A Perfect University Response To Offensive Student Speech

Law

Malachi Randolph, the President of the Student Government Association at Ball State, emitted an obnoxious series of tweets about "Chinese people."

Randolph found himself at the center of a swift shitstorm and resigned his position. He also apologized, saying his tweets about "Stereotypical Chinese" were out of frustration towards one person and not general prejudice. Okay.

What's somewhat remarkable is the response of the Ball Sate administration:

The university will not be taking any disciplinary action regarding Randolph.

“His remarks are not a violation of any university policy or law,” said Tony Proudfoot, a university spokesperson. “He is likely to find, however, that such remarks do have unintended social consequences beyond formal actions from the university.”

Exactly. Randolf's tweets were offensive and obnoxious. It is right and fit that they have social consequences. Those social consequences represent the free speech and free association of his peers. But they were not legally actionable. They were not true threats. They were not sufficiently pervasive to create a hostile environment for discrimination law purposes. They were protected by the First Amendment. It's pitch-perfect for the administration to note that such dipshittery is not punished by the university, but addressed by the marketplace of ideas.

In a country where colleges and universities ban protest signs and threaten discipline over Firefly quotes and enact vague and unprincipled "cyberbullying" codes, it's refreshing to see a university get it right.

Last 5 posts by Ken White

17 Comments

15 Comments

  1. notsont  •  Sep 6, 2013 @5:27 pm

    I suppose it is refreshing to see them get it right, although I wonder what their record is on protests. It would be rather interesting to find out they come down on protests but not on bigotry.

  2. jaxkayaker  •  Sep 6, 2013 @5:57 pm

    It is good to see them get this one right, especially because it took them so long to do something about the physics professor promulgating intelligent design in his course(s). They got that one right, too, but it took some prodding.

  3. David  •  Sep 6, 2013 @6:08 pm

    Proudfeet!

  4. Clark  •  Sep 6, 2013 @6:41 pm

    > They were not true threats.

    If only the university had a SWAT team, they wouldn't have had to back down because of a small technicality like this.

  5. En Passant  •  Sep 6, 2013 @6:48 pm

    If the four "tweets" shown on the right of the page in the "The Daily" article were the only offensive speech, then at least one is entirely lacking in any racial, ethnic or cultural indicators at all.

    "Ugh, people frustrate me" is about as generic as it's possible to be.

    As for the rest of the "tweets", I've known some Asian people (though not Chinese in particular), who would have responded with snark rich enough to clue the guy in, without causing a major flap and calling for his resignation.

    For example, from the article: "It's so hard not to let national pride turn into arrogance when arguing with a Chinese person."

    Comeback: "What do Yanks have to be arrogant about? You invented the wheel or something?"

    Just up the ante enough to get the message across. Maybe even get a laugh.

    As a white guy with sometimes a suthun accent, I'm very accustomed to people hearing me speak and presuming I'm dumb as a post. Maybe I am, but I'm smart enough to have fun with it when it happens.

    I think even an old blue tick hound dog can tell the difference between somebody kicking him, and somebody just stumbling over him. Would that more people develop that skill. Many moral panics about "insensitivity" would be replaced by actually fruitful social interactions, and even strong bonding between "offender" and "offended".

  6. George William Herbert  •  Sep 6, 2013 @7:06 pm

    Clark:
    If only the university had a SWAT team, they wouldn't have had to back down because of a small technicality like this.

    It's intention, not capability.

    Berkeley had both a SWAT team and nuclear weapons capability while I was a student there. We never used either snipers nor a neutron bomb to attempt to change the outcome of any (and in point of fact, all) of the Big Games we lost during that time period.

  7. nlp  •  Sep 6, 2013 @7:12 pm

    I ♥ David.

  8. singerskd  •  Sep 6, 2013 @7:13 pm

    Nice to see my alma mater do something right.

  9. Michael K.  •  Sep 6, 2013 @8:11 pm

    @En Passant:

    If you hadn't owned up to being from the south,

    even an old blue tick hound dog

    would have given you away.

  10. En Passant  •  Sep 6, 2013 @9:18 pm

    @Michael K. Sep 6, 2013 @8:11 pm — Actually stole that line from the late, great, Tennessee Ernie Ford of Portola Valley, Cal. He used it in some comic routines.

  11. That Anonymous Coward  •  Sep 6, 2013 @9:33 pm

    Life lesson – stupid should hurt.

    Made stupid decision to say something out of frustration. Got to taste the backlash for it, hopefully has learned lesson to stop and take a breath while frustrated.

    Don't need a law, rule, SWAT team to "fix" this.

    I would posit that anyone jumping up and down demanding the university do something over this have done things just as stupid themselves, but would expect the outcome they demand here would never happen to them in the same situation.

  12. James Pollock  •  Sep 6, 2013 @10:34 pm

    "Life lesson – stupid should hurt."

    No, IGNORANCE should hurt.
    The difference is that ignorance can be corrected by learning, but stupidity is forever. Punishing someone for being stupid is along the lines of punishing them for being short… there's just no point in it, because it won't change anything.

  13. That Anonymous Coward  •  Sep 7, 2013 @12:27 am

    @James Pollock – I stick with stupid.
    If someone makes a stupid decision say…Drive while drunk, that is stupid.
    With luck they don't hurt anyone else before they end up in the drunk tank and paying for being stupid.
    At this point it would be really hard to claim that they were ignorant about the law and what society expects.

    It is stupid to have unprotected sex with a stranger, if you are aware of the dangers. And yet even in the educated circles, there are people playing condom roulette still. That is doing something stupid.

    Someone with no education about sex isn't making a stupid choice because they are uninformed. We might call them stupid, what they did stupid, but I think society was being stupid by not making sure everyone was informed about the risks.
    It is stupid that we can't educate children about sex, even as they are having it, to keep some people smugly satisfied.
    And society ends up hurting because people with bright futures end up dying, or parents, or needing long term care because we can't face the fact that kids have sex.

    We might use words differently, but we can agree:
    People who should know better, should taste the fruit of their decision.

  14. Xenocles  •  Sep 7, 2013 @8:20 am

    In natural law, stupid seems to be a capital offense. Nature sometimes seems prone to selective enforcement, though.

  15. markm  •  Sep 7, 2013 @4:25 pm

    In the modern overprotected world, most "stupid" behavior is neither the result of low intelligence nor or ignorance. It's either impulsively doing what you already know is stupid, or just not bothering to think. Less than a century ago, the natural results of that were often allowed to occur, and if you survived, you'd learn to *use* your intelligence and knowledge.

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