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The Dartmouth Insurgency

From the April 25, 2005 issue: Tear down this speech code.

Apr 25, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 30 • By DUNCAN CURRIE
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As a community committed to fairness, respect, and openness, we have no patience with or tolerance for bigotry or demeaning behavior. I affirm here, with deep personal conviction, that Dartmouth is and will be an actively anti-sexist, anti-racist, and anti-homophobic institution and community. . . . In a community such as ours, one that depends so much upon mutual trust and respect, it is hard to understand why some want still to insist that their "right" to do what they want trumps the rights, feelings, and considerations of others. We need to recognize that speech has consequences for which we must account.

Though Wright claimed Dartmouth had no "speech code," David French notes that terms like "bigotry" and "demeaning behavior" are "highly subjective." This, insists French, is a speech code of "the worst kind"--one that is vague yet still has teeth.

Wright's letter vanished from the Dartmouth president's website last month. Try to find it, and you discover its location has been "moved." (But where? Calls to his office went unreturned.) Is it a coincidence that the document on Wright's website disappeared after Robinson and Zywicki zinged its contents? Probably not.

Either way, Rodgers applauds the letter's removal, and praises Wright for recent statements in which he's affirmed Dartmouth's commitment to free expression. "Now that the speech code is gone from the website," Rodgers says, "we're fully 10 percent of the way home." For his part, David French remains skeptical. FIRE continues to give Dartmouth a "red" grade--the lowest of three--in the category of protecting speech on campus. "If you elevate 'feelings' over the right to free expression, you're gonna get a bad rating," he explains.

Piqued alumni--along with parts of the administration--have lashed out at FIRE, and at Rodgers, Robinson, and Zywicki. What accounts for their hostility? Rodgers cites three factors. One: "We're outsiders." Two: "We said something negative," so the perception is "we're attacking the administration." Three: Alumni exhibit a "visceral" reaction to any criticism of their alma mater.

"I sort of slipped in by surprise," Rodgers says. But now there are two petition nominees in one year--and they've caught national attention. As French puts it, "One trustee is an anomaly." But three trustees might signify "the beginning of a movement."

Duncan Currie is a reporter at The Weekly Standard.