In his dissent in Olmstead versus United States, 277 US 438 (1928), Justice Louis Brandeis famously wrote: “Our government is the powerful, omnipresent teacher. For better or for worse, it teaches all the people by example. “While this watch concerns government criminal misconduct, it seems particularly appropriate today in our locations where impeachments and deportations seem to be all the rage. For the past four years, members of Congress and legal experts have called for impeachments based on everything from Trump’s tweets to the NFL’s kneeling down to his denouncing prosecutors. Lastly, this includes the use of a “hasty impeachment. “The most recent example of this type is on the Rochester Institute of Technology campus, where a student senator faces impeachment after defending campus police force to wear a Blue Lives Matter face mask.We spoke at Loyola Marymount University about the previous impeachment of a student senator who had conservative views. There have previously been such impeachments at the University of Southern California and Bowdoin University. A similar effort was recently launched at Georgetown University, where the student government took action against a student for writing a column that was viewed as critical of Black Lives Matter. A similar campaign against conservative students was launched at Cornell University. Editors and writers have been removed from student publications for their conservative views, including recently at the University of Wisconsin.
In most cases, the universities were conspicuously silent as the students were subject to official discipline for holding opposing views on the police brutality or the Black Lives Matter movement. It reflects the growing intolerance in higher education and the silent approval of university administrators when students and faculties are exposed to these campaigns.
The controversy this week at RIT involves a student senator Jacob Custer and a petition signed by other student senators for his impeachment. As for me, the inclusion of Custer’s views as reasons for impeachment is: “These measures include, but are not limited to, negative attitudes towards members, the apparent disregard for the impact of controversial issues like Blue Lives Matter and its impact on black and black Brown fellowship and obvious disregard for anyone’s views. “
For his part, Custer claims the campaign started after defending a campus official wearing a face mask with a thin blue line on it. According to the conservative website College Fix, Custer wrote, “Wearing masks like this when you want is not intuitive. It is perfectly fine for students and adults to express it as it is free speech. It’s not disrespectful either. We are a student government that represents all students. It is not our job to determine which idea is good or bad just because some or more members disagree and punish members of our community for something small. It’s just downright censorship. “
I cannot speak about the validity of these claims, but what concerns me is the lack of a clear position from the university that students should not be punished for their political or social views. If there is evidence that Custer did not perform the required duties, it should be stated directly and clearly. More importantly, the university should work to incorporate its views into the resolution.
The intellectual touchstone of higher education is freedom of speech and academic freedom. Students coming to our campus should be able to participate in our national debate on such issues without fear of being ostracized or punished. The message of such campaigns is clear to conservative, libertarian, or just contrarian students: if you express dissenting views, you will be officially denounced or removed from positions. The organizers of these campaigns know that such measures have a detrimental effect on future applications or prospects for accused students. The intended deterrent effect is of great importance to any other student who wishes to have a bona fide debate on the issues that will determine our nation for generations.