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DVD: Brainwashing 101—Limits of Free Speech on College Campuses

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Do we really have free speech on university and college campuses in the U.S.? The answer, according to film-makers Evan Coyne Maloney, Stuart E. Browning, and Blaine Greenberg of On The Fence Films, is a resounding NO. These three men, university graduates, have produced an independent documentary called Brainwashing 101 that illustrates their contention.

You don't have free speech where you must be politically correct, and avoid expressing your opinion if someone, somewhere, may decide to be offended by it.
Still image from Brainwashing 101

By focusing on three specific incidents at three different institutions, the film provides a disturbing look at the effect of unequal application of politically-correct university speech codes. Maloney et al examine a school in Lewisburg, PA (Bucknell Univ.), a rural southern campus in Jackson, TN (Univ. of Tennessee); and a university in California (CalPoly) at San Luis Obispo.

You may be surprised at the extent to which such institutions are willing to go to stifle unpopular speech. We’re not talking about hate speech, here. In fact, one conservative student who appears in the film, a Sikh, was prevented from presenting his opinions, while the university system allowed an eMail memo from a school official whom he had criticized (which recommended he or “any raghead you meet” be “shot in the face”) to go uncommented. Another was arrested for attempting to post a flyer containing the title of a book by a conservative black lecturer; he was “a suspicious white male passing out literature of an offensive racial nature.”

By focusing on three specific incidents, the film avoids being shrill or unreasonable. The film-makers have also gone to great effort to include both sides of the arguments in the film.

Free speech at Columbia includes labelling the flag with accusations of rape and racism.
Still image from Brainwashing 101

For example, in discussing the incident at Maloney’s alma mater, Bucknell University, many clips feature a professor of economics, Geoffrey Schneider, whose view is that Bucknell Univ. Conservative Club (BUCC) members are “unconsciously racist.” In fact, following their challenges of the gag order which prohibits students from protesting or discussing the “speech codes” of the university, the ACLU had to become involved to prevent expulsion of two BUCC students.

At Cal Poly, Maloney and his cameraman were assured by the campus PR person that they could film anywhere, but when they requested a quote from the University President’s office, a slick aide intercepted them and had campus security called to escort them off campus, warning them that if they returned they would be subject to arrest.

They went to Cal Poly because the university had charged a student, Steve Hinkle, with racist speech after he tried to post a flyer for a College Republican-sponsored lecture by black author C. Mason Weaver. Weaver’s book title, It’s Okay to Leave the Plantation, was the only text on the flyer, along with the author’s name and the date and time of the lecture. His picture was also on the flyer. Hinkle had a courteous exchange with a student in the campus center where he wished to post the flyer, and the student called campus security to arrest him for “posting hate speech.”

The Cal Poly College Republicans got the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) involved. Eventually, the university reinstated Hinkle and withdrew the charges, and paid him a settlement of $40,000&#8212even though they refused to acknowledge being in the wrong.

The UT incident was the most disturbing to me. On a campus where an entire fraternity had been suspended a few months before, following an off-campus Halloween party which five of their members had attended dressed as the “Jackson 5,” a violent example of hate speech went unpunished because it was aimed at a conservative. Sukhmani Singh Khalsi had written a criticism of the liberal-leaning Student Issues committee. The committee hires speakers for the campus using student fees, hundreds of thousands of dollars worth; Kalsi claimed the speakers were never even centrist, let alone conservative.

Following publication of his complaint, a series of eMail messages was sent to all members of the committee (including one inactive conservative member, who shared the content with Khalsi). The most egregious was from a student member, who suggested that recipients “just shoot these [effing] ragheads in the face”. Faculty advisors urged the Sikh, who wears a turban and beard but is not a Muslim, to treat this as a serious threat. However, the author of the eMail was not even reprimanded, let alone suspended. Contrast this with the fate of an entire fraternity over extramural costumes chosen by five of them!

The message of this short (46 min. run time) commentary film is clear: if (as a student) you feel you have been unfairly treated by your college or university due to a similar unfair application of speech codes (regardless of your position on the political spectrum), contact FIRE. Conservative students may also wish to contact the Academic Bias blog.

In the process of collecting links for this post, I tripped over Fellowship 9/11, “One of the shortest and least expensive films of the year,” in which Michael Moore “…with his characteristic humor and dogged commitment to uncovering – or if necessary fabricating – the facts… considers the reign of the son of Arathorn and where it has led us.”

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