Reason has details on the hit to academic freedom and free speech at the University of Oregon arising out of the incident in which law professor trying to make a point about racism (admittedly doing so in a stupid and unwise way by wearing blackface) is being hung out to dry (at the very least):
Shurtz's costume involved the use of black makeup on her face and hands, which constitutes an offensive use of blackface in the eyes of many people. Blackface is always impolite, this thinking goes, because of its racist and discriminatory history—even if the person wearing it is portraying a specific black person, rather than black people generally, and even if the portrayal isn't intended to be mocking.
I'm not sure whether this logic makes any sense, but even if it does—even if blackface is patently and objectively offensive to a number of people—what right does a public university have to discipline a law professor for dressing provocatively? ...
The report notes that Shurtz enjoys certain free speech protections as a tenured law professor, but in this case, the university's interest in preventing racial discrimination outweighs Shurtz's claim to academic freedom.
It's impossible to overstate how radical and dangerous (and wrong) this finding is. As The Washington Post's Eugene Volokh points out, Oregon's policy forbids discrimination that arises not just from racial considerations, but a host of other status as well: age, veteran status, sexual orientation, perceived gender, and religion. If a problematic Halloween costume—donned with innocent or even positive intentions—is enough to constitute racial harassment, how easy would it be for the university to make a determination of religious harassment? ...
The report does not specify what Shurtz's punishment will be—she has already been suspended for weeks. That's disturbing enough, but the greater concern is the overall climate at Oregon. Unintentional, one-off slip-ups constitute discriminatory harassment, in the university's view—as long as enough students are offended. It doesn't matter if they are wrong to feel slighted. It doesn't matter if the expression in question is a matter of legitimate public interest. It doesn't matter if the faculty believe that education should, in some cases, provoke discomfort. It doesn't matter if it happens outside the classroom, and only indirectly concerns the university.
If Shurz had dressed up as a Catholic priest, with the deliberate intention of mocking Catholicism and making her Catholic students uncomfortable, would we not defend her right to challenge religious dogma? I think I know Oregon's answer: no way. If accidental exercises in controversial expression are prohibited, then the university simply put, does not recognize free speech rights—full stop.
Meanwhile, remember the case of the Drexel University professor who posted a tweet wishing for white genocide? Unlike Shurtz, he's getting a slight and muted slap on the wrist as Drexel walks back its initial condemnation of the tweet:
Drexel University responded, “The University vigorously supports the right of its faculty members and students to freely express their opinions in the course of academic debate and discussion. In this vein, we recognize Professor Ciccariello-Maher’s tweets as protected speech.
“However, his words, taken at face value and shared in the constricted Twitter format, do not represent the values of inclusion and understanding espoused by Drexel University. As we engage with one another in conversation, it is important to remember that these principles -- academic freedom, freedom of speech and the need for inclusivity and respect -- are not mutually exclusive.”
Thomas Lifson does a very good job of critiquing Drexel's retreat, using Drexel's own speech code to show its hypocrisy.
My point is not that the Drexel professor should be punished. As one of the very rare conservatives in academia whose own Twitter account is, shall se say, sometimes robust, I obviously have a strong self interest in strong free speech and academic freedom rights on campus. My point is only that the disparity once again illustrates that on US campuses free speech protects only language and conduct that does not offend the far left.
A “red light” institution has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech. A “clear” restriction is one that unambiguously infringes on what is or should be protected expression. In other words, the threat to free speech at a red light institution is obvious on the face of the policy and does not depend on how the policy is applied.