There can be no doubt that tolerance and mutual respect are elements that all UCSD students should embrace, and I would venture to say that most students do, indeed, embrace multiculturalism at UCSD. The UCSD administration, however, sees it fit to force these tenants–or more appropriately, their perceptions of what these tenants should entail–unto all UCSD students. More specifically, the UCSD administration sees it fit to limit free-speech (even outside of the bounds of what is traditionally considered “hate speech”) in order to avoid any potential controversy, such as that of the “Compton Cookout.”
Most egregious, however, is not the fact that UCSD would want to avoid controversy at the expense of freedom of expression on campus–as I understand the administration, just like all other rational actors, is self-interested–but the vague standards of tolerance by which the administration expects students to abide. The Seventh Principle of Community (UCSD’s charter for “tolerance”, as it were) states, “[w]e affirm the right to freedom of expression…[w]e promote open expression of our individuality and our diversity within the bounds of courtesy, sensitivity, confidentiality and respect.” The first problem inherent is that the university has restrictions on freedom of expression outside of the “hate speech” category. If UCSD is truly trying to cast the citizens of the future, then surely it will follow that to do so would be to expose students to the “real world” of free-speech. Simply put, freedom of speech is not always convenient and certainly not always attuned to “sensitivity,” or any of the other arcane words listed.
There can be no doubt that the university is, rightfully, trying to create an environment that is conducive to learning; however, to want to hamper freedom of expression to such a vague and confining scope, I argue, is not the answer. The encouragement of tolerance should be a goal of the university, but to do so at the expense of freedom of speech–a constitutional right–will surely rue the day for all parties involved and, in the end, will create bitterness from the student body. Indeed, within that point, the second problem that presents itself is the issue of the vagueness of the words in the Principles of Community, as it puts students’ freedom of expression at the discretion of what the school deems to be “courteous.” Under the pretense of tolerance, the school can use the vague language to quiet lesser connected “inconveniences” and thus serve to eliminate the very contentiousness that freedom of speech, and by extension, a free society entails. What’s more, every student organization is forced to abide by these vague abstractions without question, which is to say, that student organizations are put into the tenuous situation of being subject to the whim of administrative censure, without having clear understanding of what brought such censure about.
Altogether, the University’s abstractions call into question the extent to which freedom of expression and speech are truly protected on campus. The negligence of the administration to define its terms and its complete willingness to put reins on even government-protected freedom of speech (outside of “hate speech“), I argue, simply allows the administrators to pick-and-choose what is offensive and what is not. They allow themselves suitable leeway to cover a myriad of situations that potentially could make the university look bad and thus affect their bottom-line–or more specifically, to keep the UCSD name untarnished by any controversy. They, in effect, give themselves, through their abstractions, a monopoly on what is just and judicious–unless, of course, enough controversy arises somehow that it affects their bottom-line in the inverse.
As if matters could not get any worse, the UCSD administration has now launched an entire campaign to combat “bias acts.” To facilitate this campaign, UCSD has not only expanded the role of the Office for Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination (OPHD), but it has also created an online page where a student can report “bias incidents.” All images of a “thought police” aside, UCSD defines “bias incidents” as “acts of conduct, speech, or expression that target individuals and groups based on race, religion, ethnic/national origin, gender, gender identity, age, disability, or sexual orientation.” UCSD also contends that, “acts of bias may be protected expressions of speech.” Soundly put, the administration has, once more, launched a campaign to enforce tolerance–or more appropriately, the pretense of tolerance–on campus, through a series of abstractions. It is difficult, for instance, to understand or even correctly identify what it means to “target” an individual based on the aforementioned categories. Even then, the definition makes no differentiation between truly malicious acts or phrases said in jest. Thus, what results is a completely open-ended definition of “bias” that can be used against any student, based on any tenant that may fall within the category. In essence, UCSD now champions a program that establishes a term that is so vague, and defined in such a manner that students have no real recourse or defense against charges of “bias,” except to perhaps admit that they are “wrong.”
In my estimation of this new “bias” policy, most alarming is the fact that UCSD has created a mechanism by which students can report “bias incidents” that have occurred on-campus. Taking a page out of the book of the fifties, this policy seems to call upon the days of reporting to the government if you suspected your neighbor of being a communist; this new program encourages students to tell the school if their fellow student is showing “bias.” It, in effect, creates an environment by which students can be reported for “thought crimes”–or rather, students can be censured for their feelings and thoughts even in the privacy of their rooms or amongst a close-knit group of friends (assuming, in the latter case, a third-party is reporting them). The entire situation, candidly put, is simply untenable and most prohibitive in regards to freedom of expression. These standards for tolerance advance, ultimately, that individuals are welcomed to speak freely, but only insofar as it is neither done on campus nor done by individuals who attend UCSD.
Simeon is a junior in Muir College majoring in History.