Tulane's Undergraduate Student Government recently voted 19-2-2 for a measure requesting that the university administration ban "CollegeACB from Tulane University Internet networks."
Yes, Tulane is a private educational institution (although it once was public long ago). It's not a state institution, so there's no direct First Amendment issue since there's no government restraint on speech in the mix.
Still, the student effort to have the university ban access to a website should be setting off a few alarms. Thankfully, the measure will seemingly go to the student body in a referendum (the article is not clear whether graduate students will have a say - they better not vote to ban it for us, too, without a say). But even a plebiscite doesn't leave me very reassured.
It seems unwise for an academic institution to ban access to a website that, while it's certainly crude and downright repugnant, facilitates a broad range of speech. I took a look at the site today. Some of the material is defamatory, but I still don't think that means the university should ban access to the site up front. I can see a possible university concern for liability (under the Communications Decency Act, Section 230, the website itself likely has immunity).
But that's not what seems to have driven the student government. The backlash was about content. Most of the material is vulgar and mindless, yes, but there are topics like "Issues" and "Academics" that mean a ban is casting a wider net than the truly problematic defamatory content alone.
Why did the Undergraduate Student Government even pass this request for a ban? Well:
“Besides fostering cattiness between sororities, this site allows people to damage reputations and openly deliver threats to certain religious and racial groups,” Walker said. “By banning CollegeACB, administrators would be protecting the welfare of the Tulane students.”
So, we're going to ask the administration to exercise prior restraint for an institution populated by adults to stop cattiness between sororities? Please. That's asinine, in addition to being shallow.
Sophomore Jared Sichel's oped in The Hullaballoo attempts to bring some nuance to a stance in favor of the ban, but the censorial air that wreathes the piece is really somewhat disconcerting for someone who exalts a liberal arts education at the opening of the same column:
And although CollegeACB serves as a forum to a few meaningful discussions, the attempt to ban something that helps students publicly humiliate one another is a noble goal.
I don't think "noble" is the right word. Politically correct, perhaps. Misguided might do.
Here's another thought: even if Tulane bans access to the rumor and gossip site via its network, it's not like students won't be able to access the site from a host of other networks...and ultimately engage in the same behavior with the same cast of targets.
And another thought: when a potential employer or potential students stumbles across material on CollegeACB via a Google search or some other method, what credence will he or she actually give to the defamatory content? The site doesn't exactly scream legitimate, well-researched material from the outset.
I hope that GAPSA, the government for graduate students, takes a directly contrary approach and votes against a website ban.