Does a hostile learning environment on campus trump free speech?

Of course not, it’s a matter of laws versus the Constitution. From Volokh:

What I found noteworthy, though, was the statement from Ibrahim Hooper, the spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations:

[Anti-Muslim speakers] create a hostile learning environment for Muslim and Arab-American students, and that’s what they’re designed to do. … They’re designed to demonize Muslim and Arab students.


“Hostile learning environment,” of course, isn’t just a general term of condemnation — it’s not just calling something “offensive” or “insulting” or even “hate speech.” Rather, a “hostile learning environment” (also known as a “hostile educational environment”) is a legal term of art, referring to something that violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act or other bans on discrimination in education. Many campus speech and conduct codes, including UNC’s, ban speech or conduct that creates a “hostile environment.” The federal government has stated that speech that creates a hostile environment based on national origin is barred by Title VI. Indeed, CAIR has in the past called for the federal government to investigate allegations of a hostile learning environment.

So the statement is suggesting that, in CAIR’s view, “anti-Muslim speakers” may already violate campus speech codes, and that universities may be under a legal obligation (under Title VI) to exclude such speakers.

Now I think that a public university’s exclusion of anti-Muslim speakers — or, more broadly, speakers that are harshly critical of Islam generally or certain strands in particular — would violate the First Amendment, and Title VI cannot constitutionally be interpreted to require universities (public or private) to exclude such speakers. There is no “hostile learning environment” exception to the First Amendment, and I think cases striking down campus speech codes support that position.

By Stephen

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Professor and quant guy. Libertarian turned populist Republican. Trying to learn Japanese and play Spanish Baroque music on the ukulele.

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