concern for its campus record. Call me crazy, but that doesn't seem to accomplish the goal of making the campus more sensitive to anything except its personal interest.
Wisconsin doesn't need another speech code that punishes people for views that almost all of us find disagreeable, especially in light of its unyielding support of the First Amendment rights of some of our controversial professors, namely Kevin Barrett.
There are better, more positive ways of dealing with discrimination. Encouraging students to explore other cultures or to take workshops on discrimination is a fantastic method of accomplishing the goal of a bias-free campus.
But turning the few UW students who hold these controversial views into second-class citizens, in the name of diversity, is hardly positive. The University of Wisconsin either takes the stand that all speech is equal, or else it is the one who is biased.
Robert Phansalkar ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in languages and cultures of Asia and political science.