Carolina Journal defends the Free Expression Tunnel

The Free Expression Tunnel is a unique feature to NC State, but it has come under fire recently. A few jerks wrote some offensive racial comments in the tunnel after election night aimed at Barack Obama, but all the authorities brought in to investigate prevented them from being expelled and brought up on charges of “hate crimes,” since they wrote in a place that openly invites “Free Expression.” So now the entire UNC system is holding meetings to try to write new student codes to include “hate speech.”

NC State alumnus Jon Sanders at Carolina Journal today defends the Free Expression Tunnel as a thoroughly collegiate, adult approach to speech in a free society:

In short, the Free Expression Tunnel is a robust monument to free speech, one that looks even stouter in comparison with other universities’ fearful, flaccid approach to speech, where anything that might be construed as potentially disrupting someone’s comfort is the worst thing imaginable. With “Tuffy” the Strutting Wolf mascot swaggering about with his chest thrust out proudly, however, it would simply not do for the university he represented to be a panic of screaming mimis when it came to an offensive graffito. This is a research university containing many of the state’s highest minds, after all.

Sanders says that if UNC wishes to take a lesson from the Free Expression Tunnel to apply it to the entire system, then rather than use it as an example of why free expression cannot be tolerated by top thinkers in the state, it should be used as a model for how thinking people in a free society can learn to deal with speech, even if it offends them to the core:

Rather than wasting time hammering out speech policies that are bound to be unconstitutional and are demonstrably unnecessary anyway (some scribbles at one university on one day on a “free expression” wall means it’s high time to rewrite the speech codes throughout the whole system?), it would be much wiser to drop the issue entirely and let N.C. State students return to their time-tested, well-practiced way of dealing with free expression that’s offensive: ignore it, drown it out, or just clown it on the side. If UNC wants to export a lesson from the Free Expression Tunnel, what better lesson could they find? Imagine: UNC students systemwide able to deal with offensive ideas with aplomb rather than immediately being reduced to a mewling, quivering heap.

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86 Responses to Carolina Journal defends the Free Expression Tunnel

  1. com state10 01/16/2009 at 9:41 AM #

    I am totally torn about this. One the one hand, it was a cool feature of the school that I thought was great when I arrived. Speaks to our independence and freedom of expression and ideas. Although I may not agree with everything written, I still enjoy the idea that if you don’t like what someone wrote, go buy some paint and paint over it the next night. There shouldn’t have to be a line drawn.

    By why is it that, everytime a line is drawn, the artist gets the blame, and not the party that forced the artists hand? The fun ends when peoples ideas, don’t speak to the entire schools great ideals. In this case, and others, people abuse the privileges given to them, and however sad and unfortunate it is, I understand if the school ever takes it away from the students.

    As a recent graduate, I always enjoyed walking through it and seeing what was written. However, we were also ranked as one of the ugliest campuses in NC mainly because of it. I would like to see a prettier campus, that is admired for the best that I know this school can offer. In the words of a favorite of mine, “Dean, tear down this wall”

  2. Alpha Wolf 01/16/2009 at 9:43 AM #

    I condemn what those kids painted in the strongest of terms. They’re idiots and I don’t care how you vote. For the record, I was not pleased by some of the things said about George W. Bush by some folks the last eight years and I certainly do not approve of what they painted in the Free Expression tunnel. Thanks, you little f**ktards for the black eye on our school. I really appreciate you making us all look like racists in the national news. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

    At the same time, regulating speech save for the time-honored yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater goes against everything this country is about. The fact that the First Amendment, which guarantees free speech was put in the Bill of Rights first shows how important that the architects of our government thought free expression is. And changing the definition of what’s “allowable” is a slippery slope to an authoritarian government — or worse.

    Sometimes free speech is insulting, hateful and plain wrong-headed. But that doesn’t mean it should be regulated. Especially on a university campus, a so-called bastion of free minds.

  3. bradleyb123 01/16/2009 at 9:51 AM #

    I don’t like what those jerks wrote, But “hate speech” is free speech. The right to freedom of speech is not there to protect speech that we all like and want to hear. It is to protect our right to free speech even when that speech is unpopular. That is when the right to freedom of speech is MOST important. If we start disallowing speech, what is next?

