The Good Old Days:

A commenter on the thread below writes:

Thankfully, the courts seem to be getting more involved in this sort of stuff.

It is amazing that the nation survived the 200+ years or so before speech codes forced students to be nice to each other.

I've heard this sort of assertion before, but I don't think it's quite right. I'm not a historian of higher education, but my understanding is that until the 1960s, it was commonly assumed that universities had broad power to suppress student speech (whether to speech that was seen as offensive or speech that was seen as dangerous), and universities regularly used such power. To give just a few examples:

  1. Papish v. Board of Curators (1973), in which the Court held unconstitutional a university's expulsion of a student who distributed a newspaper that "on the front cover ... reproduced a political cartoon previously printed in another newspaper depicting policemen raping the Statue of Liberty and the Goddess of Justice [witht he caption] '... With Liberty and Justice for All'" and also "contained an article entitled 'M---f--- Acquitted,' which discussed the trial and acquittal on an assault charge of a New York City youth who was a member of an organization known as 'Up Against the Wall, M---f---.'"

  2. Ratchford v. Gay Lib, in which a university tried to deny recognition to a pro-gay-rights club.

  3. Steier v. New York State Ed. Comm'r, 271 F.2d 13 (2d Cir. 1959), in which a student was suspended under a "courtes[y]" / "good manners" rule for writing "letters to the College President which were obviously bitter and in one of which intemperate language was directed against the office of Student Administration of The College."

The doctrine that students could speak, even in rude or vulgar ways, free of punishment by the university seems to have arisen in the 1960s and 1970s.

More broadly, talk of the "good old days" of liberty -- especially as to free speech -- usually paints too rosy a picture of the past. Free speech in America is on balance more protected now than at any time until about 1970, and probably about as protected as it was in 1970 (though slightly more so in some areas and slightly less so in others). Free speech on campuses is on balance more protected now than at any time until the 1960s; the campus speech code movement of the 1980s onward wasn't something new so much as it was a return in some degree to the control universities tried to exercise over student speech in the past (though often as to different subjects than before).