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Free Speech Gets A Reprieve At Tufts.

Tufts University's main campus is so close to Boston -- the birthplace of the American Revolution that insisted man's right to liberty is inalienable -- you can get there by taking the Red Line on the "T" subway. On Monday, one of those liberties, the right to free expression, came back to campus after a shameful few summer weeks off.

Tufts' dean of undergraduate education, James Glaser, threw out a ruling by a student/faculty group called the Committee on Student Life that would have forced The Prime Source, a conservative-leaning student magazine, to run bylines on all its articles and editorials.

That edict was the committee's sanction for the magazine's supposed "harassment" of African American and Muslim students when it published two separate pieces in the last school year.

Like many another publication written by young, privileged ideology-besotted students who just don't understand why the world and so many of their peers on campus cannot see how much better we would all be if we ran society guided by textbooks such as Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" or William F. Buckley's "God and Man at Yale," The Primary Source appears to be long on certitude, but short on empathy and, in its particular case, a sense of humor. Let's put it this way -- The Primary Source's "funny" stuff that I've seen makes Ann Coulter look like Dorothy Parker.

The article that offended African American students included witless "parodies" of Christmas carols mocking affirmative action. Muslim students asserted they were mortified by a later mock advertisement that was the kind of anti-Islam rant you can hear on any talk radio show.

For all its anti-P.C. bravado, the magazine wisely backed off the parody piece in the face of campus furor, apologizing and withdrawing it from its Web site. But the magazine rightfully argued that neither that piece nor the Islam "ad" amounted to harassment.

While Tufts, as a private university, was certainly within its rights to impose whatever silly rules it wants on its students, the spectacle of a respected institution of higher learning -- rated 27th best in the nation by U.S. News & World Report last year -- trampling on a long American tradition of unsigned editorials, and punishing offensive speech to protect the tender egos of students who supposedly are being taught intellectual rigor and discernment was, well, disappointing. I made my views known in this space back in June.

But there was more good news out of Tufts Monday than the simple reversal of the byline diktat.

In an open letter to the university, President Lawrence S. Bacow declared that as long as he was in charge, Tufts would behave as if it were a public university subject to all the glories, and, it must be said, irritations of the First Amendment.

"Universities are places where people should have the right to freely express opinions, no matter how offensive, stupid, wrong headed, ill-considered, or unpopular," Bacow wrote. "To say that people have the right to express such views does not mean that we condone them or that they should go unchallenged. Rather, it means that the responsibility to respond is shared collectively by all members of the community and not vested in the action of any administrative body."

According to an excellent account in Tuesday's Boston Globe by Peter Schworm, the magazine and its free press supporters see a dangerous precedent because the Committee on Student Life's determination of "harassment" wasn't also overturned. But the dean is probably right to point out that since there is now no punishment, the whole thing is moot. And Bacow's letter, e-mailed to all students, says he thought the committee was "ill-advised" to take up the harassment case.

Students offended by something they read in a student publication, Bacow said, should do what he did when he objected to the Islam article -- engage in the debate. Bacow wrote an op-ed piece in the campus daily newspaper taking issue with The Primary Source.

"I repeated a statement I have made often since coming to Tufts: The appropriate response to offensive speech is more speech, not less," Bacow wrote.

It's a common sense sentiment from Massachusetts in the tradition of Tom Paine -- and one that unfortunately still bears constant reinforcement a couple of hundred years later in the supposedly enlightened groves of academe.
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Title Annotation:Tufts University
Comment:Free Speech Gets A Reprieve At Tufts.(Tufts University)
Author:Fitzgerald, Mark
Publication:Editor & Publisher
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 29, 2007
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