    The UNC system needs to drop this whole thing and just hope stuff like this doesn’t happen very often. Otherwise they run the risk of making our university system appear to be against the first amendment (which they are if they continue with this…)

    The whole concept of “hate crimes” scares me, too. There’s no such thing. An action is either a crime or it is not. Hate is not a crime. It can be a MOTIVATION for a crime. But hate alone is not a crime.

    And what those kids wrote is not a so-called “hate crime” anyway. Otherwise, they would have been charged with that.

  4. buttPACKer 01/16/2009 at 10:02 AM #

    frankly, I have always felt that if a person doesn’t have the balls to shout something in the middle of a representative crowd, they should not–cowardly–write it on a wall, then scurry away in the dark of night. . .

    Having said that, I have to agree with ComState10: The damn thing is an eyesore, nothing more.

  5. com state10 01/16/2009 at 10:02 AM #

    Alpha, bradley: I agree with alot of what you all say, however, what is the difference between the free expression tunnel, and this wall? Admin’s the other day had a great response when somebody said “delete if you want” or something to that effect. It listed two criteria if I remember correctly, and because it met that criteria, the admins felt in no reason to delete it.

    Offensive language on this wall, should and often is deleted it looks like to me. The only difference is, the tunnel represents the school we all love in a much more public way.

    Pictures are incredibly powerful, and if your going to limit what people can say on a wall such as this (i agree we should) where nobody puts a name or a face to it, than taking away the free expression tunnel is not an encroachment of freedoms. Although I love the idea of the wall, lets be honest, most of it is not peoples ambitions, dreams, thoughts, ideals, or even creativity. It tells students which frat to join, or what bar has the cheapest drinks that night. Lets not confuse the two!

  6. bradleyb123 01/16/2009 at 10:05 AM #

    “frankly, I have always felt that if a person doesn’t have the balls to shout something in the middle of a representative crowd, they should not–cowardly–write it on a wall, then scurry away in the dark of night. . .”

    I think it was cowardly, too. The question is, do you support limiting what they are allowed to cowardly-write on the wall?

  7. bradleyb123 01/16/2009 at 10:09 AM #

    com state10, blogs are not in the same category. This is not called a free expression blog. The moderators are free to edit for content, or whatever they deem to be in appropriate. We knew that when we created our user profiles and started blogging.

    That wall is for freedom of expression. If the university wants to limit PERFECTLY LEGAL speech there to something less, then they need to call the tunnel something else.

    When you have something like the free expression tunnel, it is a special place because that type of thing doesn’t exist just anywhere. But if we only allow “rainbows and unicorns” to be painted there, how can anyone call it a free expression tunnel with a straight face?

  8. buttPACKer 01/16/2009 at 10:10 AM #

    again, comstate10, is spot-on. . . I never remember any meaningful platitudes or ANYthing of socio-potical value, only “rush TKE” etc. . . It wouldn’t be as if someone stuck a cork in Plato’s mouth, if it were whitewashed/bricked-over permanently.

  9. com state10 01/16/2009 at 10:10 AM #

    I need to also add another difference. I know your probably thinkin, “Comstate10, just because somebody makes an offensive comment on this blog, should we just take the site down?”

    I need to add there is a big difference between the two, because not only is the tunnel a much more public venue where are best ideals need to be on display and not our worst, but also, it is much easier to delete a comment on this site, or to block a user, than to monitor the tunnel all the time.

  10. ppack3 01/16/2009 at 10:12 AM #

    I will start by saying, as everyone else has, that I condemn what these kids put up on our wall. But, there is an upside to free expression. It was not a very long time ago, when the things that they wrote would have been the rule, rather than the exception. I think that this country has come a long way towards ACTUALLY living by the moral standards that this country was based upon. Even listening to President Bush last night, gave me a sense that having an African American President will be one of the great achievements in American history, and in Democracy as a whole. People, hate has been around a long time, and it will continue. But, what these kinds of stories show, is the stark contrast of what was widely excepted, and what is widely excepted today. I’m sure that these kids, whoever they are, have seen the hurt that they have caused and/or felt the embarrassment caused by its back-lash. If they still feel the way they feel about Obama, they have that right. The tunnel should stay, as a reminder of what our forefathers meant for this country to be. Free.

