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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Obama Administration Abolishes Free Speech on America's Campuses

From Walter Olson, at Commentary, "Sentence First, Verdict Afterward":
Perhaps the Obama administration was not expecting a great public outcry this spring when it unveiled a “blueprint” for how campuses across the nation will henceforth need to handle complaints of sexual misconduct. Under the scheme as announced on May 9, colleges must crack down on a wide array of sexually oriented conduct defined as “unwelcome” to one or more persons, including many instances of what the feds quaintly term “verbal conduct,” better known as “speech.”

Colleges will also have to tighten up disciplinary procedures that the feds view as excessively observant of due process toward those accused of sexual misbehavior. For example—in what one critic called an “Alice in Wonderland” standard of “Sentence first, verdict afterward”—colleges will often need to take action against an accused student or faculty member before an investigation reaches any conclusion as to whether the charges against that person are accurate.

The initiative, a joint project of the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the U.S. Department of Justice, took the form of a “resolution agreement” sent to administrators at the University of Montana. As the term “blueprint” indicates, however, the new scheme is meant to bind colleges and universities across the nation, at least those that receive federal money in one form or another—which in practice means nearly all of them.

Whether or not the administration was expecting an outcry, it got one. The civil-libertarian lawyer Wendy Kaminer wrote in the Atlantic that the blueprint unacceptably blurs the line between unwanted date requests and rape: “If a student feels harassed, she may be harassed, regardless of the reasonableness of her feelings, and school administrators may be legally required to discipline her ‘harasser.’” Kaminer dubbed this “an educational nightmare.” The “breathtakingly bold” move has “mandated the effective abolition of free speech on college campuses, as well as the almost certain conviction of large numbers of students, many of whom will be innocent, of ‘harassment,’” contended another noted civil libertarian, Harvey Silverglate, writing with Juliana DeVries. George F. Will called the blueprint “so patently unconstitutional that it will be swiftly swatted down by the courts” and stated that it “underscores today’s widespread government impulse for lawless coercion.” Education blogger Joanne Jacobs said the scheme “makes every student a sex harasser.”

Not quite three weeks later, the Office of Civil Rights backed down, or seemed to, on a couple of the blueprint’s most outrageous aspects. In a May 29 letter sent to members of the public who had expressed concern, the agency said it did not expect universities to discipline students for conduct that was not objectively offensive after all, or for isolated low-level offensive conduct that did not add up to some more serious pattern. (In good bureaucratic fashion, OCR refused to concede that it had modified its position at all, insisting that it was merely clarifying the policy it intended all along.)

Even with that concession, the blueprint is a document full of ominous portent: for the fairness of the disciplinary processes that have now come under federal prescription, for the once proud independence of the higher-education sector, and, yes, for the continued health of what passes for free speech on the American campus.

Man, it's gonna take a while to root out and eradicate the disease of leftism destroying the country. As folks warned during 2012, with Barack Hussein's reelection America's become virtually unrecognizable. But no reason to lose hope. The pendulum is swinging back. When Missouri officials ban a circus clown for mocking the president we've clearly reached some macabre, farcical threshold. Of course we'll see more of such perfidy as the left gasps toward decimation in 2014 and beyond.

RELATED: "Wall Street Journal Weekend Interview: Greg Lukianoff, 'How Free Speech Died on Campus'."

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