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The Confirmation

The confirmation should be a rough draft of your argument paper and should make the argument that you intend to make in the final draft.


Free Speech on Campus: A Delicate Balance of Values

To many of those opposed to hate speech on college campuses, the issues are clear cut: the freedom of expression must be absolute if it is to be meaningful, and hate speech must therefore be tolerated in the name of liberty. It is unfortunate that some people must be hurt in the process, but, ultimately, the only acceptable antidote to bad speech is good speech. We have nothing to gain and everything to lose by starting down the treacherous path to censorship of ideas that we don't find acceptable. While the dedication to liberty and freedom of thought expressed in these sentiments is admirable, the absolutism that this position attaches to freedom of speech is misplaced. There have always been limitations on what someone can say with impunity in any situation, and the limitations now being adopted on college campuses are moderate enough to prevent genuine personal abuses without seriously damaging either the principle or the practice of free expression.

Those who argue that freedom of speech must be protected at any cost do not take into account the many instances in which our society already places limits on the absolute free expression of ideas. One may not, for example, use speech to commit fraud or perjury, to libel or slander another person, to publish information protected by a patent or copyright, or to joke about a bomb in an airport. In each of these cases, our society has collectively decided that some kinds of protection are more important than an absolute devotion to freedom of speech. The principle of free expression, however, has survived and flourished for two hundred years.

Most of the regulations now being implemented on college campuses aren't even as restrictive as the others mentioned, since they apply only to activities on campus and do not threaten people with any punishment beyond expulsion from the college. All colleges and universities have rules and regulations that go beyond those imposed on ordinary citizens. It would be unconstitutional for the government of Shepherdstown to demand that all of its citizens live in city-owned housing; the government of Shepherd College, however, makes this demand on a regular basis, and students must either obey or go somewhere else. As a matter of common sense, these kinds of restrictions apply to student speech. A student would be free to stand up in downtown Shepherdstown and shout, "Dr. Austin is a fascist pig!" without any fear of repercussions. Anyone who did this on a regular basis in Dr. Austin's class, however, would probably be subject to whatever internal discipline the college chose to administer (not to mention the wrath of Porter, who loves to spit up on people who criticize his daddy). As long as rules regarding hate speech are adequately advertised and clearly understood, then they should be looked upon as part of an implicit contract between a college and a student. Students who don't like the contract can go elsewhere.

None of this analysis means that colleges should adopt draconian measures to police the innermost thoughts of their students. Even if such measures proved to be constitutional, they would also be foolish and counterproductive. But it is possible to approach the question of hate speech moderately, by establishing rules and regulations against the most outrageous kinds of face-to-face hostility based on race, gender, or sexual orientation. Though colleges should not try to tell their students what to think, they can try to make rules against speech and expression so violent in nature, and so inflammatory in content, that it makes its victims unable to pursue their education. Such regulations, if crafted carefully and applied judiciously, would allow us to guarantee an equal education to all without ever diminishing our society's fundamental commitment to the freedom of speech and the open exchange of ideas.

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