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Yale Wimps Out Again

A T-shirt calling Harvard men "sissies" proves too offensive for students and administrators.

by
Robert Shibley

Bio

December 29, 2009 - 12:00 am
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Of course, it’s no surprise that when so many of our high schools and colleges spend so much time teaching students that they have an imaginary “right not to be offended,” some students will start to believe it’s true. One would hope we could expect more from Ivy League administrators, but of course one would be wrong. As the Yale Daily News goes on to report, Mary Miller, Yale’s dean, had decided to ban the design and would have done so had the Freshman Class Council not decided that discretion was the better part of valor and yanked the design itself.

Yale has distinguished itself in censorship this year. This fall, Yale was in the news when its press refused to print the controversial Danish Mohammed cartoons in a scholarly book about the reaction to those cartoons. In that case, Yale at least had the excuse that it was afraid that violence would result from publishing the cartoons, as it did the first time the cartoons were published. In the “sissies” case, Yale lacks even this excuse.

This episode demonstrates once again, if such a demonstration is necessary, the wisdom of the American legal tradition that whether expression is “offensive” cannot be conditioned on the feelings of the most sensitive member of the audience. To abandon that tradition is to tie yourself up in knots, constantly weighing words to ensure that no fragment of your audience, no matter how small, could ever take offense to what is being said. Our universities cannot thrive or even survive in such an environment — and neither can our free society.

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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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