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No Cajoling or Proselytizing -- We're a University!

Hampton University decided to enforce a quite remarkable provision in its Code of Conduct, which says that

to accost, cajole, or proselytize students, faculty or staff, parents or others, to engage in gender and sexual harassment, use vile, obscene or abusive language or exhibit lewd behavior, to possess weapons such as knives or firearms, or to be involved in the possession, use, distribution of and sale of illegal drugs is strictly prohibited and is in direct violation of the Hampton University Code, on or off campus.

According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education,

Seven students at the private institution faced trouble with Hampton administrators after November 2, when they and others spent about half an hour in Hampton's student center passing out [anti-Bush] flyers on issues including Hurricane Katrina, the Sudan, and the Iraq war. Police officers confronted the students, who did not believe they needed permission to hand out the flyers and who were eventually charged with offenses such as "posting unauthorized materials" and "actions to cajole or proselytize students." A November 28 letter from Dean of Men Woodson H. Hopewell informed the students that they could face penalties up to expulsion for these activities, which at a public university would be protected under the First Amendment. . . .

Last weekend, at least five of the seven students involved in the flyer distribution discovered that rather than being expelled, they had been sentenced to 20 hours each of community service. A similar punishment is expected for the two remaining students. The university also released a statement saying in part that "Hampton University has always and continues to be a champion of free speech and free expression."

This strikes me as a pretty shocking action for a university, even a private university, to take. Private universities are not bound by the First Amendment; but in my view even a private university, to fulfill its function, must provide a broad degree of academic freedom to students, and deserves criticism if it does not, especially if it asserts that it "has always and continues to be a champion of free speech and free expression." And this is especially so when the restrictions are so broad as to prohibit any speech that "cajole[s] or proselytiz[es]" — apt descriptions for a wide range of persuasive communication of ideas — and in particular to prohibit the distribution of flyers. (The university's position might be more defensible if it were limited solely to speech that urges a walkout from classes, which some of the flyers did; but this was not the only or even the main grounds that the university cited.)

In any case, it's good that FIRE is fighting these cases, though it's too bad that it has to.

UPDATE: My original quote from the Code of Conduct was incorrect — I tried to focus only on the relevant portions of the text by saying that the Code "prohibits 'accost[ing], cajol[ing], or proselytiz[ing] students, faculty or staff, parents or others, to engage in gender and sexual harassment, use vile, obscene or abusive language or exhibit lewd behavior,'" but this suggested that the Code only barred cajoling in order toengage in harassment. That's not what the Code does; it bars cajoling/proselytizing, it bars harassment, it bars weapons possession, and it bars drug possession (the last two of which are clearly not relevant here) — that's why FIRE's and my substantive criticisms are correct, since the prohibition on cajoling/proselytizing is quite independent of the other prohibitions. To quote the material accurately, I should have revised "to engage in" to say instead "[or] engag[ing] in." But instead I decided just to quote the item with a minimum of revision; the changed text above reflects this. My apologies to readers Steve and Brad, who were confused by this.

Vinnie:
Someone needs to define "academic freedom" to clearly include the censorship at Hampton before I'm willing to get excited. The AAUP definition seems limited to classroom/academic activity limits on speech and thought. That's not the problem at Hampton, unless they're teaching Poli Sci at the student union by handout.

FIRE generally complains of "repressive and partisan colleges" rather than "academic freedom". That seems like more appropriate language - most consumers of education would prefer limited amounts of repression and partisanship, but certainly not all such consumers (see Ave Maria U.)

