Hofstra University is a private school on Long Island with about 5,000 undergraduates. As a private school, it’s not legally obliged to follow the First Amendment by permitting free speech on campus. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which has rated 450 colleges and universities for their adherence to Constitutional protections, doesn’t list Hofstra. But if the new demands put forth by black student organizations below are met by Hofstra, it will clearly get a “red light” (worst) rating from FIRE, for those demands include suppression of free speech in the name of censoring and punishing “hate speech”.
The list of 13 demands, which you can read here, were put together by nine largely black student organizations, including the local chapter of the NAACP, and sent to the Hofstra administration on August 2. You can read about them by clicking on the recent article in the student newspaper, the Hofstra Chronicle, below:
Whenever I read one of these reports and then look at the demands, I always try to see which demands seem reasonable—or at least based on policies or actions that bear investigating—which demands seem dubious, and which demands seem insupportable. It’s always a mixture. And so it is in this case. I start with the insupportable demands because those are the most dangerous ones, calling for restrictions on free speech. I’ll quote below directly from the list of demands made by the students, putting them into the three groups.
In the following I’ve indented excerpts from the students’ letter.
No free speech
We demand the creation of a Zero Tolerance Hate Speech Policy.
I. In an effort to minimize the verbal attacks on Black students, we are asking Hofstra to establish a clear zero tolerance policy for Hate Speech which will hold all students, educators, faculty, staff and administrators accountable.
II. In the new policy, Hate Speech will be defined as: speech that is intended to cause harm, offends/ insults or encourages violence, towards an individual or group on the bases of race, sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, social or economic class, disability or other protected traits.
III. Students, staff, administrators, educators and faculty accused of hate speech should be investigated and reprimanded.
A. Students accused of hate speech will undergo an investigation handled by the Dean of Student Offices.
1. Students will face punishment based on the severity of their infringement. Punishments can include: fines, academic probation, suspension from club and sport activities and expulsion.
B. Educators or faculty accused of hate speech will undergo an investigation in accordance with Title IX.
1. Educators or faculty and non-academic faculty/staff will face punishment depending on the severity of their infringement: A record of offenses will be made public for educators and faculty that perpetuate hate speech, non-tenure educators and faculty will be at risk of losing their jobs and tenure educators and faculty will lose their tenure status and could lose their jobs.
IV. In addition to the zero tolerance Hate Speech policy, we are asking that end of semester evaluations include a section that allows students to speak freely about racism in classrooms. Educators accused of racism on end of semester evaluations must be investigated.
Note how “hate speech” is defined as more than speech that encourages violence, but can also be speech that “is intended to cause harm” or “offends/insults” people on the basis of a number of categories of “protected traits”, whatever they are. This prohibition is clearly in violation of the First Amendment unless a speaker encourages “imminent and predictable violence”. Also, “harm” is ambiguous here, as these days it’s defined as “hurt feelings.” And anyway, mental harm does not count under the First Amendment. Discussions of affirmative action, treatment of transsexual people, religious tenets, and so on could clearly fall into the prohibited class of “hate speech”.
Note as well that anybody accused of hate speech will face a kangaroo court, including a public record for faculty, who could lose tenure or their jobs. Students could be suspended—all this for speech that is constitutionally allowed. Hofstra University can of course do whatever it wants about free speech given that it’s a private school, but restricting speech creates a chilling climate for discussion. (The University of Chicago is also a private school, but adheres strictly to First Amendment principles. We have no “hate speech” code, and, Ceiling Cat willing, we never will.)
Amnesty for demonstrators
We demand amnesty for demonstrations.
I. In an effort to encourage activism and minimize repercussions, Black students are asking for amnesty for future on-campus demonstrations. We want students to feel as though they have the right to fight against racism and oppression
without fear of punishment.
II. Furthermore, the amnesty will cover Black organizations and their leaders who unified to fight against racism on campus.
