When constructing authoritarian rules, there’s a delicate balance that needs to be walked. On one hand, you need to avoid as much vagueness as possible so as to not accidentally outlaw things you want taking place, but you can’t be too specific either or else those you’re trying to hamstring will easily sidestep the new rules.
However, when you’re also the one who is enforcing the rules, you can be pretty vague. That way you can let the rules mean whatever you want. This is what one university is doing regarding political demonstrations on campus.
Officials at a public university are promising to discipline students for “hateful demonstrations” and “hate speech” — but refuse to articulate what they consider might fall under that category.
In the wake of controversial protests and demonstrations across the country, administrators at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois have created hate speech and violence contingency plans, according to the school’s student newspaper, The Daily Egyptian.
Under the new plan, anyone who engages in a “hateful demonstration” would be subject to “disciplinary action” determined by university officials, according to the student newspaper.
It is unclear what kind of speech the university deems actionable or what it considers “hate speech.” In the Daily Egyptian article, the accompanying picture shows a protest on the campus last year with one student looking angry and holding up a “Trump: Make America Great Again” sign.
Well, with that photo in the school newspaper, I think we know just how the students think this rule would be enforced, don’t we?
By not articulating what specifically constitutes such speech, the administrators have carte blanche to quash any speech or demonstration they dislike. After all, it’s already been decreed that disagreeing with same-sex marriage is hateful against gays, disagreeing with illegal immigration is hateful against Hispanics, and supporting law enforcement is hateful against African Americans.
Considering all that, what’s left for right-leaning students? That’s right. Nothing.
I can’t help but suspect that’s considered a feature, not a bug. After all, it’s not like academia is supportive of the American right as a general thing. It’s not exactly improbable that someone looked at this from the standpoint of “how can we silence conservative and libertarian students?” After all, we see leftists constantly trying to silence their opponents as it is, so why should we assume that SIU-Carbondale would be above such things?
Of course, we can’t know for sure. It’s also possible that they have no intention of quelling the free speech of conservatives. Perhaps the hate speech they’re worried about is the kind that wrecked Berkeley and caused problems at Middlebury.
I suppose it’s also possible that the press will announce that Neil Patrick Harris and Kate Upton are a couple now.
In neither case do I recommend you hold your breath, though.