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Free Speech Marches Through Georgia Tech By: Orit T. Sklar
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, October 04, 2006

In response to a lawsuit brought by two of its students, Ruth Malhotra and Orit Sklar, Georgia Tech agreed in August to the terms of a court order mandating that they revise a speech code which administrators had repeatedly invoked to censor conservative activism on campus. Malhotra is the president of Georgia Tech Students for Academic Freedom and both she and Sklar are officers of the Georgia Tech College Republicans. During her sophomore year at Tech in 2004, Malhotra testified before the Georgia State Senate about facing discrimination and abuse in the classroom for her conservative political views and the need for an Academic Bill of Rights. David French, Director of the Center for Academic Freedom at the Alliance Defense Fund, is serving as lead counsel for Malhotra and Sklar, the plaintiffs in the case. The lawsuit contains two additional charges which have yet to go before a judge. -- Sara Dogan, Students for Academic Freedom.

One month into my senior year of college at Georgia Tech, between submitting a degree petition and filling out an exit survey, I find myself reflecting on my academic experience over the past few years.  As I analyze my time at Georgia Tech and recall numerous campus experiences, there are, of course, good memories.  But I cannot help thinking about all the times that members of the Georgia Tech community – administrators, faculty, and students – have embarrassed themselves and this school.  I fear that this is the lasting impression I will take away with my diploma.


Topping the list is a recent event held by Georgia Tech's African American Student Union (AASU).  Organizers of the event, called a "Free Speech Forum," invited me and my colleague (and co-plaintiff in our successful challenge to Tech's speech codes), Ruth Malhotra, to participate. Even though AASU is classified as a "cultural" group, they often conduct politically leftist activities and have been hostile towards the College Republicans and other conservative organizations in the past.  Ruth and I agreed to participate in this forum on freedom of speech because we believed that they were genuinely interested in hearing our perspective.  But then came warnings prior to the event suggesting that we were walking into a minefield: an inflammatory advertisement of the panel, sudden changes to the panel members and number of panelists, and most disturbingly, their last-minute refusal to allow me to sit on the panel.  


As soon as the meeting commenced, everything proceeded downhill rather quickly.  The moderator, Jared O'Neal, an executive board member of AASU, began with opening remarks in an attempt to "enlighten the audience" on free speech.  He began with the statement, "Free speech means different things to different people," which, I suppose, is why the panel was made up of seven people.  With such a "diverse" panel --  white male (Michael Moreland, Interfraternity Council President); Asian male (Daranhdara Hun, Chinese Student Association President); Asian female and self-proclaimed "model minority" (Hannah Cho, Black History Month Chair); College Democrats Officer (Bjorn Cole, Political Affairs Director); AASU President (James Holder); another AASU officer (Chris Meullion, Black Leadership Conference Chair); and the one lone conservative and free speech advocate (Ruth Malhotra) -- there was the look of a broad range of intellectually diverse opinions.  Of course, this was not the reality.  Six of the panelists (actually five, because the CSA President was largely mute) were all in agreement that we needed stricter speech codes; my friend Ruth was the only one who supported basic first amendment rights.


Before any of the panelists expressed their views, the moderator cautioned that, "given the nature of the topic, things might get a little heated," and continued, "everyone should conduct themselves like Georgia Tech students."  Needless to say, the audience of approximately 200 answered in agreement with raucous cheers, which continued throughout the program. 


Most of the panelists chose not to address the central issues or discuss the merits of the speech policy, but rather brought up topics which were irrelevant at best and inaccurate at worst.  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."  Time and again, participants were fixated on this notion of victimization, as they told one sob story after another about their so-called "oppression" on campus and "disenfranchisement" in society.  It was almost as if this was a contest to see who could claim the title of "Biggest Victim" on campus.  Despite the hostile environment, 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. 


After a round of incredibly ignorant remarks by the panelists and several mind-numbing questions from the audience, the moderator reminded those in attendance that AASU had recently hosted a screening of Spike Lee's documentary, When the Levies Broke.  He wanted to know what the difference was between showing a Bush-hating film and Malhotra's actions advocating the repeal of the speech code.  Of course, an audience member had the answer.  It happened to be my former Teaching Assistant from Hydraulic Engineering.   He immediately brought up the College Republicans' "Diversity Bake Sale," held in 2003, and went on an angry tirade about how offended he was by the demonstration.  According to him, "College Republicans incite conflict and get away with it."   He went on to suggest a more restrictive speech code to protect Georgia Tech students from being offended.  


Georgia Tech's Interfraternity Council President, Michael Moreland, was one of these apologetic, white males on the panel who found a dozen different ways to say that all white people are racists.  It is beyond me how he could attempt to speak on behalf of every white person who ever lived in this country, and his statements such as "most white folks believe..." racism is okay, made me grimace each time.  In reference to free speech, Moreland commented about "further entrenching an institution that's inherently racist" and asserted that "some speech is dangerous," to which the audience lauded him with applause and shouts of affirmation. The audience loved his promise that he "will not be complacent while people are allowed to insult others."  Seeing as how Georgia Tech fraternities are arguably the single least diverse segment on campus when it comes to racial and socio-economic diversity, I seriously wonder how many times the IFC President has taken this message of diversity and race relations to his fraternity brothers. 


When the crowd heard something that it liked, it shot up in applause, but when Malhotra, the lone voice in support of free speech, presented her views, 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.  According to one panelist, "we need the speech code to force people to not incite violence."  Left unspoken, of course, was the fact that the only "violence" at issue in this entire case has been the Left's threats of violence against Ruth Malhotra for daring to stand up to illegal actions from her own school. 


One of the ideas proposed at the forum was a "Speech Code Task Force" for Georgia Tech.  Thankfully, as a result of our recent legal victory, I do not think this proposal will get very far.   A federal Judge recently ordered Georgia Tech to repeal the unconstitutional speech code with no future policy changes without judicial consent.


With this victory, I no longer have to worry about being censored or punished for expressing myself.  I do, however, still worry 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.  As Malhotra stated in response to the event, "It was clear that they wanted complete control of the ideas presented, they stacked the deck in order to appear victorious, they selectively enforced the guidelines for the panel discussion, they invoked emotion rather than debating fact, they ignored constitutional law in favor of perpetrating myths of victim hood and oppression, they treated those who disagreed with they with contempt and disdain, and they disregarded any attempt to promote intellectual diversity."


If my brief synopsis of the African American Student Union's so-called "Free Speech Forum" has given one any idea about what this event was like, saying it was a complete debacle is probably redundant.  It was an utter embarrassment on so many levels.  To think that the people on that panel and in the room that day were my fellow classmates, teaching assistants, professors, and administrators, is frightening.  It was yet another sign that too much of our education system has been taken over by an extreme Left which indoctrinates students to have automatic responses to key issues, instead of teaching them the tools necessary for independent analysis and intellectual criticism.  A scholarly debate is too dangerous for the Left; at Georgia Tech, they want people to fall in line like sheep.  


Orit T. Sklar is a senior at the Georgia Institute of Technology, majoring in Civil and Environmental Engineering.  She is President of the Georgia Tech Jewish Student Union – Hillel, Executive Board Member of the Georgia Tech College Republicans, and co-plaintiff in a federal civil rights lawsuit challenging Georgia Tech’s unconstitutional policies. She can be emailed at orit.sklar@gatech.edu.


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Orit Sklar is a graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology, where she received her Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering. Orit has been involved in the conservative movement and the quest for academic freedom both within and beyond Georgia Tech, and is currently co-plaintiff in a federal civil rights lawsuit challenging Georgia Tech’s unconstitutional policies.

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