Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the University of California-Irvine School of Law, unleashed a tirade this week against administrators who cave to the demands of offended students.
Chemerinsky zoned in on an incident that occurred at the University of Oregon in 2016, in which a professor was chastised for wearing blackface to draw attention to the lack of diversity in higher education.
In October 2016, University of Oregon law professor Nancy Shurtz hosted a Halloween party for about 25 students, faculty members, alumni and family members. Her costume was wearing black makeup on her face and hands, an Afro wig, and a white doctor’s lab coat. She told her guests that she was inspired by the anti-racist message of Damon Tweedy’s memoir about a black man starting his medical career, “Black Man in a White Coat.” She also had recently attended her daughter’s white coat ceremony — a tradition that begins a medical student’s first year — and she noticed an almost complete absence of black men. She said that she meant to draw attention to the lack of diversity in higher education.
Although Chemerinsky concedes that Shurtz used poor judgment in wearing blackface and not understanding that it would offend her peers, he argues that offending others is not sufficient justification for a university to punish speech.
But poor judgment and offending people cannot be a basis for a university punishing speech. In countless cases, the courts have been adamant that speech cannot be punished because it is offensive. … The government would have almost limitless power to censor speech if offensiveness is a sufficient ground for punishing expression.
Chemerinsky expresses concern over the trend of institutions of higher education, particularly private universities, punishing professors and students for protected speech in an effort to make their university’s more inclusive and tolerant.
I would have hoped a law school faculty and a university president who is a lawyer and law professor would have recognized this. Unfortunately, what happened at the University of Oregon is all too typical of what is happening on campuses across the country where the desire to create inclusive learning environments for all students has led to punishing speech protected by the First Amendment.
Tom Ciccotta is a libertarian who writes about social justice and libertarian issues for Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @tciccotta or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org