Huffpost College
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

David Moshman Headshot

Zero Tolerance for Intolerance

Posted: Updated:
Print

Chris Rock may not be welcome at the University of Nebraska−Lincoln.

Not that he's planning to come. But what he has to say would not be welcomed by the Chancellor and student government leaders, who don't like his kind of unwelcoming language.

On November 13, 2013, the UNL student senate debated and passed a resolution "encouraging a broadly inclusive and welcoming campus" that concluded:

Be it resolved, that as senators... We pledge to remove derogatory terms from our vocabulary (that may or may not be purposely directed as offensive) in regard to a person's gender, age, disability, genetic information, race, color, religion, pregnancy status, marital status, veteran's status, national or ethnic origin, gender identity or expression, place of residence, political affiliation, or sexual orientation.

Not all the senators supported the motion. In a speech that incorporated part of a Chris Rock routine, Senator Cameron Murphy, a graduate student in Nutrition, argued against the banning of words, noting that even the n-word can legitimately be used by some people in some contexts. Following Chris Rock, he used the words he was talking about.

Other student senators responded by calling for his impeachment. The senate voted to initiate impeachment proceedings against him.

But that was not enough for the Chancellor. On November 21, UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman sent a special email message to all administrators, faculty, staff, and students to express his "disappointment." "Racial epithets and racial impersonations," he wrote, "are not acceptable anywhere but especially in an institution devoted to education and progress."

Responding in advance to anyone who might invoke intellectual freedom, academic freedom, or the First Amendment, he added: "We don't need to debate any nuance of free speech to conclude such language is harmful, despicable, and intolerable." Our intolerance of intolerance, in other words, must include intolerance of intolerant terms.

We must not "remain silent or indifferent," the Chancellor concluded, in the face of "outrages." The UNL community, he urged, should "rise up and say, 'Not here, not now.'"

And so it did. At a November 25 rally in the student union, hundreds of students kicked off a campaign for tolerance. Not satisfied to end racism temporarily, students extended the Chancellor's slogan across time: "Not here, not now, not ever!"

Meanwhile, the executive committee of the UNL Graduate Student Association published an open letter urging Senator Murphy to resign from the student senate for his "invocation of racial slurs." Although they acknowledged that his aim was "to defend freedom of speech," they deemed it unacceptable "to use such language in debate, no matter the reason."

Yes, no matter the reason. The letter went on to condemn Murphy for "defending the use of terms like the n-word and Negro through historical contextualization." Apparently, "historical contextualization" is part of the "nuance" that UNL does not want to see here, now, or ever.

The day the letter appeared, the senate executive committee met to consider Senator Murphy's fate in student government. The vote was 7 to 5 in favor of impeachment, one vote short of the 2/3 necessary to impeach. He refused to resign and remains in the senate, which later voted unanimously to censure him.

That's not the end of it, however. The Chancellor's December 20 end-of-semester message to the university community focused almost entirely on "the use of offensive language and insensitive racial imitation." The administration, he promised us, was "formulating a plan to address these issues" and would "report to all of you in January on the full scope of what we propose."

The full scope of responses to Cameron Murphy's speech? Now that January has come, I can hardly wait to see what's in store this semester.

Maybe we'll have a new slogan for the new year. "Not here, not now" showed conviction. "Not here, not now, not ever" showed passion. Perhaps 2014 will bring a truly comprehensive and uncompromising campaign against derogatory words: "Not here, not there, not now, not ever, and death to those who disagree!"

So join the campaign against intolerance, or death to you.

I hope it won't come to that. But when we're all intent on demonstrating the depth of our intolerance for intolerance, we shouldn't be surprised if the result is intolerance.