So Harvard rescinded the admission of 10 students because they posted horrid memes on a private discussion group for admitted freshmen. Apparently there was a restricted group that required posting of offensive meme in the common area for inclusion in the group.
What a perfect illustration of school-age peer pressure. “But mom, I didn’t want to [insert form of bullying]. It was Heather’s idea, I was just there!”
Harvard can do what it wants, so free speech discussions are moot. Furthermore, I’m sure that in a different context there are legally sound arguments to be made that the actions were a form of protected speech, but in the reality, these kids were not expressing any thought. I will bet one hundred American dollars that not a single one of those students is going to come forward and espouse the views illustrated in the memes. Furthermore, I doubt that Harvard would have revoked acceptance (well, I hope not) for a student who published a simple essay setting forth a noxious belief. These students only have 2 possible explanations for posting the memes (a) I’m craven, so I’ll do just about anything to be accepted by my peers, or (b) I think images of murdered children with racist text are humorous, and I was shocked to learn that others disagree.
So why are my Boston/Cambridge neighbors discussing this as a First Amendment issue? (“Punishing students academically for their political views or their personal values is a serious mistake,” Dershowitz said, adding that he did not see the memes and had no first-hand knowledge of the situation. “These actions are not consistent with the spirit of the First Amendment.”) For their political views? I don’t think this was the case.
It wasn’t satire, or quotation (Dennis Lehane took a body blow, unfair, in my opinion, for describing what he heard as a child during the busing riots). No points were being made; no opinions offered. It was not expressive conduct, arguably less deserving of First Amendment protection than throwing rotten eggs at a speaker. At least the egg-thrower is delivering a message.
And on the issue of sending a message, I have always hated that concept, but in this limited instance, I hold out a small amount of hope that today’s young people will stop rolling their eyes when mom and dad warn them about Internet postings. Yes, they are forever. No, they are not private. And someday they may come back to deprive you of an opportunity in a way that really hurts.