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Law prof Nancy Shurtz in the Oregonian on Halloween, free speech, diversity

UO Law Professor Nancy Shurtz has some hard-won and interesting thoughts on the intersection of Halloween, free speech, and diversity in her op-ed here.

…Halloween costumes have also been a hot-button issue on college campuses in recent times, brought into the fore by the case of Yale University lecturer Erika Christakis two years ago. Christakis, who was a residential overseer in a Yale dormitory, wrote an email to students opposing arbitrary restrictions on costumes, arguing instead for student self-policing and open dialogue. For her trouble, a faction of students branded her a racist for defending “offensive” costumes and demanded her ouster by the university. The Yale administration did little to buffer her from two months of relentless character attacks and harassment, after which she did resign.

I experienced my own Halloween ordeal just a year ago this week. I hosted a private party in my home, attended by friends, a few university colleagues, and some law students. …

… When free expression is tethered, administrators tacitly endorse the tactics of ideological bullies, the self-appointed dictators of truth, and cheat the larger student body that hears but one bellowing voice. Benjamin Franklin once wrote: “If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed.”  This Halloween, let’s see through this masquerade of communicative suppression.

Nancy Shurtz is the Bernard A. Kliks professor of law at the University of Oregon School of Law.


  1. Anonymous 10/29/2017

    Nancy Shurtz is a double embarrassment to the University of Oregon: first that a law professor had such tone-deaf and appalling judgment, and second that the university chose to discipline her for it.

    Now, with this self-serving bolus of revisionist history wrapped around a tiny kernel of truth, she threatens to make it a triple, as people who cannot draw the line at saying she shouldn’t have been disciplined will fall over themselves to pretend this column has any redeeming value.

    • uomatters Post author | 10/29/2017

      What’s the revisionism and what’s the kernel, in your view?

  2. nope 10/30/2017

    I think the past bad actions of the University Administration have completely derailed the narrative here, which is that a law professor ‘invited’ students to a Halloween party so that she could subject them to her caricature of what a black doctor looks like.

    Her actions reflect on this University every bit as much as Frederick Dunn’s do. More so, since she is still currently employed.

  3. The Truth 10/30/2017

    “She writes as if “the right to celebrate Halloween in school” is some kind of mandatory constitutional provision.

    • Heraclitus 10/30/2017

      Poor logic. You can apply that thinking to any act of free expression. The right to make comments on blogs? The right to tweet? Not in the constitution either.

      • LArdman 10/30/2017

        It’s only free speech if it’s done by on an 18th century pamphlet press.

    • Abe Fortas 10/30/2017

      It is. See Tinker v. Des Moines on the rights of school students to free expression in terms of their clothing choices. See the Free Exercise Clause on the right of students to celebrate the holidays of their choosing.

      • Andy Stahl 10/31/2017

        Abe needs to read Tinker again.

        The First Amendment does not prohibit public schools from regulating “the length of skirts or the type of clothing, to hair style, or deportment.” Tinker says the First Amendment prevents schools from prohibiting expressive, e.g., political (in this case, a black arm band), opinion made by a student in a manner that does not “materially and substantially interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school and without colliding with the rights of others.”

        Schools can ban Halloween costumes, especially on the grounds that the costumes distract students from being fully engaged in their learning, i.e., the educational mission of the school.

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