The Atlantic’s David Frum reminds us that on Tuesday
The reason 3 university presidents had trouble with the genocide question is not because of an over-zealous commitment to free speech. Universities punish people all the time for First Amendment protected speech. They had trouble because anti-Jewishness is baked into the ideology… https://t.co/gp7FpRoM5j— David Frum (@davidfrum) December 7, 2023
With limited, narrowly defined exceptions, the First Amendment prohibits the government—including governmental entities such as state universities—from restricting freedom of speech. A good rule of thumb is that if a state law would be declared unconstitutional for violating the First Amendment, a similar regulation at a state college or university is likewise unconstitutional.
The guarantees of the First Amendment generally do not apply to students at private colleges because the First Amendment regulates only government conduct. Moreover, although acceptance of federal funding does confer some obligations upon private colleges (such as compliance with federal anti-discrimination laws), compliance with the First Amendment is not one of them.
Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology all are elite private universities, hence are not subject to the same standards of free expression as are public colleges. Thus, in a strictly technical (and lawyerly) sense, the codes of conduct are Constitutional. However, as Hostin undoubtedly knows (and very likely approves of)
On university campuses and in many other places, anti-Semitic speech regularly crosses the line into threats, intimidation, and outright violence against Jews. University rules and local laws are intentionally violated because everybody knows that the rules and laws are selectively enforced.
This is why Representative Elise Stefanik was wrong in this portion (at :56 of the video below) of her exchange when interviewing Harvard president on Tuesday
Stefanik: Calling for the genocide of Jews violates Harvard's code of conduct, correct?
Gay: Again, it depends on the context.
Stefanik: It does not depend on the context. The answer is "yes" and this is why you should resign.
The context is that standards change depending on whose ox is being gored. Brett Stephens recognizes
But the problem with their testimonies was not fundamentally about calls for genocide or free speech. It was about double standards — itself a form of antisemitism, but one that can be harder to detect.
The double standard is this: Colleges and universities that for years have been notably censorious when it comes to free speech seem to have suddenly discovered its virtues only now, when the speech in question tends to be especially hurtful to Jews.
Or as Frum would put it, "anti-Jewishness is baked into the ideology." Hence
The word for all this is hypocrisy. Gay, Kornbluth and Magill may not be personally to blame for it, because they only recently took over the helm of their schools. But there’s an institutional hypocrisy that they at least have a duty to acknowledge.
They also must decide: If they are seriously committed to free speech — as I believe they should be — then that has to go for all controversial views, including when it comes to incendiary issues about race and gender, as well as when it comes to hiring or recruiting an ideologically diverse faculty and student body. If, on the other hand, they want to continue to forbid and punish speech they find offensive, then the rule must apply for all offensive speech, including calls to wipe out Israel or support homicidal resistance.
Republican and Democratic politicians of either Jewish or Christian faith have emphasized the insufficient sensitivity toward anti-Semitism of the three university presidents. But given the importance of free expression and the complexity of university codes of conduct, an argument over "context" and whether the college president should resign is peripheral..
Hostin disingenuously remarks ".... and what this entire hearing should have been about it free speech." It's a safe bet that Hostin would have been appalled if the hearing actually had been about how the principle of free speech is applied unevenly on college campuses. In The Atlantic's note to Frum's article, "progressives who once argued that free speech is violence now claim that violence is free speech."
In his classic Animal Farm, George Orwell cynically wrote "all animals are equal but some are more equal than others." The preference of colleges for groups perceived as marginalized over other groups has now been fully exposed. Whether landing on the side of free expression or of crushing offensive speech, they should apply equally to all.