Anti-Bullying Laws Have No Place on the College Campus

Today, I reviewed Emily Bazelon’s book on bullying for The Huffington PostHere is my bottom line on the move to apply anti-bullying laws to higher education:

Plainly stated, anti-bullying laws have no place on the college campus, where almost all students are adults. During their college years, students must be free to explore new ideas without the fear of being punished for controversial speech. To some, the distinction between K-12 and higher education seems somewhat arbitrary, as, they argue, some freshman are the same age as high school seniors, but this misses several crucial points.

First of all, while there are a small number of minors in college, the institution of higher education ranges from teenagers to senior citizens, from freshman year to the completion of PhDs on important and taboo topics that might make most people squeamish. Take law school, for example. While there may be some superficial similarities, I can assure you that law school and high school are different ball games, with law school requiring much more intellectual rigor, resilience, and tolerance for topics and issues that can and probably should make many people uncomfortable (for example, a well-written criminal law exam is a study in the grizzly, dark side of human nature. It’s a topic that cannot be handled with kid gloves).

The roles of high school and higher education are fundamentally different. We do not rely on high schools to be our engines of intellectual innovation, bold thinking, and change; we rely on higher education for that. And research indicates that students already feel somewhat nervous about expressing unpopular views on campus. Applying a new legal anti-bullying regime will, I can all but guarantee, make matters much worse and, I can further guarantee, will be used to justify strange forms of censorship that ultimately have nothing to do with bullying.