The University of New Orleans has one of the most progressive histories of any university in the South, but when it comes to suggestive Valentine’s Day cards, the school’s speech code has zero tolerance. At UNO, sending “suggestive or obscene letters, notes or invitations” is deemed sexual harassment, and is punishable as such.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has spotlighted UNO’s “Prohibiting Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation” policy as its “Speech Code of the Month” for the month of February. FIRE explains that the policy “fails to note that individual examples are only punishable when they actually meet the legal standard for peer hostile environment harassment in the educational setting, as set forth by the Supreme Court.” By leaving this part out, FIRE argues, the school creates a chilling effect on protected expression.
This really puts a damper on the Valentine’s Day holiday to any lovebird who actually bothers to read the policy, which is likely, well, no one.
Still, the school’s overreaching policy is demonstrative of academia’s war on free speech. UNO has no excuse for having such a silly policy. The University of New Orleans is legally obligated to protect its students’ First Amendment rights as a public university. FIRE recommends that the school clarify that examples like “suggestive letters” are only punishable when they meet the legal standard for harassment.
Plenty of universities have developed strong, constitutionally-valid speech codes, after which the school could model their own policy. Yet, the University of New Orleans’ administration chooses to defend political correctness over the Constitution because it gives them greater control over their students and over the image they want to convey to the public.
With the rise of the #MeToo movement, academia’s sensitivity toward harassment has reached an all-time high, which makes this vague policy even more troubling to anyone who might choose to violate it. In many situations, male students are assumed guilty until proven innocent and are forced to defend their reputation and honor in the face of accusations. Should they really have to sweat the consequences of sending silly Valentine’s Day cards as well?
Brendan Pringle (@BrendanPringle) is writer from California. He is a National Journalism Center graduate and formerly served as a development officer for Young America’s Foundation at the Reagan Ranch.
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