F For Effort

You don't have to be a lawyer to grok how UMASS won The FIRE's Speech Code of the Year award. Bear in mind that's a booby prize, not a positive distinction.

In short:

UMASS, a state school, is bound by the First Amendment.

UMASS has a policy governing "rallies" on campus.

UMASS has a separate policy for "controversial" rallies. "Controversial" is not defined. "Controversial" will apparently mean whatever the people taking in the rally registration requests decide that day it means. Neither college administrators nor college students are known for good judgment or consistency in deciding what is "controversial."

"Controversial" rallies can only be held at one small place at UMASS, a rather large university. "Controversial" rallies may only be held during the lunch hour.

At a "controversial" rally, the sponsoring student organization must offer up six of its own members to act as security.

At a "controversial" rally, the sponsoring student organization is liable for any damage to the sound system, no matter who causes it.

"Controversial" rallies must be announced five business days in advance, as opposed to 24 hours for non-"controversial" rallies.

Let's be clear — this is a piss-poor effort at complying with First Amendment principles that have been well-defined for about a half-century.

My parents spent quite a lot to send me to college. I was very lucky because of that, and because I'd conned my way into a university far better than I deserved. So generally I took my work seriously. However, on occasion, when dealing with a class that I did not respect or take terribly seriously, I dashed out a crappy effort at a paper or assignment in the early morning hours — often after a bender — on my good old Apple IIe. This did not represent my best work or anyone's best work. This represented putting a sufficient number of words onto paper that could be said, broadly, to address the topic at hand in some manner.

Sometimes I wonder — do the people who draft college speech codes go on benders? Do they startle themselves awake at 3 a.m., suddenly sober and terrified and nauseous, realizing they have an important university policy due the next morning at 8:30 and haven't started to write or even researched the relevant issues yet? Do they calculate that nobody will ever actually read the policy before it's published, and that nobody will likely care if they do? Do they dash out some half-assed nonsense on their iMac, some arrangement of words and numbers that an extraordinarily generous person would call a policy?

Are college administrators people, too?

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. says

    In all seriousness, I suspect more and more administrators — high school and college — have taken "in loco parentis" to extremes — it's not just that they're treating students like children, but like five-year-olds.

  2. Patrick says

    Oh but they don't take "in loco parentis" to its extremes AT ALL. Kids in college are free to commit the vilest perversions upon one another, and to consume limitless quantities of alcohol and drugs, while the administration turns a blind eye.

    It's only in matter of thought and speech. In loco Caesaris.

  3. says

    I'm pretty sure telling one group of students "you are your own security, and if some other students beat you up and break our stuff, it's your fault, and we will tell them that" is not in loco parentis.

  4. Mike says

    I'd sue the school for defamation for declaring my cause controversial when it is based on the founding fathers.