Why are people so confused about the right of both public and private universities to select their student body and establish a code of student conduct?
Public universities, as universities that are funded by and answerable to the taxpayers of the U.S. states in which they reside, have to play by somewhat different rules than private universities. For example, they can’t discriminate on the basis of religion when it comes to student admission or faculty employment, but private sectarian colleges and universities may discriminate. Also, I’m pretty sure that the god-bags and the crazies that scream at passing students and faculty on the main plaza at Baa Ram U. are there because our campus is a public square, whereas a private university is probably permitted to escort protesters to the borders of campus.
In short, there is as yet no constitutional right to a university education at a particular institution, so public unis–like private schools–are perfectly within their rights to establish codes of conduct for students and faculty alike. Indeed many would argue that they’re under an obligation to establish and uphold rules for conduct so as to better ensure safe and equitable access to and experience of classroom and campus life. (Does anyone else remember Gina Grant, the Harvard admit whose offer was rescinded 20 years ago because it discovered that she killed her mother? Now, maybe her mother needed killing, but that doesn’t mean that Harvard or any other university, public or private, doesn’t have discretion over the students they admit, or over their on- and off-campus conduct.)
Jonathan Zimmerman apparently disagrees, as he argues today at Inside Higher Ed, citing the recent expulsions from the University of Oklahoma and the University of South Carolina for the use of a highly offensive ethnic slur. Zimmerman, a historian and education proffie at New York University, thinks that universities can’t expel students for speech acts: Continue Reading »