This apparently means that no matter what kind of demonstration takes place, even if it’s violent or involves deplatforming or canceling a speaker (offenses that at my school are actionable) will not be punished—but only for black students. That’s probably illegal since it involves differential treatment of people by race. But at any rate preserving free speech means sanctioning those who violate others’ free speech, and this is insupportable. Violations of other people’s freedom of speech and inquiry cannot be subject to amnesty for black students.
Mandatory racism seminars during Welcome Week and “mandatory “Race(ism) in the US” or RUS distribution courses.
I won’t describe these, but they are clearly indoctrination meant to foist a certain ideological viewpoint (Critical Race Theory) on the students. Note that there are no mandatory “free speech seminars” during Welcome Week.
Segregated learning and living spaces.
These are intended to allow black students to “feel safe” and not be “under the eye of white students”. I have no objection to Black Student Centers, but I do object to exclusively black student centers and I vehemently object to the “residential community” demanded for “Black and racial minority identifying students”. This is segregation, pure and simple. Now if students want to have an elective system in which they get to live with preferred roommates, as is the case some schools, and that leads to de facto segregation by room suites, that’s fine, but I don’t think that entire areas or dorm spaces should be designated for any race.
Public Safety be held accountable for racism.
Public Safety (which appears to be the Hofstra campus cops, which have uniformed officers) is said to be guilty of racism. The demand is to form an oversight committee that is diverse and contains black students and faculty. It is possible that the Hofstra cops have been guilty of racist acts, so the demand can’t be dismissed outright. But based on such accusations elsewhere, like Chicago and Williams College, I doubt the accusation.
Diverse food options.
Hofstra University tries its best to provide an array of food options for its students, for which we are grateful. As Black students, we request for there to be more cultural options on the menu pertaining to soul food, Caribbean food and African food. We are more than willing to collaborate with Compass and the administration to help broaden food choices to better accommodate Black students and our culture.
Leaving aside that the “culture” of African Americans probably doesn’t include much Caribbean or African food, this demand is even more applicable to students whose culture is more imbued with a certain cuisine, like Asian students. If Hofstra does this for the black students, it must also do it for other groups who have even better justified requests.
There’s a separate demand to allow catering of cultural events by outside caterers instead of the mandated University Caterers, who probably do a lousy job with ethnic cuisines. I have no issue with that demand.
The removal of the Thomas Jefferson statue.
This is on the basis of the significance of Thomas Jefferson in “the history of enslavement of Black people.” Now Jefferson has no connection with Hofstra, making this demand a bit more supportable, but in general I’m opposed to statue removal on the grounds that it effaces history, particularly when the statue was erected, as is surely the case here, to honor Jefferson’s accomplishments, not his slaveholding or relationship with Sally Hemings.
DEMANDS WORTH CONSIDERING
Diversity amongst our professors.
The students want to hire more black professors. This is worth considering if the representation of blacks (and other minorities) is very low on campus AND is due to racism in hiring, not to a shortage of viable candidates in the face of vigorous efforts to recruit minority faculty.
Black history must be taught in American history courses.
This may be worth considering if black history is given short shrift in those courses.
A revamp of the African Studies major.
The students say that only three courses are available for this major in the fall semester. If that’s the case, and there is a major (it’s not clear from the letter, which says “the Hofstra bulletin states there is a possibility of obtaining an African Studies degree”), then yes, they need to have a look at how to implement that major.
Support for Black mental health
Although the racial disparity in psychology may be somewhat exaggerated (“As Black people in the United States, we experience life very differently than our white and even non-black POC counterparts”), it is possible that having a black counselor in the Student Health and Counseling Center would provide more psychological support for black students than counselors of other races, if only because one is more willing to open up to somebody of one’s ethnic group. So I think this demand is worth considering.
But I do draw the line at those demands that restrict First Amendment style free speech, for segregated living spaces and places to congregate, for amnesty for those black students who break college rules during demonstrations, and for demands that everybody be indoctrinated with Critical Racism Theory.