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University of Oklahoma president David Boren is a Rhodes Scholar, a lawyer, and a former United States senator. This means he’s probably read the first amendment at some point in his life. What he doesn’t care about, evidently, is violating the first amendment and pissing all over the United States Constitution when public pressure arrives at his doorstep. Because without any justifiable legal authority, Oklahoma, a state university subject to first amendment protections, expelled two fraternity members when a video of their racist chants went viral.
I don’t want to spend this column analyzing the law, but when every legal authority in the country is in agreement that Boren’s actions violated our Constitution, specifically the protections of the first amendment against a government action, there’s no legitimate argument that what he did was legal. If either of these students sued Oklahoma over their expulsions, they would win. (By the way, do you know how difficult it is to get first amendment scholars to be in universal agreement that an action is illegal? It’s a testament to how flagrantly misguided Boren’s actions were that everyone agrees he can’t legally do what he did.) Only here’s the problem, neither of these students is going to challenge their expulsion because they’re afraid to draw more attention to their ignorant statements. That means no one will sue to stop Boren’s illegal actions and a dangerous precedent continues to grow in our country — to hell with what the law says, let’s give the mob exactly what they want and forswear all legal protections provided by our Constitution.
Indeed, Boren’s illegal actions received nearly universal praise in our media. A man leading an educational institution chose to do something that he knows is illegal so the mob would be happy with him and everyone cheered. Why? Because most people are stupid when it comes to the Constitution. They don’t understand how the first amendment works, indeed most only argue for the first amendment when they agree with what someone’s said. That’s easy, the difficult stance becomes when you don’t agree with what someone said. Whatever happened to the bravery embodied in this quote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it?”
Social media has killed it.
Thank God we don’t have to vote our first amendment protections into law today, they’d never pass.
That’s what praise worthy leadership has become in a modern social media era, tossing two 19 year olds to the mob and watching them be torn to shreds lest the mob become angry with you for your inaction. It’s leadership as deflection, giving into the hordes as a matter of self preservation. Democracy without the rule of law is two wolves and one sheep deciding what’s for dinner. This week David Boren made sure he was the wolf. If this all sounds familiar, it should. It’s exactly how corrupt Southern lawmen used to deal with mobs that arrived on their jail doorstep seeking to punish alleged wrongdoers, many of whom had done nothing wrong at all. Many lawmen gave into the mobs. Why? Because if they didn’t they were afraid the mobs would come after them next.
What do you think the next school president is likely to do when the next video of students saying something heinous goes viral? I’ll tell you, exactly what David Boren did — expel the kids and ask questions later. If no one challenges illegal actions then we’re moving towards a shadow democracy, a country where the rule of law is secondary to the rule of mobs. Boren, a well-educated lawyer, probably knows all this deep down. He’s clearly troubled by the hypocrisy of giving second chances to talented freshmen football players who punch female students in the face after uttering gay slurs, while eschewing second chances to racist freshmen. How else to explain his response to Outkick’s article, calling it “sheer and utter nonsense” in a petty and juvenile response yesterday? Deep down, Boren’s aware that he’s a coward.
What makes Boren’s gutless decision all the more troubling is this: he had a chance to do something that lots of politicians say they’ll do, but typically don’t. He had a chance to make the hard and unpopular choice, to do what was right in the face of substantial opposition, to lead his educational institution in a manner befitting of the goals of a university. Boren had an opportunity to come out and say this, “I disagree with what those students said with every fiber of my being. I find their comments reprehensible, repugnant and indefensible. But we live in a country of laws and this is a state-sponsored educational institution. And under the first amendment, just as all of you have a right to protest what they said, these students have a right to their opinions, however misguided and offensive we may find them, as well. But I hold out hope that both of these men will learn from their mistakes and educate themselves as they grow older. They’re both just nineteen years old. How many people out here in this crowd would be held in high esteem if one of the worst decisions of your young lives went viral on the Internet?”
He could have privately met with the students. They probably would have withdrawn of their own volition. The end result would have been the exact same, only it would have been legal. The problem is that result might have taken 12 hours more and if it had taken that much longer it’s possible that David Boren might have started to take some heat himself. The only thing a white liberal fears more than a murder charge is being called a racist. Come hell or high water, no one was calling David Boren.
And just maybe one of those kids would have been brave enough to refuse to withdraw from school because he realized that the law was on his side. That being young and stupid wasn’t illegal. That if it were, every single person reading this column, regardless of race, creed or religion, would have gone to jail a long time ago. It’s unlikely he would have realized this or had the valor to act on his beliefs, but courage in the face of hate is always rare, just ask the original civil rights protesters. Maybe one of those students would have walked through campus and continued to take classes. Maybe, god forbid, that kid might have even continued at the University of Oklahoma and actually learned an important lesson over the next three years of his education — that what he said was ignorant and stupid and uncouth. Maybe, irony of all ironies, a teenager could enter a college thinking one thing and leave thinking another. That is, after all, the purpose of higher education, right? To challenge one’s mind, to explore new horizons, to experience the world that otherwise you might never be able to experience. To turn lazy prejudice into learned reason.
That’s how this story could have gone in an ideal world, one where viral Internet mobs didn’t rule over law and reason.
But when he was faced with a horde of angry protesters Oklahoma’s president made the safe and spineless choice. The illegal choice. The choice that made just about everyone happy — he kicked those kids to the curb. And for what reason and for what gain? So he could be in the position to do the exact same thing the next time this issue should arise. To hell with the first amendment and all its protections. So the mob could cheer him once more.
This is how a republic dies, to great applause.