Foundation for Individual Rights in Education on the UCLA Undergrad’s “Asians in the Library” Video

As FIRE puts it, “For the last couple of days, controversy has been buzzing about a YouTube video (now with more than 1.3 million views) from a college student at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), who chose to take to the Internet to complain about the behavior of Asian students in the UCLA library and elsewhere. The student, who has been identified as Alexandra Wallace, claims that the ‘hordes’ of Asian students at UCLA (UCLA’s undergraduate population is about 37 percent Asian and Pacific Islander) cause various annoyances like loudly talking on their cell phones in the library and having their extended families come over and do their chores for them.”

FIRE goes on to criticize — in my view, quite rightly — some statements from UCLA administrators, including the seeming suggestion that the video could lead to disciplining the student, and the statement that “If she’s received a death threat, I find that as deplorable as her original YouTube video.” (Death threats are much more deplorable than making bigoted generalizations about your classmates.) The speech is clearly constitutionally protected, as well as being moronic.

I should note, just to anticipate one common response, that as with much idiocy not much would be lost to the First Amendment if this particular sort of statement, and only this sort of statement, somehow magically vanished. I watched the video, and it’s nonsense.

But the same rationale that would justify punishing a student for this video would equally justify punishing students who argue (on video, in newspaper articles, or what have you) many other things. If the theory is that the speech can be restricted because it somehow creates a “hostile educational environment” for a particular group, the same could be said of statements that — just to give a few examples — (1) immigration from some countries should be cut off because immigrants from those countries disproportionately have certain bad traits, (2) there are sex or race differences in intelligence or temperament, (3) homosexuality and those who engage in it are immoral, (4) fundamentalist Christianity / Catholicism / Scientology / atheism is an evil belief system, and that those who adhere it are either evil or stupid, (5) that American Jews are morally complicit in Israel’s supposed crimes, and a vast range of other speech.

The premise of the American university (and, I think, American self-government more broadly) is that people need to be free to express their views, whether the administrators and others see those views as morally right or morally wrong, so that social and political decisions can be reached based on actual discussion, and not mere force — and so that we can be confident that the things we believe are wrong are indeed wrong, rather than just that they have become unquestioned orthodoxy because challenging them can get you expelled. And to implement that premise, boneheaded statements have to be as protected as more well-reasoned statements.

UPDATE: Here’s FIRE’s letter to UCLA about the matter.