‘The mere dissemination of ideas—no matter how offensive to good taste—on a state university campus may not be shut off in the name alone of ‘conventions of decency…’
(Joshua Paladino, Liberty Headlines) After University of Albany students hosted a coronavirus-themed party, administrators promised to investigate “conduct violations.”
Despite the university deeming the party “distasteful” and “hurtful,” the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a group committed to defending free speech on college campuses, said that the university could not punish students for it.
“SUNY Albany is a public institution and may not punish its students for expression protected by the First Amendment, no matter how offensive others may find it,” FIRE reported, noting that the Supreme Court held that “the mere dissemination of ideas—no matter how offensive to good taste—on a state university campus may not be shut off in the name alone of ‘conventions of decency.’”
Students posted a video on @BarstoolAlbany, an Instagram page full of vulgar content, that showed a bucket full of Corona beer and a student wearing a surgical mask at the party.
The video’s caption said “Corona virus isn’t gonna stop anyone from partying.”
“The video also reportedly showed a white sheet with a biohazard symbol and ‘two faces,’ one with an X over each eye and the other a ‘frown, with what looks like straight lines for eyes,'” FIRE reported.
The Asian American Alliance published a statement in response to the “completely insensitive” party that stereotypes Asian people, in which they demanded that the university take action.
“The Dean of Student Office shall investigate this illegal student group and related UAlbany students, requiring them to delete this video and to apologize on their instagram homepage,” the statement said. “The Office of President shall inform all UAlbany students to stop racism and disrespectful slogans in any situation, especially coronavirus hate crime against Asian students.”
FIRE cited cases in which the Supreme Court ruled that the right to free speech includes protections for freedom of expression. The Constitution does not explicitly protect freedom of expression.
“[W]hen the university is addressing a call for punishment premised on expressive aspects of a controversial event, statement, or act, it should be clear that it cannot and will not punish or investigate purely protected speech,” FIRE reported.