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It’s Now 1984 at the University of Michigan

Students at the University of Michigan, beware. If you say anything politically incorrect or out-of-line with the political and social orthodoxy on your campus, you may get a knock on your dorm room door from the university’s equivalent of the Thought Police, and be forced into a re-education camp. Or you may be suspended or thrown out of school, potentially damaging your educational prospects and your entire future professional career.

If this sounds like an exaggeration, consider a new lawsuit filed in federal court in Michigan by Speech First, Inc., against the president of the University of Michigan, other senior university officials, and the entire board of trustees. Speech First is a nationwide membership organization of students, faculty, and alumni (including students at Michigan) dedicated to preserving First Amendment rights on college campuses.

That is a very tough job these days when so many students and administrators don’t believe the First Amendment should apply in their dormitories, their classrooms, or anywhere else on campus (or off campus, for that matter).

Don’t be surprised if what I am about to describe sounds like a scene out of George Orwell’s 1984, where the Thought Police would arrest any citizen criticizing the regime or otherwise disagreeing with the official view on everything from politics to culture. And they used surveillance that included informers and electronic devices like cameras and microphones.

That is what the University of Michigan has been transformed into -- the equivalent of Oceania in 1984 or the former East Germany. As the lawsuit says, the university has created an “elaborate investigatory and disciplinary apparatus to suppress and punish speech other students deem ‘demeaning,’ ‘bothersome,’ or ‘hurtful’.” Yes, really: The student disciplinary code defines “harassment” as any “unwanted negative attention perceived as intimidating, demeaning, or bothersome to an individual” (emphasis added).

In other words, as the complaint says, “the most sensitive student on campus effectively dictates the terms under which others may speak.” Under this absurd but dangerous policy, a student expressing his positive opinion about Donald Trump could be considered “bothersome” to the many (or any of the) liberal students on campus.

One of the students in the lawsuit believes that Black Lives Matter is “a hateful group that promotes racial division” and has “sowed division [on campus] through intimidation by, for example, disrupting speakers and events and vandalizing student displays.” But that student is afraid to express those views because he “credibly fears” that those views will be considered harassment or bullying. There seems little doubt that he is right.

Given the protests I have encountered giving speeches on campuses about immigration, including criticizing sanctuary policies and praising the enhanced enforcement efforts of the Trump administration, there is also little doubt that any student voicing similar sentiments or even using the politically incorrect but accurate legal term “illegal aliens” would be charged.