Students Who Triumphed over Speech Code Face Reprisals at Georgia Tech · 05 October 2006

Dear Students and Supporters,

In my last letter I brought you news of a great victory for academic freedom: A lawsuit brought by two conservative students demolished Georgia Tech’s speech code which prohibited “acts of intolerance” and other constitutionally protected speech.

Now these same students, Ruth Malhotra, President of the Georgia Tech Students for Academic Freedom, and Orit Sklar, President of Georgia Tech Hillel and an officer in the Georgia Tech College Republicans, are facing angry reprisals and deceptive tactics from the campus left.

Malhotra and Sklar were invited to speak on a panel held by the Georgia Tech’s African-American Student Union (AASU). Though the AASU is well-known on campus to be a politically left-leaning organization which had been hostile to the activities of the College Republicans and SAF in the past, they decided to accept the invitation in an attempt to reach out to the group and in hopes that they could come together in support of free expression and intellectual diversity. The event was billed as a “Free Speech Forum.”

Trouble began almost immediately. Upon arriving at the event, Sklar was told that she was no longer welcome on the panel because it would hinder intellectual diversity for both her and Malhotra to represent the same point of view. The composition of the panel quickly revealed the flimsiness of this excuse. “Six of the panelists (actually five, because the CSA President was largely mute) were all in agreement that we needed stricter speech codes,” Sklar describes in an article for Frontpage Magazine. “Malhotra was the only one voicing an opinion in support of our basic First Amendment rights.”

In addition to this blow, AASU President James K. Holder refused to distribute literature supporting free speech which Malhotra brought to the event, but did distribute his own handout entitled “Free Speech? Or is it....”

The civility of the proceedings quickly dissolved. “Most of the panelists chose not to address the central issues or discuss the merits of the speech policy, but rather they brought up topics which were irrelevant at best and inaccurate at worst,” Sklar describes. “Among the many historical ‘facts’ advanced by participants were the notions that ‘white slave-owners wrote the Constitution, therefore it is inherently flawed,’ and ‘racists enacted the first amendment, so minorities need more restrictions on speech.’”

Though all the interruptions, “Malhotra stayed on message and repeatedly tried to steer the discussion back to the issue of free speech, even though she was continually interrupted and not given an adequate chance to explain her perspective….her statements were received with loud snickering, rude interruptions, and immature jeers. Statements receiving applause were calling for stricter enforcement of a speech code and expressing the need for greater intimidation by the administration,” noted Sklar.

One of Sklar’s former teaching assistants spoke up to argue for a more restrictive speech code to protect students from offensive speech. He claimed that the “College Republicans incite conflict and get away with it,” and criticized the group for holding an Affirmative Action Bake Sale.

In a letter to James K. Holder II, president of AASU, Malhotra fired back concerning her and Sklar’s mistreatment at the event. “I am writing to you to express my deep disappointment and, quite frankly, my utter disgust in the way the AASU meeting on Tuesday, September 12, 2006, was handled,” she wrote. “What was apparently supposed to be a ‘Forum on Free Speech,’ instead turned out to be an embarrassing debacle with a skewed panel, an inept moderator, and a rude audience.”

Malhotra noted that even advertisements for the event which stated “Did you know that it is now perfectly legal for someone to call you a 'N-gger' and Georgia Tech can do nothing about it?” were opposed to free expression.

“With an audience of about 200 members, including students, professors, staff, and administrators, this was an excellent opportunity for AASU to present a scholarly debate about free speech and engage your membership in a thoughtful discussion about the issue,” Malhotra stated. “Sadly, it was anything but. This was a ridiculous debacle where virtually all the other panelists and audience members were incredibly vicious, extremely angry, and blatantly rude….I cannot help but conclude that your intention was never to discuss the issue of free speech, but rather to carry out a premeditated personal attack against me and my beliefs,” she concluded.

For her part, though Sklar is relieved that with her victory over Georgia Tech’s speech code, “I no longer have to worry about being censored or punished for expressing myself” she remains deeply concerned “about the blatant leftist intrusion into the educational environment at Georgia Tech, and how such indoctrination will impact my fellow students, and ultimately, the value of my degree. The more I reflect on everything that transpired in the course of the event, the more I think that the AASU forum was a microcosm of the atmosphere that the Institute is trying to maintain.”

For more information on fighting the battle for academic freedom on your campus, please contact me at Sara@studentsforacademicfreedom.org or at 888-527-3321. You can also find more information on our website at www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org.

Yours in Freedom,

Sara Dogan
National Campus Director
Students for Academic Freedom