Hogan '01 lambasts campus speech codes

by Charles Gardner | 5/27/03 5:00am

America's colleges and universities are guilty of an "outrageous betrayal" of the principle of free speech through their establishment of restrictive and intellectually stifling speech codes, Emmett Hogan '01 said yesterday.

Hogan argued that students of the '60s and '70s who had enjoyed power in guiding college policies across the nation are now, as administrators, loathe to heed the voices of today's students in what he called "a generational swindle of epic proportions."

Instead, Hogan said, institutions enforce official doctrines of diversity and group identity in what amounts to an "assault on the sanctity of the individual."

Hogan, who is currently the Program Coordinator for the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education, conceded that private institutions have the right to set their own policies in any way they choose, but said colleges risk destroying their essential role as forums for the free exchange of ideas when they set limits on what can and cannot be said.

Among the worst offenders, Hogan said, are Harvard University and UCLA, which have established codes banning not only harassing and derogatory language, but in some instances "demeaning" or "abusive" speech, and even remarks that challenge statements made by certain campus groups. In such cases, "students must actively support campus orthodoxy ... or face the consequences," Hogan said.

Nor has Dartmouth refrained from pursuing similar policies, he said. In 1998, the Campus Crusade for Christ's decision to mail copies of C.S. Lewis' "Mere Christianity" to all students was met with fierce opposition from then-Tucker Foundation Dean Scott Brown after complaints from several Jewish students, according to Hogan.

Hogan wondered whether a similar reaction would have followed the distribution of materials less objectionable to the College's multicultural ideology. "How would the campus have reacted if the shoe were on the other foot?" he asked.

Just three years ago, he said, when news broke that Zeta Psi fraternity had permitted publication of an in-house newsletter that made lewd references to female students, the College prosecuted the house on the basis of a violation of Dartmouth's Principle of Community, which Hogan said is not intended for use in the adjudicatory process. The enforcement of the Principle for students in Greek houses -- but not for others -- creates an obvious double standard, Hogan said.

According to Hogan, the battle against such decisions must be fought either in the courts, where his own organization has enjoyed several victories, he said, or with the substantial backing of public opinion. "The stakes could not be greater," he said, emphasizing that the consequences of abridging free speech extend far beyond the nation's system of higher education.

Responding to a question about where to draw the line between free speech and ideological coercion, Hogan said that mandatory, college-sponsored events with a clear political bent, such as freshman orientation programs and diversity training sessions, constitute a clear violation of the rights of individual students.

"Students do not choose universities to be their mother and father ... or least of all a thought police," he said.

Hogan, who earned a B.A. in history at Dartmouth, served as an editor for The Dartmouth Review and was the campus chair for George W. Bush's presidential campaign.

Yesterday's speech, which was attended by about 30 students, was sponsored by the College Republicans, the Student Assembly and COSO.