Stanley Fish on the Tufts Case Involving Blasphemous Speech and Harshly Anti-Affirmative-Action Speech:

From the Tufts Daily:

When distinguishing offensive from harassing content, some experts brought up the Hustler Magazine v. Falwell case. In this 1988 Supreme Court decision, prominent evangelist Jerry Falwell sued the racy Hustler magazine for running a parody liquor ad about him having drunken sex with his mother in an outhouse. Falwell sued for libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress, but the Court ruled 8-0 in the magazine's favor, upholding its right to publish the parody.

"The Falwell case makes the point that satire, joking and caricature are part of the free flow of ideas in a democratic society," said Stanley Fish, who writes the "Think Again" blog for the New York Times on education, politics and society. He is a professor of law at Miami's Florida International University and dean emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

"Presumably, some people in the university who are members of minority groups would have felt insulted," he said of responses to the Source articles. "But being insulted doesn't mean you have any legal redress against those who have offended you."

To this extent, he said that the administration should not have even denounced the carol, as it did immediately after its publication.

"They're saying, 'We're good hearted. We're good people. We're on the right side, even though by law we cannot penalize them,'" he said. "[But] the university is not in the business ... of policing the views or sentiments of its students. That's not what it's supposed to doing. It's supposed to be delivering instruction and equipping them with the analytical tools necessary to perform research."

I don't share Fish's view that the University shouldn't have denounced the anti-affirmative-action carol, which struck me as cruel, offensive, and exaggerated in a context where such exaggeration is rude. It seems to me quite proper that leading members of a community, such as university administrators, would speak up against such rudeness and in defense of those who were being insulted.

But I'm glad to hear that Fish is apparently criticizing the disciplinary action against the student newspaper. I'm not sure how this fits into Fish's complex views about free speech (see, for instance, the closing paragraphs of this interview). But I'm pleased to hear his current position (and his willingness to speak based on it), whether it is consistent with his past views or is a departure from those views.