A Philosopher's Blog

Suspending Students for Hate Tweets

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on February 21, 2014
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Thanks to social media like Twitter and Facebook, students can share with the world what some might regard as hate Tweets or hate posts. For example, Kent State wrestler Sam Wheeler sent out a series of rather unpleasant tweets about Michael Sam (the openly gay college football player). In response, Kent State suspended Mr. Wheeler from the team. There have been other incidents in which students have posted or Tweeted comments that could be deemed racist, sexist and so on and in some cases the schools take action against the students. There is, of course, the question of whether schools should do so.

One obvious approach is to take the view that students agree to a code of conduct. So, if the student code of conduct specifies certain behavior as being grounds for suspension or other action, then the action would thus be warranted on this gorund. In the case of student athletes, there are also the rules that govern the sport. When I was a college athlete, I had to follow the NCAA guidelines and could be legitimately punished for breaking them. As such, the suspension of an athlete who breaks the rules would be warranted on this ground.

Of course, there is still the question of whether there should be such rules. After all, rules that forbid a student from expressing views would seem to be a violation of the student’s free expression and thus would be, on the face of it, morally unacceptable.

My own view is, not surprisingly, that students do not lose their right to free expression by being students or student athletes. However, freedom of expression is neither absolute nor a free pass to say anything.

Obviously enough, things like actual threats of violence are not covered by the right to free expression and students can be justly held accountable for such things. However, merely saying things that are regarded as hateful (racist, sexist, homophobic, etc.) would not justify a school taking action against a student. This is because while people have a right to not be threatened, they do not have a right to not be offended or insulted by the speech of another person. So, if a student goes on a homophobic rant on Twitter and does not cross over into such things as threats of violence, then she is acting within her rights and the school has no right to silence or punish her. The school also has no right to create rules that forbid the expression of ideas and views, however offensive those views might be. To do so would, of course, make a mockery of the very idea of the academic freedom that is supposed to be a foundation stone for the university.

A student can, however, be in a position in which she can be legitimately called to task for such speech. If the student is acting in the capacity of a spokesperson for the university, then she can be held accountable in that capacity because she is not acting as a private individual but as a representative of the school. The same can apply to athletes as well—athletes are taken to represent their school and, as such, occupy a position that would plausibly make them spokespeople for the school. As such, they can be held accountable in that capacity. So, for example, a cross-country team captain who insists on making hateful, vulgar and poorly written Tweets about Christians can be legitimately censured—as a member of the team he is in the role of representing his school. If he wishes to remain on the team, he will need to cease that behavior. He can, of course, elect to leave the team—if he regards being able to tweet hateful and vulgar things about Jesus as being more important to him than being on the team.

There is a rather serious concern about the extent to which a student can be regarded as representing the school and also the important matter of sorting out what sort of speech would warrant action being taken against the student. Unfortunately, I cannot cover these matters in this short essay, but in general, I would favor a moral policy of tolerance and erring heavily on the side of free expression.

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20 Responses

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  1. apollonian said, on February 21, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    Freedom, Reason Steadily Being Snuffed-Out In Empire-Of-Lies

    Indeed, freedom and reason are absolute necessities for humanity qua human, so freedom of speech follows logically. Observe now big-brother intimidates students as way of training them for the police-state they want to entrench evermore.

    In law there’s concept of “adhesive contract” whence a monopolist -type institution of tremendous power compels individuals to sign agreements–which then are NOT upheld in court, due to aforementioned “adhesive” quality, akin to signing under duress.

    But USA is now run and controlled evermore strictly by satanic criminals and psychopaths beginning at the US Federal Reserve Bank (legalized) COUNTERFEIT scam (see RealityZone.com and Mises.org for expo on Fed fraud), which naturally controls everything and everyone to only varying degrees, and freedom, along w. REASON itself, is abhorred and discouraged evermore, empire-of-lies leading to culture of death, it’s monuments now being such as ObongoCare death panels and AGENDA-21 genocide.

