More speech restrictions on campus
hendersl at IX.NETCOM.COM
Thu Oct 17 11:40:00 PDT 2002
More speech restrictions on campusI thought this one would reach the list. Eugene has relied on the Review Journal's representations of events. This is the same newspaper that published the following op ed on the 11th: "Pity poor Clarke Walton as he thrashes about in the maws of the vorascious beast called Political Correctness, indiginous to most of the nation's institutions of "higher learning"
"Mr. Walton is a first-year UNLV law student because two of his female colleagues wet themselves (sic) when they saw him reading the Maxim magazine web site on his personal computer . . . Where are the adults on campus to tell the offended students to grow up? Mr Walton has done nothing wrong. . ."
This is the attitude the paper has taken throughout, apparently without checking facts (eg, class break versus class time) The characterization of other students is demeaning and inaccurate. It is not at all clear to me that the student has been "punished" ather than just spoken to as part of an educational process (people do have a first amendment right to respond and a duty to educate in profesisonalism and civility in the classroom) I don't know enough at this point to opine whether or not he is a "first amendment/PC 'martyr'" since the RJ is not the most reliable of sources.
I will gladly provide accurate information to the list as I obtain it.
hendersl at ix.netcom.com
Prof. Lynne Henderson
Boyd School of Law--UNLV
4505 Maryland Pkwy
Las Vegas, NV 89154
----- Original Message -----
From: Volokh, Eugene
To: CONLAWPROF at listserv.ucla.edu
Sent: Thursday, October 17, 2002 9:45 AM
Subject: More speech restrictions on campus
Here's a story reported in two columns in the Las Vegas Review-Journal (see http://volokh.blogspot.com/2002_10_13_volokh_archive.html#85572727) for links; if anyone has more factual details on this, I'd love to hear them:
[Start of quotation.]
[From last Thursday's column:] [Maxim] magazine, which specializes in photos of scantily clad celebrities, touched off a controversy at UNLV's Boyd School of Law recently, when first-year student Clarke Walton was spotted reading it on his laptop computer during a class break. Two fellow students, both women, complained to their professor, Jean Whitney, that they were offended and distracted by the image. . . .
Professor Whitney called Walton aside. Whitney explained Maxim was his home page and -- believe it or not -- he was actually reading an article, not investigating the Girlfriend of the Day. But, made aware of the mess the incident had caused, Walton agreed to change his home page.
"I'm obligated to make this a comfortable learning environment for all students," Professor Whitney says.
And there it ended, or so it appeared. But Walton soon began hearing other Boyd professors discuss the incident -- no names, of course -- in other classes. So he once more took to his non-celebrity skinned computer and wrote a missive distributed over the law school's electronic bulletin board.
"While viewing this magazine in my L.P. class approximately two weeks ago, two female students looked at my computer screen and were allegedly 'offended' by what they saw. This is unfortunate," Walton wrote. "I contend that this case was not an issue of sexual harassment, but rather an issue of privacy and of free speech. My counter complaint is that my right to privacy was violated when these women looked at my computer screen without my express or implied permission. Furthermore, I contend that by being asked to refrain from viewing this information on my computer screen, my first amendment right to free speech has been violated."
After that, Walton says he was asked to meet with UNLV Assistant Vice President for Diversity Ann Casados-Mueller Wednesday afternoon about the incident. Walton says Casados-Mueller told him Maxim was "soft porn" and that reading it on campus could be considered sexual harassment. . . . .
[From this Tuesday's column:] [Walton has been put] in a dilemma. He could resolve the situation informally by taking a sexual harassment awareness class and write an essay to be posted on the law school's bulletin board, or he could face a formal investigation.
Why? Because his accusers felt he was retaliating for their initial complaint. . . .
But UNLV has no policy that prohibits a person from revealing he's been accused of sexual harassment, or even of revealing the names of his accusers. (Walton didn't reveal their names, but that's not the point.) Even Casados-Mueller says whether Walton's post constitutes retaliation has yet to be decided.
That apparently isn't the only undecided question. Casados-Mueller says Maxim, which features scantily clad but not nude pictures, is "sexually provocative," although she admits it's not pornography. But even sexually provocative material can be banned in class, she says, although not from other areas of the campus.
"People in the quad can leave. People in class can't leave. They're captive," she says.
Ironically, a Boyd Law alumnus reports he once took a test that asked for a legal analysis of a hypothetical dilemma of two gay students who shared a hotel room in a state that bans homosexual conduct. The test used the word "queer" several times, and identified the students as members of the campus "Queer Law Society."
"It was pretty provocative stuff," says the ex-student, who asked not to be identified. But when he told another professor about it, the teacher told him that lawyers see plenty of offensive things, and that he best get used to it. "I thought that was pretty good advice," he said. No complaints were filed. . . .
Law school Dean Richard Morgan says he supports professor Whitney's decision to ask Walton not to look at Maxim during class. "The faculty member has every right to ask a student to pay attention in class," he says. And he admits that any complaint has to be handled "with extreme delicacy." But even Dean Morgan says Walton should be freed from the dock. "I'd like the matter to resolve itself without discipline," he says.
But that's up to a university process now. The university judicial affairs officer, Philip Burns, will begin reviewing the matter Wednesday and, after an investigation, will determine what discipline, if any, should be imposed. Walton, for his part, says he wants his accusers disciplined for making false charges against him, and apologies from UNLV.
[End of quotation.]
Now I agree that a professor has a right and a duty to keep students from distracting others during class. That has nothing to do with "sexual harassment" -- if someone is playing a video game during class, and other students are distracted, the professor should tell the student to stop. (The professor can of course also tell the student to stop just so the student himself will pay attention.) If this really happened entirely "during a class break," though in the classroom, the matter might be somewhat different; but the professor can at least ask the student not to annoy his classmates (again, by looking at swimsuit pictures or at anything else), and the matter will usually stop there. And the student's response that his classmates' looking at the computer "violated" his "right to privacy" is just nonsense -- no-one has a right to privacy in the clearly publicly visible screen of his computer.
But can the administration really punish the student on the grounds that his viewing the magazine was "sexual harassment," which I take is defined as usual as speech that is "severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile, offensive, or abusive environment based on sex for the complainant and a reasonable person"? What if students view material that some see as religiously or racially offensive? Likewise, can Walton be disciplined based on his supposed "retaliation" -- posting a message describing the situation, and defending himself?
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