Free speech?

In a recent magazine article, Nat Hentoff describes the speech code at the SUNY Buffalo Law School. The account should be of interest to us at NIU.

The pretext for having a speech code is as follows: “Because the common law and two centuries of constitutional tradition have long given American lawyers a special role in assuring fairness and securing equal treatment to all people, our intellectual community also shares values that go beyond a mere standardized commitment to open an unrestrained debate.”

All expressions of “bigotry, prejudice and discrimination are abhorrent to these traditions; they not only detract from the person uttering them, but reflect poorly upon the profession as a whole.” Therefore, “by entering law school, each student’s absolute right to liberty of speech must also become tempered in its exercise, by the responsibility to promote equality and justice.”

Hentoff remarks: “So, with astonishingly imprecise, vague, and overbroad language, the law school faculty says it will crack down on any and all remarks directed at another’s ‘race, sex, religion, national origin, age, or sexual preference’ as well as ‘racist, sexist, homophobic and anti-lesbian, ageist and ethnically derogatory statements.’ As if that weren’t broad enough, also beyond the pale at Buffalo are ‘other remarks based on prejudice and group stereotype.'”

The code continues: “Where such acts (remember, these are speech acts) indicate that a student may lack sufficient moral character to be admitted to the practice of law, the school can and will make appropriate communication to the character and fitness committees of any bar to which a student applies, including, where appropriate, its conclusion that the student should not be admitted to practice law.”

The whole code is made the more obnoxious by hypocrisy; as Hentoff says: “it begins with the obligatory obeisance to freedom of speech and thought—which it then takes away” without acknowledging that that is what it is doing.

Evidently the NIU Law School professors—to say nothing of the Liberal Arts and Sciences professors—who would like us to have such a code are a minority; may it always be so! But the fact that such codes have been put in place at Buffalo and elsewhere proves that there is a real threat to freedom of speech from Political Correctness run wild.

Then let us hear no more statements that the current uproar about the rise of PC is a mere smokescreen thrown up by evil white male conservatives. If we are not careful, NIU could become another Buffalo.

James Hudson

Associate Professor