Thursday, April 21, 2005

Responding to Donin

In a letter to the editor of the Daily Dartmouth, Michael Herman '07 picks apart College Counsel Robert Donin's recent op-ed, which claimed Dartmouth has no speech code.
These statements [from Wright and Larimore] demonstrate not only that Dartmouth has a speech code, but worse, that it has a speech code that came into being only after the incident and was then retroactively enforced. Since the speech code was not public prior to the incident, the school administrators had the power to make up whatever terms they wanted for the code. By imposing the code ex post facto, the dean and the president were able to punish students for speech they found offensive even though there was no way for those students to know ahead of time what speech would be punished.
Read the whole thing.


Michael said...

Donin mistakenly asserts that President Wright only sent a letter to the community regarding Zeta Psi once the fraternity had been punished. Based on that statement, Donin posits that the letter reflected rather than influenced Dean Redman's decision to "de-recognize" the fraternity.

In fact, President Wright sent two letters, one before Zete's "de-recognition" and one afterward. In the first letter (see the D, "Community Degradation," April 19, 2001), he wrote: "These newsletters strike at the very core values of this community. They do not represent us nor do they define our relationship with each other. We must all make clear that Dartmouth will not tolerate the degradation of any portion of our community" [emphasis added].

This letter exemplifies Dartmouth's speech code as much as any of the letters cited by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, notwithstanding Donin's suggestion that it merely expressed President Wright's personal feelings. It is specious to suggest that a letter from the College President to the entire community, on official letterhead, is an unauthorized expression of his opinion about punishment handed down by the school.

Moreover, even if the letter did misrepresent College policy, President Wright left no doubt that he expected Dean Redman to boot Zeta Psi from the campus at all costs. I am not saying that Dean Redman is incapable of being impartial, but one cannot deny the prejudicial impact of a letter from the President ordering all members of the community to "make clear" that certain behavior was intolerable.

It's pretty ridiculous that the College's lawyer did such little research before making these statements. Hopefully FIRE will pick up the original Wright letter as well.

random 04 said...

"The fact that the College would punish speech that is constitutional undermines its credibility as an institution of higher learning."

Nice piece overall. Wish this had said "that is constitutionally PROTECTED" which is much stronger and still accurate, but still, a good piece.

T said...

It's also a pity he didn't leave it in theoretical terms: Zeta Psi does not fall within the First Amendment as Herman states, but it would if the regulation were being done by the state.

(It is no coincidence that every case Herman mentions has a city, state, or a state university in its name. The Hanover Police, the State Police, or the U.N.H. Police Department did not arrest any of the people who published the controversial newsletter at Dartmouth.)