A College President Who Supports Free Speech

A College President Who Supports Free Speech April 14, 2006

Via David Bernstein at the Volokh Conspiracy comes this story about a college president who really gets it when it comes to free speech. A student group at Northern Kentucky University put up a display of hundreds of crosses on campus as a way to protest abortion, which they oppose. A professor at the school, British literature teacher Sally Jacobsen, actually encourages one of her classes to go out and destroy the display and they go and dump 400 crosses in the garbage. The professor, to say the least, is a bit confused about the meaning of free speech:

During a break in class, Jacobsen said she asked “if any students wanted to participate in practicing their freedom of speech in destroying the very offensive right to life, anti-abortion display in the central plaza.”

“Some did,” she said.

Now, being an English professor, one would think she has a pretty firm grasp on the language, but this is blatantly idiotic sophistry. You do not practice your freedom of expression by destroying someone else’s display; you practice your free expression by putting up your own display, by giving a speech against it, by writing letters to the school paper, and so forth. And thankfully, the university President isn’t putting up with it:

NKU President Jim Votruba said police are continuing to investigate and would turn the matter over to Campbell County, Ky., prosecutors and the university administration for review.

He said Jacobsen and the 10 to 12 students involved, whom police have not yet identified, could face disciplinary action.

“In my mind, this is a serious violation of a faculty member’s responsibilities and undermines what a university is established to do,” Votruba said.

He dismissed as “a ludicrous comment” Jacobsen’s assertion that students were expressing freedom of speech, saying it doesn’t apply to vandalizing or stealing property.

And he’s right. He continued:

Jacobsen said she felt “horribly violated” by the display, saying any woman going through the process of abortion “should not be slapped in the face by her university by calling her a scarlet woman.”

Votruba said he would prefer Jacobsen and others who found the display offensive erect their own display.

“That’s a civilized way to let ideas play off each other,” he said.

In an e-mail sent to campus officials earlier this week and obtained by The Kentucky Post, Jacobsen demanded the display be removed immediately. She wrote that the crosses violated the separation of church and state because NKU is a state institution.

Votruba disagreed.

“If people are occasionally offended by points of view on a campus, that’s what a university is all about,” he said.

Votruba said he welcomes lively debate on such a hot-button issue on campus.

“We’re a place where ideas get vetted,” he said.

Hear, hear. Sorry, Professor Jacobsen, but you don’t get to decide what someone else can and can’t say, and claiming to be “violated” by someone else’s opinion is nothing more than an emotive overreaction designed to inflame rather than illuminate. You aren’t “violated” by someone else’s opinion, no matter how much of a temper tantrum you throw afterwards. Your views don’t get any more special protection from criticism than anyone else’s views.

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