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. 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.
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.