This morning I have two instances of university-based censorship for you — one visited by the administration upon students, the other visited by students upon each other.
First up, The Fire reports that Seattle University Administrators are cracking down on off-campus parties, including by sending an official snoop to the site of parties to warn them they are violating the private university's conduct code. That's obnoxious but not censorious. What's censorious is that they are monitoring student web sites and waring students about party advertisements and about the themes of their parties:
Four Seattle University seniors who tried to organize an off-campus party over Memorial Day weekend say it was supposed to be a last hurrah before graduation with a theme that pokes fun at fraternity and sorority types.
Women were to wear Victoria's Secret Pink-brand sweats or Abercrombie & Fitch clothing and talk constantly on their cellphones, according to the invitation on the social-networking site Facebook. Guys were to wear turned-up — "popped" — collars, aviator sunglasses and flip-flops. The event was dubbed the "Douchebag" party.
But when Seattle U. administrators found the invite on Facebook, they were not impressed.
"Be advised that your online advertising for the party of Sunday May 25th is potentially in violation of the Seattle University Code of Student Conduct," wrote Glen Butterworth, assistant to the dean of students, in an e-mail to the seniors. "You will be held responsible if you host an event with a theme of gender bias."
In my experience "douchebag" is a fairly gender-neutral insult, but I may have led a sheltered life.
Needless to say that Seattle University, as a private institution, is free to enact foolish speech codes that would not pass First Amendment muster at a public school. But if they do so, they should not expect to be taken seriously as an institution of higher learning. Policing student speech and punishing speech that would be legal in other contexts is not consistent with a learning institution for adults.
Next we move to Canada, where free speech is not, as we've discussed recently, necessarily protected with the sort of vigor we expect down here. In the Canadian spirit of recognizing that speech that hurts feelings or contradicts dogma should not be tolerated, Eugene Volokh reports that the student government of York University has decided to ban anti-abortion student groups.
Gilary Massa, vice-president external of the York Federation of Students, said student clubs will be free to discuss abortion in student space, as long as they do it "within a pro-choice realm," and that all clubs will be investigated to ensure compliance.
"You have to recognize that a woman has a choice over her own body," Ms. Massa said. "We think that these pro-life, these anti-choice groups, they're sexist in nature … The way that they speak about women who decide to have abortions is demoralizing. They call them murderers, all of them do … Is this an issue of free speech? No, this is an issue of women's rights."
Ms. Massa uses a currently popular theory of censorship — the categorical denial. Speech about subject XYZ is not free speech, because it just isn't — it's something else, like sedition/harassment/abuse/hurtful/discrimination. The argument has the virtue of simplicity and familiarity; anyone who has parented a toddler will recognize it.
Lest you think this is a Yorkist plot alone:
Meanwhile, similar controversies are unfolding across Canada, with anti-abortion groups at Capilano College, the University of British Columbia-Okanagan, Lakehead University and Carleton University stripped of official club status and funding, at least once by fiat of a single member of student council. Some clubs have regained status, while others appealed their cases to human rights commissions.
Efforts to formalize the York ban on anti-abortion groups began in earnest last weekend, when the YFS brought a successful motion to the annual meeting in Ottawa of the Canadian Federation of Students, a national umbrella group of student unions.
"Be it resolved that member locals [of the CFS] that refuse to allow anti-choice organizations access to their resources and space be supported. And further, be it resolved that a pro-choice organization kit be created that may include materials such as a fact sheet, buttons, contact information for local pro-choice organizations and research on anti-choice organizations and the conservative think-tanks that fund them," the motion reads.
I am pro-choice; that is to say, I favor the continued protection of the legal right to abortion. However, I would not associate myself with any pro-choice group, as I find the movement to be increasingly totalitarian in voice, spirit, and tactics.
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