    Thus weaklings and inferiors, in the inevitable Darwinian, CYLCIC course of this “Decline of the West,” by Oswald Spengler, who tolerate this gross criminal corruption will duly be steadily exterminated, the remnant and survivors hoping to consolidate and regaining control, along w. the likelihood of a falling-out among the masterminds who suspect they may be double-crossed next–this, upon principle of there being “no honor among thieves.”

  2. apollonian said, on February 21, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    What’s Really Wrong With “Hatred”?–NOTHING

    Note also the implications of “hatred”–what actually is “hatred”?–and don’t people have a right to hate whatever they please?–isn’t the only proper legal proscription against actions, not emotions like “hate”?

    For isn’t hatred mere reciprocal of love?–and if one doesn’t hate, then one cannot love. For if one loves something, one must necessarily hate the anti-thesis. To out-law hate is to out-law love.

    Further, isn’t “hatred,” as an emotion, something subjective?–and how is it someone can be held liable for something that’s subjectively imputed by someone else?–this someone else obviously anti-pathetic, hence obviously prejudiced against, hence obviously hateful towards the original someone accused of hatred.

    Such then is the gross degeneration of USA, originally founded upon clear, rational principles, now utterly overthrown within irrationalism, satanism, the empire-of-lies, culture of death-worship, ObongoCare death-panels and AGENDA-21 genocide, as we plainly see before our very eyes.

  3. T. J. Babson said, on February 21, 2014 at 7:56 pm

    Has anyone ever been punished for hate speech against a white male?

    • WTP said, on February 21, 2014 at 8:42 pm

      Gay or straight?

      • T. J. Babson said, on February 21, 2014 at 8:58 pm


    • magus71 said, on February 23, 2014 at 8:16 am

      I’ll up the ante: Can you think of anyone that’s been punished for saying anything that is considered left-wing, as opposed to right-wing?

      And you, Mike, can you?

      Notice that everything that has a hateful connotation is considered right-wing.

      Of course, some will think that this is because right-wing is defined by hate and left by tolerance.

      • apollonian said, on February 23, 2014 at 12:21 pm

        Establishment Criminals Want To Pretend Appeal From Both Left And Right

        Magus: u seem to overlook the “right-wing” is infiltrated by Jew-oriented “neo-cons” and their supporters among gentiles, the “Judeo-Christians”–this is the audience for FOX News, for example–Israel first, u see–this “right wing” is perfectly acceptable, don’t forget.

        Tea-party and Ron Paulites are out in the cold–even though Paul also gets some money fm establishment-types like Peter Thiel of Bilderberg fame, no less. Rand Paul has been sucking-up to Israel, as Ted Cruz–they’re sooooooooo desperate for money, u see.

        The criminal, satanic establishment then is that led by the powers behind the US Federal Reserve Bank COUNTERFEIT scam, esp. the CFR, Trilateralists, and Bilderbergers, the establishment then, naturally, getting its monetary and funding nourishment most liberally fm the Fed. Anyone who doesn’t go along doesn’t get any money for campaign and ad -spending on TV, radio, etc.

        Sure, there might indeed be an overall bias towards the “left,” but there’s an establishment left and right, and then there is the genuine, anti-criminal opposition, the great masses, of course, in the middle of all of it, merely going, generally, whichever way the wind blows–long as economy holds out, anyway, which won’t be for long now.

        These ruling criminals always want to put across the impression to the masses of goons and TV-addicts in the middle that “normal” people tolerate Jews and homosexuals, and these can be found both on the (establishment) left and right. In general though, gov. spending and regulation ALWAYS increases–so it seems the “left” pre-dominates, the “right” left to military spending and expansion of bases throughout the world, etc.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 24, 2014 at 1:04 pm

        What do you take as left? Would things like defending academic freedom, arguing for better adjunct pay, being critical of political witch hunts and such be left?

  4. T. J. Babson said, on February 21, 2014 at 9:13 pm

    This just in from the Harvard Crimson. What say you, Mike?

