SPEAKING FREELY


I wrote this in response to Professor Richardson's email about the student-sponsored "Respect" forum shortly after I received it. My tone may seem a bit intemperate but I was choking with rage at the time. I continue to think that anger was an appropriate reaction. The subject heading of my email was "Disrespect."

David Millon, J.B. Stombock Professor of Law, Washington and Lee University


Hi Brian,

I kept silent after your earlier defense of the people who wrote and published that garbage even though I thought you were very wrong on several counts. (I do consider what you wrote a defense because you claimed they have some kind of right to do what they did and denied the faculty's authority to regulate it.) I have no idea why I was favored with a copy of your most recent pronouncement but this time I find myself unable to keep silent any longer.

One fundamental error is to dignify that issue of The Trident-- and especially the "article" in question-- by calling it journalism. In what way did The Bracket qualify as journalism? Because it was printed on newsprint? I would think a professor of journalism would be embarrassed by a "newspaper" that contains virtually no news and lacks the production values of any decent high school publication. So I have to say I don't see this as a "free press" issue in any way.

Nor do I see it as "free speech" issue over which the faculty and administration have no authority beyond hand-wringing and pompous expressions of disapproval. The Trident is produced on university property and identifies itself as a publication of our university. These people are our students. Do you really think they have some kind of right to print anything they want to print? Suppose we had anti-Semitism or race-baiting instead of "mere" homophobia and misogyny. What values are served by allowing students to print that kind of thing? What are the "information and ideas" (your terms) that deserve to be subsidized by the university?

You trot out the tired "slippery slope" argument against regulation of speech. Do you honestly think that faculty action against The Bracket sets us on the course to Nazism? If you think punishment of the students involved is somehow excessive and unreasonable, I would respond that your characterization is far more so and seems to border on the hysterical.

Finally, what is the value at stake in supporting the freedom of students to publish anything they wish to publish without faculty regulation? I see nothing positive in that but I do see a lot of pain inflicted on undeserving students, nurturing of aspects of our student culture that are reprehensible, and embarrassment among those of us who don't understand why this behavior is condoned, let alone defended by adults who ought to know better.

Ultimately this is probably a problem that is best left to the students themselves to fix. I hope last night's event was a big step in that direction. Certainly I have the highest respect for the two students who organized it. I suggest the faculty could assist that project by refraining from characterizing this is some kind of free speech issue. All that does is imply that nasty, obscene crap like The Bracket is somehow defensible-- which compounds the disrespect already shown to The Bracket's victims.

Best wishes,

David


Back to Speaking Freely home