Casting the issue as one of "freedom" seems overheated. Or has "freedom" joined "activism" as a modifier that means "stuff I don't agree with"?
12.6.2005 12:51pm
Steve:
I'm confused. The COC doesn't appear by its terms to ban all "cajoling and proselytizing," but only cajoling and proselytizing intended to effect certain objectives, none of which would appear to be implicated here. Cajoling someone to engage in sexual harassment or exhibit lewd behavior is prohibited; cajoling them to go to the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance is not. So I don't really get why this garden-variety political activity would even arguably constitute a violation of the COC.
12.6.2005 12:53pm
dweeb (mail):
It's worth noting that FIRE, an organization that has been villified as part of the "vast, right wing conspiracy," is here defending leftist students who were expressing anti-Bush opinions.
12.6.2005 12:57pm
Brad:
From the quoted excerpt, it's not clear whether all "cajoling" is limited or only cajoling relating to sexual harassment, etc. My first reaction was to read it as being limited, as Steve does above. However, if the bracketed insertion of "[ing]" is replaced by what I believe may have been the original "to," then I don't think it's so limited. Can someone quote the complete unedited paragraph of the handbook?
12.6.2005 1:01pm
Bisch:

Each member of the Hampton Family will respect one another and visitors as if they were guests in one's home. Therefore, to accost, cajole, or proselytize students, faculty or staff, parents or others, to engage in gender and sexual harassment, use vile, obscene or abusive language or exhibit lewd behavior, to possess weapons such as knives or firearms, or to be involved in the possession, use, distribution of and sale of illegal drugs is strictly prohibited and is in direct violation of the Hampton University Code, on or off campus.


From EV's link. I read it like Steve, too.
12.6.2005 1:11pm
Steve:
Well, with the comma after "others," you could read it as prohibiting all instances of "accosting" as well as prohibiting all the other things. You must admit, it would be odd to prohibit the cajoling of certain conduct without also prohibiting the underlying conduct.

"Proselytizing," at least to my ear, has a religious connotation. Whether one has been accosted is typically in the eye of the accostee. As for cajoling, heck, I imagine Prof. Volokh gets cajoled to change grades all the time. These terms are so vague as to prohibit almost everything, as we see from the example in question.
12.6.2005 1:21pm
Cornellian (mail):
I'm not sure the drafters of that policy really knew what "proselytize" means. They probably just picked it out of a thesaurus and dropped it into the policy.

And I would assume that "cajoling" others to use "obscene langauge" goes on in college dorms all the time. So what?
12.6.2005 1:30pm
Ellen:
This code of conduct also appears to ban the possession of firearms .. off campus. Like at home during hunting season?
12.6.2005 1:33pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Sorry for the confusion; my error in quoting the Code. I revised the text of the post, and noted an update. In any event, Steve's revised reading (in his 1:21pm comment) is correct -- there are separate prohibitions on accosting/cajoling/proselytizing, on harassment, on weapons possession, and on drug possession. The latter three aren't implicated here.
12.6.2005 1:36pm
JB:
That code suffers from a lack of clear definitions. What is accosting? What is cajoling?

Answer: Whatever the school administration wants it to mean.
12.6.2005 1:45pm
Nobody Special:
I like how owning a gun, even legally and off campus, is in violation of the text of this code of conduct.

Knives too. I hope no one likes steak.
12.6.2005 1:45pm
Visitor Again:
to accost, cajole, or proselytize students, faculty or staff, parents or others, to engage in gender and sexual harassment,

This prohibits accosting, cajoling or proselytizing for any purpose. It is antithetical to what the educational experience should be about, at least at the college or university level--the free exchange of ideas and information.

It reminds me of the attitude of the University of California at Berkeley administrators during the Sixties in banning literature tables on University property--a ban that led to student demonstrations, sit-ins, mass arrests and the birth of the Free Speech Movement led by, among others, the eloquent Mario Savio--although that was, of course, a public university. University administrators argued that the ban was necessary to preserve the University's non-partisan image. The rejoinder to that was that allowing expression of all points of view not only preserved the University's neutral image but also was, unlike the ban, consistent with the central mission of a university, the free exchange of ideas and information.

What the ban was really about was this. The literature tables traditionally had been allowed. Then the students started protesting the racially discriminatory practices of San Francisco Bay area businesses and the tables were used to distribute literature announcing picket lines and demonstrations at these businesses. The businesses then pressured the University administrators into instituting the ban. They soon found out the students thought their rights were worth fighting for, and in the end the students revailed, but only after a year of turmoil that brought down Clark Kerr, president of the entire University of California system.

