Many of the incidents sound too absurd to be true. But true they are. Consider, for example, how Yale University put the kibosh on its Freshman Class Council’s T-shirt designed for the Yale-Harvard football game. The problem? The shirt quoted F. Scott Fitzgerald’s line from This Side of Paradise, that, “I think of all Harvard men as sissies.” The word “sissy” was deemed offensive to gay people. Or how about the Brandeis professor who was found guilty of racial harassment—with no formal hearing—for explaining, indeed criticizing, the word “wetbacks.” Simply saying the word was crime enough. Another professor, this time at the University of Central Florida, was suspended for making a joke in class equating his tough exam questions to a “killing spree.” A student reported the joke to the school’s administration. The professor promptly received a letter suspending him from teaching and banning him from campus. He was reinstated after the case went public.
The vaguely worded campus speech codes proliferating across the country turn every person with the ability to exercise his or her vocal cords into an offender in the making. New York University prohibits “insulting, teasing, mocking, degrading or ridiculing another person or group.” The College of the Holy Cross prohibits speech “causing emotional injury through careless or reckless behavior.” The University of Connecticut issued a “Policy Statement on Harassment” that bans “actions that intimidate, humiliate, or demean persons or groups, or that undermine their security or self-esteem.” Virginia State University’s 2012–13 student handbook bars students from “offend[ing] … a member of the University community.” But who decides what’s “offensive”? The illiberal left, of course.