Emory student paper urges Syracuse University to “rethink free speech policy”, says anything that doesn’t cause bodily harm should be “free speech”

March 4, 2020 • 1:15 pm

Chalk up Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, as another example of woke students making crazy arguments about free speech—and a cowardly administration at Syracuse University as an example of how not to deal with student-led disruption. As the editorial in the Emory student newspaper below—and an Associate Press article—report (click on screenshot), some students from a “black student-led movement” staged a sit-in in the administration building of Syracuse University about a week ago, protesting racist graffiti and reported bias incidents. The Syracuse administration suspended 30 students involved in the sit-in, as such an act is considered a violation of University policy.

Sure enough, the spineless Syracuse chancellor immediately backed down, and for reasons that aren’t very clear (or heartening):

Syracuse University Chancellor Kent Syverud has lifted the suspensions of 30 student protesters to allow the university to “step back from the edge” and address reports of racist graffiti and other bias-related incidents on campus, he told the university’s governing body.

As Syverud spoke Wednesday evening, a sit-in that began Monday continued inside the administration building on the central New York campus. Students who organized under #NotAgainSU, which describes itself as a black student-led movement, say the university has not properly addressed more than 25 instances of racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia reported since the fall.

“These students are afraid they will be arrested and forced out of the building. They have suspension dangling over them. They are concerned about being fed. Enough,” the chancellor said.

Enough? Well, why not just heave them out and put a note in their record, giving them a warning. Then, if they do it again, suspend their tuchases. You don’t let them get away scot-free with such disruption, for you can imagine where that would lead.

The proper response is for the police or administration to give the students a couple of hours to clear out, and then take action if they don’t. You don’t threaten punishment and then rescind it. Perhaps suspension is too severe a punishment, but the administration needs to think in advance about how to respond to such obstruction.

At the University of Chicago, the response would almost certainly be to let the students have a sit-in until, say, the building closes at 5 p.m., and then remove and/or arrest the protestors if they refuse to leave. If they’re physically blocking access to a building, barricading themseleves inside and disabling elevators (causing problems for occupants with disabilities), as happened here four years ago, they’d be arrested and removed on the spot. Those protestors were charged with criminal trespass after firemen disabled the locks and barricades.

What’s interesting is that, along with the Emory students (see below), the New York Civil Liberties Union, a branch of the ACLU, thinks that sitting in is “free speech”. But it isn’t. Disruption is not free speech. The ACLU and its affiliates need to stop walking back the First Amendment. As the AP reported:

The reversal drew praise from the New York Civil Liberties Union, which called the initial response concerning.

“Targeting student protestors with harsh punishment signals a chilling attitude toward free speech,” a statement Thursday from the central New York chapter said.

The Emory students had an even more bizarre attitude about what Syracuse did, arguing that the only thing students should be punished for as “violations of free speech” are actions that “threaten immediate bodily harm.” Shouting down speakers? Okay! Blocking access to buildings and trespassing? Fine! And there should be NO PUNISHMENT!

Get a load of this nonsense in The Emory Wheel (my emphasis):

Syracuse University’s (N.Y.) suspension of 30 students who organized a sit-in earlier this week to protest campus bigotry blatantly obstructed students’ right to free expression. This injustice raises significant questions surrounding the implementation of Emory’s own free speech-related policies. While Syracuse’s administration has since lifted those suspensions, that such harsh punishments were levied in the first place should serve as a wake-up call for all institutions of higher education.

Syracuse had an equal obligation to protect both students’ right to free expression and their safety. No college should abet the trauma of violent demonstration, as occurred during the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally at the University of Virginia or the 2017 riot at at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Given that, only threats of immediate bodily harm should permit universities to assert their authority over protesters. Since the Syracuse sit-in was entirely peaceful, the university’s administration had no grounds on which to interfere.

In punishing the protesters while failing to adequately investigate the incidences of racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia which sparked their demonstration, the university acted unevenly and with considerable bias. Unless the university can prevent further incidents of bigotry, such events will continue. Furthermore, penalizing a peaceful demonstration both constrains political activity and impairs the university’s ability to respond to genuinely violent demonstrations. 

It’s nonsensical thinking like this, which allows students any kind of disruption they want unless it threatens “immediate bodily harm,” that makes me think that, along with the Wokeness Training that’s nearly mandatory for all students entering college in the U.S., there should also be Free Speech Training, which covers stuff like the First Amendment, how it’s been interpreted by the courts, the case for free speech, the history of civil disobedience, and so on.

Finally, as I know in some other colleges, examples of racist graffiti cannot always be taken at face value. The perpetrators of such graffiti sometimes turn out to be members of the very minority groups being attacked, acts that allow them to not only claim victimhood, but to make demands on the college, as they have at Syracuse. When investigations turn up these hoaxes, colleges like Williams simply refuse to publicize those results, which is harmful to everyone and speaks worlds about the cowardice of colleges. The divisiveness and identity politics on today’s campuses make it important to ensure that, before any changes to College policy occur, racist graffiti really were placed by racists. 

7 thoughts on “Emory student paper urges Syracuse University to “rethink free speech policy”, says anything that doesn’t cause bodily harm should be “free speech”

  1. So are these students going to apply the same “anything that doesn’t cause bodily harm is free speech” test to allow speakers that they disapprove of and would previously have “no platformed” to have their say?

    1. I guess the protesting students want the perpetrators of racist graffiti to be punished, even if it doesn’t threaten immediate bodily harm.

  2. I was wondering about the actual veracity of the incidences of so-called racist graffiti and homophobia and antisemitism.

    Sahra Silverman once mistook plumbing construction ground signs as swastikas.

    People like these students are primed to see offense everywhere.

  3. Nicely said. Also appreciate that you reminded readers that the ACLU is getting wobbly about protecting free speech (not to mention due process). Does woke infect everything? True liberals need to assert themselves.

  4. Fully agree about the school overreacting but also the general value of not bluffing & following through.

    Your U. Chicago example sounds like a most reasonable approach. I was thinking of something similar; if there’s a sit-in in the building, then today might be an excellent opportunity for the administration to practice an “everyone telework in response to the coronavirus” drill.

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