    The Doctrine of Academic Freedom
    Let’s give up on academic freedom in favor of justice

    By Sandra Y.L. Korn February 18, 2014
    The Red Line

    In July 1971, Harvard psychology professor Richard J. Herrnstein penned an article for Atlantic Monthly titled “I.Q.” in which he endorsed the theories of UC Berkeley psychologist Arthur Jensen, who had claimed that intelligence is almost entirely hereditary and varies by race. Herrnstein further argued that because intelligence was hereditary, social programs intended to establish a more egalitarian society were futile—he wrote that “social standing [is] based to some extent on inherited differences among people.”

    When he returned to campus for fall semester 1971, Herrnstein was met by angry student activists. Harvard-Radcliffe Students for a Democratic Society protested his introductory psychology class with a bullhorn and leaflets. They tied up Herrnstein’s lectures with pointed questions about scientific racism. SDS even called for Harvard to fire Herrnstein, along with another of his colleagues, sociologist Christopher Jencks.

    Herrnstein told The Crimson, “The attacks on me have not bothered me personally… What bothers me is this: Something has happened at Harvard this year that makes it hazardous for a professor to teach certain kinds of views.” This, Herrnstein seems not to have understood, was precisely the goal of the SDS activists—they wanted to make the “certain kinds of views” they deemed racist and classist unwelcome on Harvard’s campus.

    Harvard’s deans were also unhappy. They expressed concerns about student activists’ “interference with the academic freedom and right to speak of a member of the Harvard faculty.” Did SDS activists at Harvard infringe on Herrnstein’s academic freedom? The answer might be that yes, they did—but that’s not the most important question to ask. Student and faculty obsession with the doctrine of “academic freedom” often seems to bump against something I think much more important: academic justice.

    In its oft-cited Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, the American Association of University Professors declares that “Teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results.” In principle, this policy seems sound: It would not do for academics to have their research restricted by the political whims of the moment.

    Yet the liberal obsession with “academic freedom” seems a bit misplaced to me. After all, no one ever has “full freedom” in research and publication. Which research proposals receive funding and what papers are accepted for publication are always contingent on political priorities. The words used to articulate a research question can have implications for its outcome. No academic question is ever “free” from political realities. If our university community opposes racism, sexism, and heterosexism, why should we put up with research that counters our goals simply in the name of “academic freedom”?

    Instead, I would like to propose a more rigorous standard: one of “academic justice.” When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue.

    The power to enforce academic justice comes from students, faculty, and workers organizing together to make our universities look as we want them to do. Two years ago, when former summer school instructor Subramanian Swamy published hateful commentary about Muslims in India, the Harvard community organized to ensure that he would not return to teach on campus. I consider that sort of organizing both appropriate and commendable. Perhaps it should even be applied more broadly. Does Government Professor Harvey Mansfield have the legal right to publish a book in which he claims that “to resist rape a woman needs … a certain ladylike modesty?” Probably. Do I think he should do that? No, and I would happily organize with other feminists on campus to stop him from publishing further sexist commentary under the authority of a Harvard faculty position. “Academic freedom” might permit such an offensive view of rape to be published; academic justice would not.

    Over winter break, Harvard published a statement responding to the American Studies Association’s resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions until Israel ends its occupation of Palestine. Much of the conversation around this academic boycott has focused on academic freedom. Opponents of the boycott claim that it restricts the freedom of Israeli academics or interrupts the “free flow of ideas.” Proponents of the boycott often argue that the boycott is intended to, in the end, increase, not restrict, academic freedom—the ASA points out that “there is no effective or substantive academic freedom for Palestinian students and scholars under conditions of Israeli occupation.”

    In this case, discourse about “academic freedom” obscures what should fundamentally be a political argument. Those defending the academic boycott should use a more rigorous standard. The ASA, like three other academic associations, decided to boycott out of a sense of social justice, responding to a call by Palestinian civil society organizations for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions until Israel ends its occupation of Palestine. People on the right opposed to boycotts can play the “freedom” game, calling for economic freedom to buy any product or academic freedom to associate with any institution. Only those who care about justice can take the moral upper hand.

