This article examines the constitutionality of university prohibitions of public expression that insults members of the academic community by directing hatred or contempt toward them on account of their race. Several thoughtful scholars have examined generally whether the government can penalize citizens for racist slurs under the first amendment, but to the limited extent that they have discussed university disciplinary codes they have assumed that the state university is merely a government instrumentality subject to the same constitutional limitations as, for example, the legislature or the police. In contrast, I argue that the university has a fundamentally different relationship to the speech of its members than does the state to the speech of its citizens. On campus, general rights of free speech should be qualified by the intellectual values of academic discourse. I conclude that the protection of these academic values, which themselves enjoy constitutional protection, permits state universities lawfully to bar racially abusive speech, even if the state legislature could not constitutionally prohibit such speech throughout society at large. At the same time, however, I assert that the first amendment renders state universities powerless to punish speakers for advocating any idea in a reasoned manner.
J. Peter Byrne, Racial Insults and Free Speech Within the University, 79 Geo. L.J. 399 (1991)
Scholarly Commons Citation
Byrne, J. Peter, "Racial Insults and Free Speech Within the University" (1991). Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works. 1577.