A college student currently faces investigation from her university for daring to—gasp—write an article and post it online.
The controversy began when Tulane University junior Sarah Ma penned an opinion article defending “Ye”—the artist formerly known as Kanye West—from charges of anti-Semitism and racism that have been recently levied against the artist. Her piece, “Ye Did Nothing Wrong,” tries to explain Ye’s remarks such as “I love Hitler” and “I’m going Death Con 3 on Jewish people” and argues that in context, they’re not hateful.
Now, I think Ma is wrong, and that Ye’s remarks were offensive and that he should apologize. But Tulane apparently thinks Ma is not just wrong but dangerous! The university announced that it is investigating Ma over the article.
“Tulane strongly condemns all forms of antisemitism, anti-Blackness, and all forms of bias and discrimination,” Tulane Dean of Students Erica Woodley wrote in an email to the student body. “While the importance of free expression on a university campus cannot be overstated, words that run counter to our core values impact our community.”
This is an affront to the principles of free expression.
Yes, Tulane is a private college and thus not bound by the First Amendment, yet it does promise to protect free speech.
“While Tulane is a private school not bound by the First Amendment to protect students’ expressive rights, it has independently ‘committed to an environment in which a variety of ideas can be freely expressed and critically examined,’” the nonpartisan Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) wrote in a letter to the university.
“Tulane also makes clear its harassment policy cannot be used to curb these rights and, instead, ‘shall be applied in a manner that protects academic freedom and freedom of expression,’ including but not limited to ‘expression of ideas, however controversial, in the classroom setting, academic environment, university-recognized activities, or on the campus,’ FIRE explains. “These policies represent a contractual commitment on the part of Tulane to respect the expressive freedoms of its students, including Ma.”
Tulane students’ intolerance for dissenting opinions is deplorable.
No one should feel unsafe expressing their opinion, so long as it is free of discrimination and harassment. https://t.co/vvgnturbE9
— Sarah Ma (@RealSarahMa) January 18, 2023
Of course, both students and the school itself are well within their rights to criticize Ma or disagree with her viewpoint. But when they subject her to official sanctions and/or investigation for merely expressing an opinion, they betray their commitment to free expression and establish a precedent that could come back to haunt them.