The University of Tennessee at Knoxville is home to a unique monument called “the Rock.” Tradition holds that anyone can paint any message they like on the boulder. That tradition died Thursday when someone offended a student with their message.
Aleah Vassell noticed someone painted the Rock with the words “White Pride” and immediately told a classmate, McKinley Merritt. Ms. Merritt saw the offensive painting, took a picture of it, and twitted it to the University of Tennessee’s main account.
@UTKnoxville this was seen on the rock approx 30 minutes ago and is not okay.
Fortunately an adult with reason and a grasp of what “free speech” means saw the twit and responded with a perfectly logical, even handed message.
Hi McKinley. While we sometimes disagree with what appears on the Rock, those who paint it are protected by the First Amendment. We trust that the Volunteer community will take care of this quickly.
Regular readers, or those familiar with the state of free speech on most college campuses, will know this response didn’t satisfy McKinley at all.
Does this response cover someone’s ass while meanwhile (sic) this message is making students feel MORE unsafe? Stand up for ALL your students and condemn students when they have taken an action out of hate.
Cue the outrage mob, as outrage is the latest fashion trend.
UT’s official response to hate speech is “we sometimes disagree?” cc @ChancellorDav
Why is it that UT has staff sent over to paint over negative messages about the athletics department, but won’t paint over messages that empower racism? Hmm?
Faced with pressure and a need to keep students safe from harmful words, UT deleted their initial twit.
In a statement, the university said the tweet was deleted “because we felt like it didn’t convey our position about racism.”
“As Chancellor (Beverly) Davenport has said on numerous occasions, there’s no place at the University of Tennessee for racism, bigotry and prejudice,” the statement said.
There was no need for an additional statement. The twit was not out of line with the university’s position on racism. Yet when faced with the threat of angry woke social justice warriors, Rocky Top crumbled in a heap of intellectual cowardice.
Vassell and Merritt also made the false assumption students on campus painted the message. The Rock is free to anyone with as much as a Sharpie pen to write the message of their choosing and isn’t surrounded by barriers to keep outsiders from using it. Two drunk rednecks may have done this as a “hold my beer” gag.
Furthermore, two words on a boulder only make people feel unsafe if they are so fragile in their own minds that the phrase “white pride” is a threat to minorities attending the university. Those who piled on UT’s alleged rise of hate speech written on the Rock are no better. They think so little of other minorities who can walk past the Rock, see the words “White Pride,” and shrug.
As far as the University’s adults, they should be ashamed of their response to the outrage mobs. UT could have taken a stand in the free speech battle and held firm to the Rock’s tradition. Instead, they tucked their tails in cowardice and kowtowed to those who hold the belief that “hate speech” actually exists.
Vassell and Merritt’s parents deserve a refund. The school they chose to educate their children failed them in the most humiliating way possible. Instead of using this as a teachable moment to educate students on the concepts of free speech, the marketplace of ideas, and the First Amendment, UT caved.
People ask why those of us educated in the law continue to raise concerns about the state of free speech on college campuses. “It’s getting better,” some say. “Your concerns are getting redundant,” some retort. Instances like this are why we continue to sound the alarm. The problem’s not going away anytime soon. It’s still festering like a noxious pustule, ready to burst at any given moment.
What’s particularly disturbing about this instance is the compulsion of speech by people who are ignorant of the First Amendment. It wasn’t good enough for UT to take a principled stand on free speech. The University had to remove its even handed response on Twitter and send staff to paint the offending message away to make things right. When you let the lunatics run the asylum, you are no longer an institution of higher learning. You are babysitters coddling infantile minds masked as college students.
Our society is on the brink of becoming no better than the campus of Evergreen State or Wilfrid Laurier. If Chancellor Davenport is ready to have a conversation about “how to fix things” with regards to free speech, then “Good Ole Rocky Top” is no better than other universities that cave to unhinged student demands.
And UT becomes the next college on my list I’ll never send my kids to.
[Ed. Note: Chris picked this vid, and since it’s his post, I defer to his judgment. I, however, would have picked this one, because I really love the song.]