The resignation of Dr. David Rule marks a fork in the road for Bellevue College, and it is an important one. I remember how he responded to my question about where the line between bullying and free speech sits: “freedom of speech is not absolute.” The standard he laid out was that “free speech stops when individuals are being hurt,” and then defined “hurt” in entirely subjective terms. On its face, and in the face of things like bullying, it sounds so reasonable, doesn’t it?
Only if you yourself are the judge and jury. The moment we apply the law to everyone, the stupidity of this principle becomes apparent. It would mean, for example, that if you object to this letter, then my feelings are probably hurt, and you probably belong in a prison somewhere. You criminal.
At least that’s what I hear. A sign at BC informs me that “hate speech” is not merely a student conduct violation, but “against THE LAW!” Is it really? Which one?
I’m no lawyer, but there is at least one law that appears to have been broken; maybe two. With public funding, schools like BC are considered “creatures of the State,” and as public institutions, are bound by the laws that bind governmental bodies. Under the 14th Amendment, the state is required to give liberty and equal and full protection of the law to everyone in its’ jurisdiction, which includes our first amendment rights. The school’s gradual, ratcheting imposition on these rights, through so-called “free speech zones,” through Bias Incident policy, through firing teachers who write math problems with watermelons, and now through posters that declare “hate speech” criminal, all of this indicates that BC administrators, not students, are breaking the law. Given that schools like BC have lost every single court battle involving free speech over the last few years, and BC’s policies are worse than most, I’d guess it’s nearly certain.
If you find yourself walking on eggshells, just keeping your head down to get your degree and move on, rather than participating in class discussions and trying to explore difficult ideas, this is why. Your rights to all the freedoms you’ve been guaranteed are being attacked in a war of attrition. Plato noted that the penalty for staying out of politics is that you end up ruled over by inferiors, and that is what’s happening, to you and to your education. It is why Huckleberry Finn, one of the greatest anti-slavery, anti-racism works of fiction ever written, is often banned in schools for… being racist. Nuance escapes these administrative idiocrats.
In the upcoming presidential selection process don’t just think about the policies being argued. Think about the principles beneath them, and their effects. The president will be a warrior in this fight; if nothing else, cowardice will push them into ranks. The only question is “on which side?” As someone who enjoys learning, I hope BC names a president on the side of free expression. And the law.
Chris Robertson – Former BC student