  11. Jibby08 01/16/2009 at 10:12 AM #

    N.C. State is known for its free expression tunnel, the bell tower, Centennial Campus, Hillsborough St. just to name a few…

    I don’t agree with what was written on that wall and I also don’t agree with students from Chapel Hill coming over to our campus and marking up our territory. If we even step foot on that campus and deface their precious University, we pay the consequences.

    Short and sweet: The Free Expression Tunnel is apart of N.C. State. It’s what we see on a daily basis, it’s what my Pops saw on a daily basis, and its what I want my children to see one day when they attend this fine Institution.

    The paint can be covered up in a matter of seconds…it’s not permanent people.

  12. beowolf 01/16/2009 at 10:12 AM #

    com, the difference is, this is a private site and the owners (who retain the right) get to set whatever limits they wish. A different part of the First Amendment — freedom of association — covers it.

    You must realize that rights are intrinsic to the individual and may not be taken away by government. So a governmental unit such as a public university may not restrict the rights of those over which they have power just because the officials dislike particular exercises of that freedom. And if they institute a graffiti wall and name it “Free Expression” and invite it, they cannot go back after the fact and try to expel or punish students who used it for expression they themselves (and us) don’t like.

    In a free society, you fight offensive speech with more speech, not with tyranny.

  13. BJD95 01/16/2009 at 10:13 AM #

    The answer to a “controversy” like this should always be MORE speech, not LESS. We don’t need speech codes at NC State or anywhere else in the UNC system. Perhaps the most vital component of the college experience is the free and open exchange of ideas, with people who have a broad spectrum of backgrounds and ideologies.

    Even if you do believe there is such a thing as “hate speech” – do you think it is better for the purveyors to keep their ideas to themselves, so they are never challenged or addressed in any way? So they can fester in the dark until somebody is planting pipe bombs?

    Off the soapbox, now. My favorite free expression tunnel story from my days was the long-running battle my freshman year between “Jesus Saves” and “Jesus Slaves.” Each graffiti artist would alter the others every night (I forget which came first), and this went on for about three or four weeks. Finally, somebody (presumably a neutral third party) stepped in and came up with “Jesus Shaves.” I suppose the dueling parties must have chuckled at themselves and decided to give it a rest, because “Shaves” stayed up for quite a while.

  14. Jibby08 01/16/2009 at 10:22 AM #

    My favorite saying had to be one instance where someone wrote…”so and so is a come dumpster” but with a different name and terminology hahaha. I think I stood at the tunnel for at least 5 minutes just to watch people go by and laugh out loud.

  15. buttPACKer 01/16/2009 at 10:22 AM #

    i humbly defer to BJD95. . . you are correct, sir.

  16. com state10 01/16/2009 at 10:25 AM #

    ppack and jbibby, I appreciate your well written and constructive thoughts.

    I am for more freedoms and not less. There is something that each of you love, maybe this country, maybe your faith, maybe your family; where you would draw the line as well.

    One thing that needs to be probably mentioned again. If the free expression tunnel is such a high profile site on our campus in a year or five years or fifty years, it will only signal a lack of growth and development within our university. I loved NC STATE so much, I want more to represent it than a, sorry, glorified bathroom wall.

    The arguments for freedoms on a macro level are correct. However, lets not confuse the UNC’s decision with a transparent debate on the health of United States’ freedoms at our school.

  17. com state10 01/16/2009 at 10:28 AM #

    haha great stories though. wish we had pictures of each of those occasions to go with alpha’s pictures the other day.

  18. Noah 01/16/2009 at 10:31 AM #

    As a writer, journalist, blogger, loud-mouthed, argumentative wanker…I’m a big fan of free speech. I celebrate the first amendment every day.

