(From October 13, 2012)
Robertson: “Sort of a specific question […]. In 2001, Kincaid v. Gibson, the courts ruled that the University environment is, and I’m quoting them, “the quintessential ‘marketplace of ideas’ which merits full, or indeed heightened first amendment protection,” so freedom of speech. There’s unfortunately been some conflict between the push against bullying and intolerance and that sort of thing, and freedom of speech. This has happened in Illinois, particularly on the East Coast. Where do you see the line between first amendment protections and, sort of the intolerance-bullying issue?”
Rule: “First amendment rights are not absolute. And we need to start—none of our rights, when you look through the Bill of Rights, none of our rights are absolute rights. I mean, the issue with first amendment rights is that we all say “you’re not allowed to stand up in a theatre and yell ‘fire!’” alright? Unless there is one, ok. Well the basic principle underlying that concept is freedom of speech can be controlled. Particularly in areas where harm can be done. Yelling ‘fire’ in a theatre could result in a stampede where people could be hurt, so that is not protected speech.
“One of the things I love about working in the public sector—and I served in three Catholic Universities, and freedom of speech was very simple: you spoke to the president and he or she would tell you what you are allowed to say. It’s a private college. One of the things I love about public colleges is that you do have the marketplace of ideas, but even here at Bellevue – I remember when I was taking the tour – we dictate time, place, manner, right. Time, place, manner, and I forget the statutes that support all of that. The idea that, for example, people cannot wander around on campus unless the campus says so, and say whatever they want, in the hallways and in the rooms, and things of that nature. You have a ‘free-speech’ area out here, which is honored.
“Free speech stops when individuals are being hurt, in my mind, so that’s where that line is with bullying. You know, it’s the same way we talk about, for example, sexual harassment. It doesn’t matter if I didn’t mean a comment in a way that is a sexual advance, let’s say. In my mind, what I thought, doesn’t matter; it’s what the victim feels. If you feel I have made sexual advances or made sexual comments that are inappropriate, it’s your opinion that counts, not mine. And it’s the same way in the bullying aspect.“You know, I’m from the East Coast, so I’m told I have a relatively thick skin. So people can say things to me, particularly after being a president for eight going on nine years – I can take it. Does it hurt sometimes? Yes, but I have a particularly thick skin. Other people, hearing the very same comments that I might take as ‘ok, they’re upset, or they’re…” could be very damaging to them. So, there is a line there, and to some extent it varies at the institution, but when it comes to bullying and things like sexual harassment and hate-speech, it really flips up the other side and a lot of it has to do with how it’s perceived on the other end. And so it becomes more of a case-by-case scenario. What hurts me may not hurt you, and vice versa.”