November 05, 2002

BLACKFACE UPDATE: Eugene Volokh is sharply criticizing the University of Tennessee's administration over its response to the blackface incident last week, and all I can say is that he's right to do so. (Of course he's right -- he's a famous authority on the First Amendment. I have his text sitting on my desk now.) Suggesting that the University needs to create a "speech code" -- of the sort that were stylish ten years ago and that have repeatedly been found unconstitutional -- is absurd. Here's what Volokh says in another post on the University's statements here:

I think the University certainly has the right, and sometimes the moral obligation, to speak out against speech that it finds offensive. But here it seems to be threatening administrative punishment -- the message seems to be that if people engage in speech that is "racial[ly] insensitiv[e]," the University may take action (for instance, by refusing to reinstate the organization) unless the speakers prove their "commitment to uphold our expectations for civility, ethnic diversity and racial harmony." Speakers who have dissenting views about what is racially insensitive (not just racists, but those who believe -- rightly or wrongly -- that it's OK for white people to dress up as the Jackson Five), or about what should constitute "racial harmony" or respect for "ethnic diversity" or "civility," had apparently better watch out. . . .

Not a word about free speech, and not a word acknowledging that students might have the right to express dissenting and even offensive views.

I'm very unhappy that the University's first instinct here was to respond in a punitive fashion. It has always been a point of pride to me that the University of Tennessee has been largely free of PC absurdities. It's doubly embarrassing to me that this stuff is appearing just as the rest of the world seems to be waking up to how wrong such behavior is.