FIRE President Greg Lukianoff and a broad coalition of organizations, First Amendment experts, and civil libertarians sent an open letter to the Department of Education (ED) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) urging the retraction of the controversial “blueprint” for campus sexual harassment policies that threatens student and faculty rights.
Some of the impressive signatories include the Electronic Frontier Foundation, American Council of Trustees and Alumni, Goldwater Institute, National Coalition Against Censorship, Rutherford Institute, Students For Liberty, Student Press Law Center, Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance, professors Steven Pinker, Nadine Strossen, Cary Nelson, Michael McConnell, and journalists Nat Hentoff and Wendy Kaminer.
The open letter warns:
The blueprint mandates a shockingly broad definition of sexual harassment—“any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” including “verbal conduct”—and rejects the inclusion of a “reasonable person” standard, endangering academic freedom and freedom of expression on campus. The blueprint also requires university employees to report protected speech for mandatory investigation, allows for punishment before the completion of an investigation, and instructs [universities] to keep records of the names of all students and faculty accused of “sexual harassment,” even if no wrongdoing is found.
The “blueprint” mandates a definition of harassment even more expansive than those that have plagued college campuses for decades. In Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate, Greg details how these codes stifle speech, promote groupthink, and encourage self-censorship. This “blueprint” does that and more; it places an enormous administrative burden on universities, curbs academic freedom, and mandates vague conduct standards that the Supreme Court has already determined to be unconstitutional. In doing so, the “blueprint” magnifies the dangers presented in Unlearning Liberty—a scenario that is alarming for students, professors, and broader society.
View the open letter here and learn more about the dangers of the mandate by reading Greg’s Four Key Points About Free Speech and the Feds’ ‘Blueprint.’
The Hoover Institution’s journal, Defining Ideas, offered a ringing endorsement of Greg’s book, Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate, in a recent review:
His lively book is at once a relentless exposure of the intellectual intolerance institutionalized in higher education, and a passionate defense of the value of free thought and expression.
Defining Ideas reviews numerous examples from the book and concludes that universities are often not the “marketplace of ideas” they sometimes publicly claim to be.
Harry Lewis of Harvard College in his blog, Bits and Pieces, offers praise to Greg and Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate for its important civic lessons:
Lukianoff takes the time to go back to first principles. The reason free speech is important is because debate is important, and the reason debate is important is that it is the key tool of deliberative democracies. If we don’t train our students to argue with each other, without crying foul every time one side hurts the other’s feelings, we will wind up with … a dysfunctional Congress, maybe? So the book’s mission is fundamentally civic, and I applaud it for that reason.
Several months back, it was my great pleasure to sit down and interview Harvard psychology professor and bestselling author Steven Pinker about his books, the crucial role dissent plays in keeping society sane, the special importance of free speech on campus, and the origins of political correctness. Professor Pinker is the author of The Blank Slate, The Better Angels of our Nature, and The Stuff of Thought. He is also a member of FIRE‘s Board of Advisors and, thanks to his boldness, insight, and elegant prose, one of my favorite authors.