President Sheldon Hackney said yesterday he opposes a U.S. House bill which would allow private university students to sue for free speech violations if they are punished under unconstitutional university codes. The bill, proposed last month by Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), prohibits universities and colleges from punishing students "solely on the basis of conduct that is speech." Currently, the University's private-school status protects it from having to comply with Constitutional guidelines on free speech. "I'm all in favor of free speech," Hackney said. "But I'm not in favor of the federal government trying to enforce discipline on campus." Hackney has been a staunch advocate of open expression and has spent the last year revising the University's racial harassment policy. If the bill, which would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act, becomes law, the plan could alter the University's formulation and enforcement of a racial harassment policy, which some see as directly combatting free speech. University Federal Relations Director Robert Canavan said Wednesday the administration will join the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in its opposition to the bill. Hackney said that while Hyde's bill would "allow people to say whatever they want," he thinks the University should strive to protect free speech and protect people from harassment at the same time. The House bill seems to attack the formulation of anti-harassment policies on campuses around the country because it gives open expression precedence over protection from harmful speech. Throughout the year-long debate at the University, the two tenets have repeatedly come into conflict. But Sam Stratman, a spokesperson for Rep. Hyde, said yesterday that despite criticisms, the bill is not designed to support harassment of any sort. He pointed to the fact that not all types of speech, such as obscenity and racial and sexual slurs, are protected under the Constitution. Stratman insisted the bill would only cover students who were punished for speech that is protected by the First Amendment. "No one supports and condones any form of harassment," Stratman said. "Harassment rightly considered is not protected by the bill." The bill could directly affect the University's formulation of a racial harassment policy because a code similar to the University's was struck down in a Michigan court two years ago for being unconstitutionally vague. Law School Dean Colin Diver said this week the University's policy would face a similar fate under the proposed law. But Hackney said he is confident his new anti-harassment code would comply with the Constitution and with the Hyde bill. "I believe the kind of policy we're developing would be all right," Hackney said.Comments powered by Disqus
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