Letter to the Editor: free speech rights on campus

Dear Trinity Tripod Opinion Section Editors:
Last week, an article was published decrying the lack of First Amendment rights on Trinity’s campus, with author Rebecca Reingold ’17 claiming that it was a violation of her First Amendment rights when professors deduct points from her papers for not agreeing with the respective professors’ opinions.
Reingold also had a problem when her “peers, when they disagree with what (she) says, she feels like a terrible person.”
The problem with her article is that it is fundamentally flawed in both her understanding of the First Amendment as well as in her argument.
Reingold claims that the First Amendment protects her right to free speech on Trinity’s campus. This is false.
The First Amendment guarantees that the government will not interfere with a citizen’s speech. It means that Obama cannot censor the New York Times if they are going to criticize his policies, or that a mayor cannot imprison someone who says he is doing a bad job. However, it has absolutely nothing to do with private organizations: Businesses can, and do, punish people for speaking out of turn.
The First Amendment does not protect Reingold’s right to say whatever she wants in her papers or to her friends, no matter how many times one claims that we have “free speech.” We don’t.
But one might argue that, while not protected by law, free speech is certainly a good thing on a college campus, right? I can agree with that.
However, I certainly do not agree that people should get a pass on terrible ideas.
Yes, one ought to be able to express any idea that one so desires. However, if one is unable to back these opinions up with solid argument based in fact, then the ridicule that follows is absolutely legitimate.
Reingold wrote that professors take points off her papers for “simply disagreeing” with her. I find this impossible to believe. The vast majority of the issues in America can be reasonably argued from both sides. I think that it is more accurate that the opinions in said papers are probably just not well argued, to which losing points is an accurate response.
I think that it is a good thing that Reingold sees herself as an “opinionated” person, but when one expresses ideas, criticism is inevitable.
In her article, she writes that she fears that she will be attacked “simply for expressing herself” in her article.
But that is just the thing: if you believe your own free speech, then you also believe in the free speech of others, including the ability to disagree with one another.
I am “attacking” Reingold’s ideas because I think that she is wrong, just as I believe that any ideas which are poorly formulated ought to be debated.
One of the amazing things about many American institutions is that we can engage in these debates. The First Amendment protects us from persecution from the government when we engage in free speech: it does not protect people from persecution coming from anyone else.
It can be tough to handle getting a “B” on a paper. Before blaming the professor for taking points off for not agreeing with oneself, it might be a more prudent choice to research the fundamentals of one’s argument first, and then to build a convincing case explaining why that person is right.
Since Reingold failed to do this on both counts in the article that she published in last week’s Opinion section, I think that it is probably much more likely that the reduced points on the papers she wrote have less to do with the politics of her ideas and more to do with the content of said ideas.

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