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Louis Brandeis would have been so proud
By adamg on Tue, 03/23/2010 - 9:50am
The school named after the Supreme Court justice lets students bring libel complaints against each other. Which one did, but only after first filing a complaint with campus police (second to last item) about how his group had been wronged on a Web site.
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And I thought Harvard kids were pretentious
This almost makes me miss those days when self-important college kids think they're doing something meaningful and important with their time. Who uses "inter alia" in conversation, anyway?
Fair enough. But the flipside
But the flipside is the creeping encroachment of actual litigiousness on to university campuses. Just as doctors now practice preventive medicine to avoid malpractice claims, professors are increasingly loath to fail students for fear of lawsuits. University counsel's offices are busier than they've ever been. And students are readier to seek recourse in the courts for any decision they dislike.
So while this is the sort of dispute that ought to be settled by a dean calling both parties into her office, and having them sort things out, I'm actually glad that Brandeis provides an alternative outlet for conflict resolution. Better to force combative students through the agony of an amateurish, self-important, student-run judiciary than to have them call up an actual attorney and file a frivolous claim. And at any event, in this case, the whole thing is being put to mediation. With a little luck, one student will learn to check her facts, and the other will discover that filing frivolous charges against a lesser-known competitor generally just generates more publicity for them, and more negativity for your own product. I don't know what else they've learned this semester, but if they take those lessons to heart, they're almost worth the price of tuition.
Quite a bunch of hothouse flowers
Cynic is wrong. Letting students become accustomed to running to the authorities every time somebody says something they don't like is not conducive to their education as citizens. A respect for opinion, even overdrawn opinion, requires some thickness of skin. This is more important than "conflict resolution."
Look at one of the other entries in the police blotter:
Mar. 16-A party reported he found a disturbing flyer in the male bathroom in the Golding Judaic Center. University Police checked the area, but the flyer was a political ad. No further action was taken.
Reporting a "disturbing" political flyer to the police? America could ride to fascism on two ponies - right wing authoritarianism, and left wing namby-pamby nanny statism.
How do you know it was left wing namby-pambyism?
Let's not forget that Jack Abramoff started his Republican career at Brandeis.
Was Abramoff a right winger?
Point taken, but I didn't know Abramoff had any principles at all. When you can represent casinos and the Government of Sudan it doesn't show much of a guiding philosophy.
Taking offense is equally distributed among left and right, but campus speech codes and tribunals are more of a left-wing PC thing.
I don't get it. You have a
I don't get it. You have a student who overreacts to the flier, and the campus police take one look at it and dismiss the incident. Isn't that precisely how the system is supposed to work? No codes, no tribunals.
Similarly, you have a student who goes to the cops claiming libel. They take one look at what he's talking about, and refer him to the student union. Which itself takes a look, and decides that instead of a student trial (your 'tribunal') it should be consigned to mediation.
I'm just not seeing a whole lot of rights being violated here. Sure, you have a couple of students overreacting. But when hasn't that been true of a college campus? What's striking is that the system as a whole seems to be treating such complaints with the lack of gravity they deserve.
Yes, he was
Proud member of the College Republicans and scourge of the Spartacus Youth League.
not cynical enough for me
For a Cynic, you seem pretty hopeful this will all turn out roses. Like deselby, I think exactly what these kids need is for the Dean to call them in and say something on the lines of "Dude, WTF? Get over yourself." And it's not just the two involved in the spat. The whole concept that some student is referred to as "the Justice" (capitalized, no less) comes across as more than a bit self-indulgent.
Actually, I suggested that a
Actually, I suggested that a talking to from the dean might have been a more appropriate solution - deselby is too busy decrying campus liberalism to bother offering any solutions for how such conflicts might be resolved.
And "the Justice" is not a title for a student - it's the name of the student newspaper.
It's very easy to grandstand against some apparently outrageous story. But it helps, you know, to take the time to master the details before spouting off. I'm optimistic that this will turn out well because, as far as I'm concerned, the whole thing is a ridiculous waste of time, and it's now entered into a process incapable of doing any real damage. One student, who should've checked her facts or been clearer in her claims, will be forced to waste some time defending herself. The other, who took the whole thing far too seriously, will likewise be stuck in a supercilious proceeding. And I have little doubt that the solution will entail a slight change in wording on the website, which is probably merited, and little more. Is that really worth getting worked up about?
Wasting time and authoritarian regulation of speech
First, we don't know the facts here. Maybe one film festival is controlled by the administration.
But even if it is more ambiguous, opinion has always been a defense to libel.
You think it's good that someone expressing the truth or an opinion is dragged in front of some tribunal, where those oh-so-earnest student justices will conduct an inquisition. I don't.
Where's the tribunal? Simply
Where's the tribunal? Simply stating over and over again that there's a tribunal can't conjure it into existence. The complaint was sent to mediation. That means they have to sit down, and talk it through. It's not even arbitration - there's no chance of a binding ruling. There's no judge, or judges. There's no inquisition. There's only a conversation. Is that really so horrible?
Your understanding of actual libel law is similarly flawed. Opinion is not a defense for erroneous claims of fact. I can't, for example, say that AdamG is actually Curt Schilling, and then defend that as my opinion.
In any community, you're going to have emotionally charged disputes. On a university campus, there are four alternatives for dealing with them. The first is to do nothing. That has its appeal, but sometimes lets disputes get out of control, with attendant risks to the university and its students. The second is for the university to act in loco parentis - to have a dean or administrator intervene to settle the dispute. That's efficient, but it coddles students instead of treating them as adults and making them resolve their own conflicts. The third is for the dispute to get taken over the boundaries of the campus, into the general legal system. That's the best way to treat serious charges and actual crimes, but it's overkill for smaller issues. The fourth is for the university to set up some student-governed process, telling them to work it out themselves. That's what's happened here. Students have to live with each other. They attend the same classes. They may live on the same floor, or in the same room. They may play on the same team, or participate in the same activities. Every closed community has some processes, formal or informal, for resolving conflicts that don't rise to the level of judicial action - that's true of workplaces, organizations, clubs, and teams. It's also true of universities.
You seem to have an axe to grind with the academy. That's your business. But there's really nothing here that ties in to your broader concerns.
not all erroneous statements of fact are defamatory
It is you who does not understand defamation law, Cynic.
Of course you can, because the statement is not defamatory. In Massachusetts, a defamatory statement has to expose a person to "public hatred, ridicule or contempt." Would any jury agree that you saying that AG is Curt Schilling exposes Adam to "public hatred, ridicule or contempt?" Nooooooo. Now if you said that AG believes he's Curt Schilling, that might be different, but if he did believe it, issues of truth and mental competence would be in play. Would any jury or judge say - if the film festival were funded by the administration - that a statement that the film festival was "controlled" by the administration was anything but a protected expression of opinion? I think not. Summary judgment.
So why force students to do mediation in private? Some disputes should be in public.
I have no axe to grind with the academy, but I've read enough Harvey Silverglate columns in the Phoenix to know that there are petty little dictators in a lot of these schools. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) exists for good reason. You can check out some horror stories at http://www.thefire.org/
Libel is a civil issue, not a criminal one
There is no reason for police, even campus police, to be involved in such a dispute.