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Silva v. University of New Hampshire, et al.


CIR's 1994 victory against the University of New Hampshire was the first successful case against university speech codes and an affirmation of First Amendment rights in the classroom.


 
 

"JUDGE DEVINE'S DECISION ... IS THOUGHT TO BE THE FIRST TO ADDRESS THE CONFLICT BETWEEN FREE SPEECH AND SEXUAL HARRASSMENT AT A UNIVERSITY."

CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION

 

University speech codes that punished those who expressed politically incorrect sentiments were first challenged by CIR in our case against UNH. Until 1994, codes intended to protect students from an "offensive enviornment" were used against those accused of hate speech or sexual harassment in lieu of due process.

Silva, an English professor, didn't know he was violating a speech code when he used a the metaphor of sex to make a point about writing with focus.

This was constitutionally-protected speech, neither obscene nor derogatory towards any gender. Yet when nine female students from the lecture complained to adminstration, Silva was suspended for creating a "hostile and offensive enviornment" in the classroom.

Silva slogged through the University's standard procedures, including a vote by a student tribunal. But his suspension was upheld and his salary cut off. Silva filed suit therafter, and in 1994 a District Court ordered his reinstatement. In a triumph for academic freedom, his lectures were ruled to be in the domain of protected speech and the University was held liable for violating his rights.


Read the district court's decision:
Silva v. University of New Hampshire, et al.


William H. Honan. "Professor ousted for lecture gets job back." The New York Times, September 17, 1994

Jeremy Rabkin. "Rule of Law: New checks on campus sexual harassment cops." The Wall Street Journal, October 19, 1994

 

 

Last revised: 23-Jul-2013 BackForward

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