    It is tempting to decry frustrating restrictions on academic research as violations of academic freedom. Yet I would encourage student and worker organizers to instead use a framework of justice. After all, if we give up our obsessive reliance on the doctrine of academic freedom, we can consider more thoughtfully what is just.

    Sandra Y.L. Korn ’14, a Crimson editorial writer, is a joint history of science and studies of women, gender and sexuality concentrator in Eliot House. Her column usually appears on alternate Mondays.


    • WTP said, on February 22, 2014 at 8:30 pm

      More on the subject…or…moron, the subject…too easy, forgive me.

      Who, then, is this fierce critic of American empire, this enemy of capitalism, this scourge of Wall Street? Well, as it turns out, she’s from the affluent suburb of Basking Ridge, New Jersey, where she grew up in a house at 61 Darren Drive that was purchased in 1998 for $800,000. (If you check it out on Google Maps, it looks like the very image of the American dream: a peaceful paradise of large, pretty houses separated from the quiet street by broad, manicured lawns dotted with shade trees.) Her parents are Elizabeth A. Korn, a pediatric endocrinologist, and William D. Korn, whose own Harvard degrees are in economics and business administration and whose website describes him – the father of this proud 99-percenter – as follows:

      Bill Korn is a veteran technology executive with more than 30 years of experience managing fast growth businesses. As Chief Financial Officer for seven companies he has raised over $250 million of capital, including debt and equity financing. Bill has completed seven acquisitions, including negotiating terms, arranging financing, performing due diligence and integrating teams. He has successfully created many successful partnerships and joint ventures.

        • T. J. Babson said, on February 22, 2014 at 11:04 pm

          This is my favorite bit:

          And at the very heart of what makes her representative is the fact that she hasn’t got an original thought in her head – and doesn’t even realize it. She’s swallowed an ideology whole and learned to spit it back. Her unoriginality, her predictability, are matched only by her colossal self-assurance; she’s clearly never entertained any serious doubt that she belongs to her generation’s intellectual crème de la crème. For all her rage against America’s cruel classism, she never questions, in any of her many articles, the elite status she herself enjoys…

          This is a perfect description of Obama and what makes him so frightening.

      • magus71 said, on February 22, 2014 at 9:19 pm

        Another loser poisoning our society.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 24, 2014 at 12:53 pm

      Using academic justice as a standard has an initial appeal, but a little reflection shows that this could be easily employed as a tool of suppression and oppression.

      Academic freedom can be a bit vague, but the general idea is clear. Academic justice is extremely vague as a concept and would, as the leftists like to say, have a chilling effect on academics.

      So, I’ll take academic freedom over this person’s proposal.

      More later, perhaps a post.

  5. magus71 said, on February 22, 2014 at 1:42 am

    Moreover, should people be punished for what they write in private emails? Is this one more general who made Obama’s list of enemies?


  6. apollonian said, on February 22, 2014 at 2:03 am

    Yes, and magus, this will all turn REALLY serious when the economy begins to tanking (currency collapse) in more drastic manner, like when prices start to sky-rocketing and we FINALLY begin, in America, no less, to observe outright food-shortages. THEN u’re gonna see wide-spread civil un-rest–then things are going to get really radical. Gov will no doubt invoke martial law, perhaps call-in UN, esp. Muzlim troops who won’t hesitate to kill Americans. No wonder ZOG is trying to start war in Syria, or Ukraine, or N. Korea–somewhere–to muddy the waters and distract attn. of the people. “War is the health of the state.”

    • wtp said, on February 22, 2014 at 7:27 am

      You forgot the locusts. What’s a decent apocalypse without locusts?

      • apollonian said, on February 23, 2014 at 11:44 am

        Locusts are mere accidental detail to the essential currency collapse, on-going, don’t forget, even as we speak.

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