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Syracuse’s Lords of Political Correctness Hunt Down Law Student Bloggers

Nobody forced Syracuse to build a giant building with the First Amendment emblazoned on the side. Having done so, however, one would think that the university would at least have the shame to try to live up to it.

by
Robert Shibley

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October 29, 2010 - 12:00 am
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Don’t get me wrong; Syracuse is a private university. It can act more or less like a dictatorship if it wants to. Such a place would have a hard time attracting students and professors, but some religious schools do function under very strict regimes. Nevertheless, that’s not what Syracuse says it will be. It promises free speech to students — its own student handbook says that “Syracuse University is committed to the principle that freedom of expression is essential to the search for truth, and consequently welcomes and encourages the expression of different and varied opinions, and of dissent.” The investigation into the SUCOLitis blog and its authors gives the lie to this assertion. But Lattuca isn’t done:

SUCOLitis is just another form of bullying, Lattuca said. He said a post on the blog about the current first-year law class being the best-looking and “especially slutty” was offensive. He said students should not have to wait until the blog becomes more extreme and offensive to take action.

So the authors of a blog managed not simply to offend but to “bully” every single woman in the first-year law class at Syracuse. Presumably the blog will next post an anonymous PayPal account to which these students can send their lunch money.

“The thing about going too far is you haven’t gone too far until it’s too late,” Lattuca said. “We don’t look at these blogs and say ‘Wow, this is wildly offensive’ until something bad has happened.”

While this is nearly incoherent, Lattuca seems to be arguing that if you suspect someone is going to “go too far” by saying mean things on the Internet, that suspicion should be enough to censor and punish them before they do “go too far,” right? I think I saw a movie about this once.

Assistant professor of law and LGBT studies Tucker Culbertson, also a member of Team Censorship, also points out that the blog is racist, or something:

One of the problems with SUCOLitis is many of the people it pokes fun at are “women or people of color” when the law school is “blindingly white,” Culbertson said. Those students who are most vulnerable should not have racial and ethnic slurs thrown in their faces, although derogatory names for sex, race and sexual practices are thrown around at SU often, he said.

I am pretty sure that in my reading of the blog, the closest it came to a “slur” was identifying someone as “Hispanic” or “Latino,” and the jokes didn’t depend on racial stereotypes. The blog as a whole was certainly less dependent on racial stereotypes than a certain George Lucas movie that I refuse to mention on principle. (Hint.)

But the students should not be punished for writing the blog, Culbertson said. Although expelling the students would be much easier than going through the remedy process, it would not be a successful means to handle the situation, he said.

“I’m interested in restorative justice as a manner by which not simply to defend a community but to make one,” Culbertson said.

So Culbertson is opposed to expelling students for being insufficiently politically correct not because it would be morally wrong, or completely insane, but because it would be too easy! Instead, he seems to want to put them to work, using “restorative justice” not just to “defend” but to “make” a community. Last time I saw people doing what Culbertson seems to want the blog authors to do, they looked something like this. While it would undoubtedly be funny to see Syracuse law students out on the road picking up trash, or whatever the PC equivalent of that is (maybe giving seminars on how all men are part of “rape culture’?), I’m still not persuaded that it’s an appropriate remedy for the “crime” of writing Internet parodies.

Syracuse has its defenders of free speech as well, such as Roy Gutterman, director of the Tully Center for Free Speech, and the editorial board of the Daily Orange itself. And thank goodness for them. But, as so often happens, it’s the inmates who seem to be in charge of this higher ed asylum. Nobody forced Syracuse to build a giant building with the First Amendment emblazoned on the side. Having done so, however, one would think that the university would at least have the shame to try to live up to it.

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Robert Shibley is the vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) in Philadelphia, PA.
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