On November 20, the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate voted nearly unanimously against putting First Amendment protections into Tufts’ student conduct policies. The final vote tally was zero votes for, twenty-six votes against, and two abstentions. This is deplorable.
Back in September, Students Advocating for Students (SAS) put forward a resolution calling for Tufts University to alter its student conduct policies in a way that would provide Tufts’ students with First Amendment protections on campus. While Tufts University is a private school, it has, on countless occasions, promised its students free speech rights. The TCU Senate itself unanimously passed a resolution in 2012 which called for free speech to be protected on Tufts’ campus “forever.”
It appears that a lot can change in four years.
It is important to remember that, upon seeking supporters for this resolution within the Tufts community back in September, both I and others who favored the resolution were subjected to a hostile, abusive, and harassing environment both on campus and online. This hostility and abuse came from Tufts students, including TCU Senators.
During the TCU Senate hearing on November 20th, senators made their disdain for the First Amendment abundantly clear. The senators’ two primary arguments follow this section as well as some statements made during the hearing.
Free Speech “Endangers” Tufts Students
Believing that free speech threatened the safety and well-being of students, many senators said that campus life is a zero-sum game in which students can either be protected and have no speech rights or be endangered and have full speech rights.
Of course, this line of reasoning is absurd. Academic institutions that provide their students with free speech rights do not suffer from inordinate amounts of violence and mental health issues. These senators’ concerns were simply not compatible with reality.
Free Speech Protections Makes Administrators’ Jobs Impossible
Many senators were under the impression that vague, ill-defined policies are a necessity for determining proper administrative punishment. When policies are specific and clear, they reasoned, administrators can not properly punish everyone who deserves discipline. Surprisingly, one of the senators stated that clarity itself is entirely subjective and, therefore, clarity must not be in Tufts’ rules.
The TCU Senate’s logic is as flawed as it is disturbing. Without clearly-defined policies, students run the risk of engaging in misconduct without their knowing that such conduct is prohibited. Additionally, a university with vague policies is a university with no standards for punishment. In such a scenario, everything will be decided on a case by case basis in which decisions can be made entirely arbitrarily and based upon administrators’ personal biases.
Alternatively, having properly defined codes of conduct both gives students the ability to properly understand what they can and cannot say. Clear rules establish a standard by which administrators can be held accountable to when their actions seem capricious.
Tufts’s President Monaco Lectures Trump on Free Speech
One day after the resolution was voted down, University President Anthony Monaco signed his name to a letter to President-Elect Trump. The letter states that free expression is a value that President Monaco is committed to protecting on his campus. The letter makes it clear that Monaco expects President-Elect Trump to respect the value of free expression.
SAS has sent President Monaco a letter requesting that he explain the discrepancies between his public words and his campus’ actions.