Administrators who would so limit speech treat university and college students as closed-circuit recipients of ideas and information. They are to consume only; they are not to speak or act on the basis of what they learn in the classroom. God forbid that college students should learn what free speech, association and assembly are about, that they should exercise these freedoms, and that, horrors, they should become effective in changing things. Better they be treated as children who can't be trusted to express what is on their minds. So much for education.
12.6.2005 2:17pm
Jason Fliegel (mail):
I wonder if Hampton University has cracked down on groups like the Campus Crusade for Christ and other Christian groups -- when I was an undergrad (at a different institution), they were far and away the leading proselytizers.

And, like Nobody Special, I wonder what kind of flatware they have in the Hampton University dining halls.
12.6.2005 3:47pm
Nobody Special:
It would be awesome if they had sporks.

I actually made some metal sporks when I was an undergraduate. They're actually quite useful utensils.
12.6.2005 4:09pm
Cathy Young (mail) (www):
Thanks for the correction, Eugene! I was initially confused, too.
12.6.2005 4:55pm
Bob Smith (mail):
>this code of conduct also appears to ban the possession of firearms .. off campus

Hardly surprising. Many school districts take the position that their code of conduct applies to students even when off campus, outside school hours, and not at a school sponsored event. For example, student gets drunk at a friend's house. Student and friend are suspended or expelled. www.zerointelligence.net has lots of examples of this.
12.6.2005 5:22pm
Anthony (mail):
Eugene, you say

That's not what the Code does; it bars cajoling/proselytizing, it bars harassment, it bars weapons possession, and it bars drug possession (the last two of which are clearly not relevant here)

But they are relevant. The University, by setting those four offenses into the same code section, is sending the message that it considers the offenses to be of equal gravity; it s saying that a proselytizer is the moral equal of a drug dealer, and that unapproved ideas are as dangerous as firearms.
12.6.2005 5:27pm
Steve:
Echoing a common theme on this blog, it's interesting that all of Prof. Volokh's ire was focused on the quasi-First Amendment issue, without an iota of attention to the quasi-Second Amendment issue!

I have no problem with the basic concept that a code of conduct can apply to off-campus activity, underage drinking being a fairly common case. The activity is illegal, after all. But it seems absurd to me, and remarkably ignorant of larger American society, to say that ownership of a legal firearm at an off-campus dwelling can get you expelled.
12.6.2005 6:00pm
guest:
having just been in hampton roads and seen a story on this last week, an important but missing fact from most news accounts is that the leaflet told students to walk out of class on an assigned date. the leaflet then encouraged the walkout with a celebratory "no school!" my bet is that the administration cared more about the attempt to get out of class than the political content. seemed to me like the students wanted to "raise awareness" of the issues sipping a latte in starbucks instead of sitting in biochem.
12.6.2005 6:04pm
Abandon:
Anthony,have we got any proof these offenses are considered to be of equal gravity at all? That a scale doesn't show in the code doesn't mean at all the offenses are treated as seriously one another. Anyhow, in all cases, background certainly plays a great role in the rules' interpretation and their enforcement. It goes without saying.

I do not personally believe these rules are necessary, unless, of course, there have been critical events on campus we do not know about in which case a stronger regulation was/is the answer to a specific situation. I do not think, for example, one student would be hanged simply for kissing his girl-friend's hand. Maybe there has been too much breast-grabbing though, followed with complaints from other students/teachers/parents...
12.6.2005 6:11pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
In Eugene's defense, the students weren't being prosecuted for their guns, but for their speech.
12.7.2005 4:45am
CJ:
No knives? Yuck.
12.7.2005 9:15am
Small Town Dude:
Too much information is lacking to know what was really going on. Assuming the facts were as the Dean put it in his letter, I would have the agree with management. If I were in management's shoes, I would have taken the same position. Yeah, the rules are vague and indefinite, but that, like the Bill of Rights, doesn't apply to private schools.

Sorry, but most of the cr@p that college kids demonstrate about is just plain flaky and an waste of time. They would do better to keep their mouths shut and study and raise questions in the classroom. Closing a college just to make some political point about George Bush (or Bill CLinton, for that matter) is just ignorant.
12.9.2005 1:59am