Monday, June 15, 2015

Columbia and Academic Freedom

This must-read translation of a German language publication on Paul Nungesser's lawsuit against Columbia does a fair job of capturing both the psychic pain and material harm caused by false rape accusations. But reading the article, I began thinking critically about the unstated assumptions behind the lawsuit. There seems no doubt that "campus activists" have succeeded in creating a hostile and intimidating environment for men (and anyone else with insufficient victimism Pokémon points) in general and Paul in particular. But I'm less certain that Columbia has either the power or the responsibility to prevent this. Paul's lawyer:

[Andrew]. Miltenberg said: "Emma is lying. She is camouflaging her attacks on Paul as a fight for a good cause . . . . Can we both stand on campus with a sign reading ‘Emma Sulkowicz is a whore’? Of course not . . . . But Emma is permitted to hold rallies. Columbia is her accomplice."

Well said. Notwithstanding the abundant evidence in favor of such a slogan, were a bunch of Paul's fraternity brothers actually try to use it, we can be certain that Columbia would assert the power and responsibility to stop them.

But having said that, does it actually? Ought it actually?

I haven't read Nunguesser's legal complaint; to my knowledge, it has not appeared online. But it is established that Columbia's sexual misconduct tribunals (Paul ultimately faced four of these) exonerated him of his accusers charges, and from what I have read, Columbia's direct complicity in Sulkowicz' campaign of defamation is limited to her advisor's accepting the mattress gag as a "senior thesis". He might have a pretty good case if, during discovery, he finds that Emma's thesis proposal accused him of rape by name. But Paul's complaint against Columbia goes well beyond that. He argues that Columbia was obligated to actively prevent his fellow students from harassing him.

Let me be clear: Columbia's SJWs actively defamed Paul with reckless disregard for the truth, and Paul ought to be able to prevail against them. But Paul isn't suing them; he's suing Columbia for not stopping them, and on this I find cause to be wary. Much as I and others have argued that accusations of criminal behavior ought to be handled by grown-ups -- law enforcement, prosecutors, judges and juries -- under grown-up standards of evidence and due-process, a similar case can be made that the question of where free speech and academic freedom stop and where libel and harassment begin also ought be made based on the law, not based on the whims of campus administrators.

And indeed, against which activists would you predict Columbia's whims would direct it? Against SJWs? On the contrary, and conservatives should be loathe to further empower administrators to restrict conservative speech on harassment grounds. I could be wrong about this: it might be the case that universities are doing this to the maximum legal extent anyway and Nungesser's lawsuit will only subject SJWs to a like standard. But the precedent would be nonetheless troubling.

1 comment:

heresolong said...

There is a reasonable argument to be made that if we are going to lose the war then we need to, at the very least, subject the left to the same harassment to which we are routinely subjected. We may disagree that filing a multitude of lawsuits or numerous complaints through swarms of bureaucracy is a legitimate technique, but why are we always defending ourselves and the left never has to? Maybe the only way to stop the madness is to subject the opposition to the same consequences of that madness to which we are subjected. If they have to suffer the same harassment that we do, maybe they will start to think twice about their tactics. In the meantime, they suffer no negative consequences to destroying us through groundless harassing lawsuits and complaints.