    But NC State should get rid of the Free Expression tunnel. They can’t afford it. The Technician is not and should not be free to print anything they want. CONGRESS shouldn’t stop it…NC State should (as the publisher and ultimate authority).

    If you want to hang up a sign on your front yard that says, “Led Zep rules!” I’m fine with that. If you want to put up a sign that says, “Led Zep sucks! Clapton is god!” I’m cool with that too. (I’m deliberately avoiding racial terms and political terms to try and prevent knee-jerk reactions. I think you can apply these examples where they need to be applied.)

    But that’s your sign. You own it. If there are consequences, they’re on your head. You can’t put that sign up in my yard…even if I agree with it. Likewise, the NC State Board of Trustees and the chancellor and the UNC board of Governors can’t afford to own all of the thoughts and ideas that get posted in the free expression tunnel. In order for the university to do its job (which is to educate people, lest we forget), they can’t get dragged down by the crap that floats around the minds of teenagers. Those kids that think that have to own that. When the University says, “Put that crap right here,” they’re basically putting their stamp of approval on it.

    Bad idea.

    But that’s just my opinion. Tell me why I’m wrong.

  19. Jibby08 01/16/2009 at 10:34 AM #

    Better yet, I enjoyed watching the young school children (elementary and middle school aged) walk through the free expression tunnel on a daily basis. It was always a pleasure to listen to the tour guides or the school teachers explain the meaning behind the wall and what was written. “Ok class, if you see anything bad written just close your eyes and don’t tell Mommy or Daddy.” hahahaha

  20. pakfanistan 01/16/2009 at 10:34 AM #

    I’m blown away that there are people who think we should get rid of the free expression tunnel.

    Really only half of it’s purpose is free speech. The other half is to give kids with too much time and paint a place to happen, rather than turning them loose all over campus.

    And really, the FEP isn’t an eyesore, the gum wall is an eyesore. If you want to ban something, ban that.

  21. Rick 01/16/2009 at 10:35 AM #

    This whole thing reeks of idiots.

    Idiots that wrote on the wall.
    Idiots that blew it out of proportion.
    Idiots that came down here to protest.
    Idiots that listened to those that came down here.

    This means my university (and by default both of the diplomas I hold from there) are associated with idiots.

    I do not think the leaders of our school could have handled this any worse.

  22. tcthdi-tgsf-twhwtnc 01/16/2009 at 10:37 AM #

    You either support freedom of speech 100% or not. There is no middle ground. If you ban any speech, there is no freedom which is the direction the country is headed. With the exception of speech that could endanger lives- Yelling fire in a theater…

    There were many very offensive things written in tunnel about President Bush but it seems to only have become an issue when someone had the nerve to be negative about Obama.

    I can’t imagine that using the N word is more offensive than calling someone Hitler or a Nazi which were responsible for the slaughter and deaths of 100’s of thousand. I find that much more offensive than the N word which is all over pop culture.

  23. bradleyb123 01/16/2009 at 10:39 AM #

    “I need to add there is a big difference between the two, because not only is the tunnel a much more public venue where are best ideals need to be on display and not our worst, but also, it is much easier to delete a comment on this site, or to block a user, than to monitor the tunnel all the time.”

    That’s the point. It’s freedom of speech and should not be monitored. Only speech that can be classified as a crime (such as communicating a bomb threat, or a realistic physical threat, etc.) should be monitored. Any other speech is just that, speech.

    If they want to limit it to rainbows and unicorns, they need to not insult our intelligence by continuing to call it the free expression tunnel.

    The truest test of the right to freedom of speech is to say (or in this case, PAINT) something that MOST of us do not want to hear. It is possible to support the freedom of speech without condoning or supporting the rantings of a couple of racist loons.

  24. bradleyb123 01/16/2009 at 10:40 AM #

    And last time I checked, it was not called the “best ideals expression tunnel”.

  25. pakfanistan 01/16/2009 at 10:50 AM #

    I want to get rid of the bell tower because it’s a monument to war mongering. Also, it’s covered in masonic symbols so, I’m pretty sure it’s a temple for the devil.

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