Writing for the Washington Post, Eugene Volokh of The Volokh Conspiracy addresses a disturbing development at the University of Oregon, whose administration made clear to its faculty last week that if you say things about race, sexual orientation, sex, religion and so on that enough people find offensive, you could get suspended and possibly even fired. This can happen even to tenured faculty members or to anyone else. "Orthodoxy," Volokh writes, "enforced on threat of institutional punishment, is what the University of Oregon is now about."
This all began with a Halloween party hosted by tenured University of Oregon law school professor Nancy Shurtz attended by about a dozen students and about a dozen nonstudents:
Shurtz had told the students that she would be “going as a popular book title”; she didn’t tell the students up front what it was, but the book was the recent (and acclaimed) “Black Man in a White Coat,” a black doctor’s “reflections on race and medicine” (according to the subtitle). Shurtz’s “costume incorporated a white doctor’s lab coat, a stethoscope, black makeup on her face and hands, and a black curly wig resembling an afro.” The university report states that Shurtz “was inspired by this book and by the author, that she greatly admires [the author] and wanted to honor him, and that she dressed as the book because she finds it reprehensible that there is a shortage of racial diversity, and particularly of black men, in higher education.”
And this perceived offensiveness yielded a huge uproar at the law school. According to the report, the uproar was partly students’ immediate reaction and partly a result of the administration’s and other faculty members’ discussing the matter extensively at school, including in classes.
So we have speech, at a professor’s home, but at a party to which she had invited her students, which in turn leads to speech by various people at the law school. (There’s no doubt that wearing an expressive costume is treated as equivalent to speech under First Amendment “symbolic expression” purposes.) Some of both kinds of speech are interpreted as expressing offensive messages related to race. What does the university do about this?
The university suspended Shurtz.
It then released a report concluding that Shurtz’s speech constituted “harassment,” which violates university policy. The harassment policy, the university report notes, bans conduct that creates a “hostile environment” based on “age, race, color, ancestry, national or ethnic origin, religion, service in the uniformed services (as defined in state and federal law), veteran status, sex, sexual orientation, marital or family status, pregnancy, pregnancy-related conditions, physical or mental disability, gender, perceived gender, gender identity, genetic information or the use of leave protected by state or federal law.”
Under the logic of the Oregon report, Volokh notes, "a faculty member could be disciplined for displaying the Mohammed cartoons, if it caused enough of a furor. Or a faculty member could be disciplined for suggesting that homosexuality may be immoral or dangerous. Or for stating that biological males who view themselves as female should be viewed as men, not as women. Or for suggesting that there are, on average, biological differences in temperament or talents between men and women."
Check out the whole article here.