Archive for Student Speech

Stanford and California’s Confusing Leonard Law

Jason Willick of the Stanford Political Journal has a well-considered post criticizing Stanford’s recent suspension of a fraternity’s housing ‘privileges’ over an evening of patently offensive, misogynistic jokes. 1  Willick’s criticism effortlessly weaves themes of free speech, from the evolution of speech codes to Charlie Hebdo.  You should read it.

Were Stanford a public university, its suspension of the fraternity’s housing privileges would likely violate the First Amendment: uncouth, cringeworthy jokes do not fall within any exception to the First Amendment.  But Stanford is a private institution and a private institution can dictate what is acceptable discourse.

Except in California.  And definitely not when you’re Leland Stanford Junior University.  Because when you’re Stanford, a California judge has already explained this to you.

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  1. Stanford’s press release — which Willick rightly notes “presents the facts in the light most favorable” to Stanford — also chalks up its actions to a few other concerns, including reports of women being drugged, but concedes that these reports “could not be substantiated.”

Yale’s Censorship of Student Reviews Rings Hollow Before Falling to Student Innovation

In a series of moves unbecoming of an institution of higher learning, Yale this month effectively shuttered a student-designed website that allowed students to consider course evaluations when selecting their courses.

A Yale student named Sean Haufler (more on him below) writes:

In January 2012, two Yale students named Harry Yu and Peter Xu built a replacement to Yale’s official course selection website. They it called YBB+ (Yale Bluebook Plus), a “plus” version of the Yale-owned site, called Yale Bluebook. YBB+ offered different functionality from the official site, allowing students to sort courses by average rating and workload. The official Yale Bluebook, rather, showed a visual graph of the distribution of student ratings as well as a list of written student reviews. YBB+ offered a more lightweight user interface and facilitated easier comparison of course statistics. Students loved it. A significant portion of the student body started using it.

After two years, Yale decided it no longer liked the innovative website and abruptly blocked access to it during course registration.  Students were instead greeted with this screen:

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Examining Student Speech Policies at California Private Schools

In preparation of writing in depth about California’s Leonard Law, which aims to protect student speech rights at California’s private institutions of higher learning, I will be writing about institutions’ student speech policies, one-by-one. I’m curious as to how effective the Leonard Law has been in deterring speech codes and how far institutions will go when left to their own devices. I’ve already started by writing about the speech policies of my alma mater, Whittier College.

If you’re a student (or alumni, faculty or staff member) facing questionable policies or censorious acts, or if there’s a particular institution you’d like me to look at, feel free to email me and perhaps I’ll write about your institution sooner rather than later. You’ll also probably want to drop a line to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which has already covered the policies of a good number of private colleges here.