University of Alaska Fairbanks has determined that sexual harassment of women in the student newspaper and online is constitutionally protected. The university’s general counsel’s office, the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity (D&EO), and an outside attorney hired by the university to review my Title IX complaint all agreed that the Sun-Star exercised its right to free speech when it published two articles that sexually harass women. Read details about this issue here: http://wp.me/p3HWTd-1w
The decision by the outside attorney that the Sun-Star articles are protected by free speech arrived in my in-box just days after the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) published “The State of Free Speech on Our Nation’s Campuses: Spotlight on Speech Codes 2014.” FIRE is rightfully celebrated as a watchdog for free speech on campuses, but there are times when it veers sharply rightward and publishes propaganda that strengthens institutionalized systems of oppression such as racism, sexism, and heterosexism. Such is the case with the FIRE report’s targeting of the University of Montana. UM was recently investigated by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) for its failure to uphold Title IX protections for women. As a response, the UM instituted many changes in its policies and practices related to sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence. FIRE criticizes the changes as interfering with free speech.
FIRE is to be commended for its work to uphold free speech rights on campus. However, the organization must recognize that sexually harassing speech is, at times, impermissible speech. But FIRE is not the only entity who must recognize this. University general counsels, university administrators, professors, staff, students, and yes, student newspapers, must recognize that sexually harassing speech is impermissible.
When FIRE and general counsels offices insist that sexually predatory speech and actions are constitutionally protected, they are doing nothing less than supporting some of the most oppressive principles of patriarchy. Protection of sexually predatory speech thus protects the patriarchal social order that reduces women to objects and sexual prey. The patriarchy is allowed to continue to ravage our society.
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), “The State of Free Speech on Our Nation’s Campuses: Spotlight on Speech Codes 2014.” http://issuu.com/thefireorg/docs/2014_speech_code_report_final?e=6851166/6373933