When “Repugnant” Isn’t Enough

Professor Wax is out. But The Koala is back in. Two campus free-speech cases this week went in different directions, but for some reason they both harp on the same unusual word. It leads to some questions: Does student speech deserve more or less freedom than faculty speech? And does serious speech need more policing than humor?

koala dangerous space

The joke’s on…who?

Here’s what we know: Inside Higher Ed has reported that Professor Amy Wax of Penn Law has been condemned by her school for alleged statements at a recent conservatism conference. According to one reporter, Prof. Wax said,

our country will be better off with more whites and fewer nonwhites.

The Penn Law community reacted with outrage. Wax’s dean said her comments were

repugnant to [our] core values and institutional practices.

Meanwhile, across the country at the University of California—San Diego, a student group has successfully sued for having its humor magazine kicked off campus. Back in 2015, The Koala came under fire for its satiric article about the university’s new “Dangerous Space on Campus.” The article used the “n-word” and referred to violent sex acts.

The administration denounced The Koala, calling it

profoundly repugnant, repulsive, attacking and cruel.

After a few legal back-and-forths, though, The Koala has triumphed. An appeals court ruled that the university could not set up a competition for student funds, then ban only one publication from the competition.

The two cases lead us to a few questions this morning:

  • 1.) Should universities have different rules about free speech for students and professors?
  • 2.) Does offensive language deserve more protection when it is used satirically?
  • 3.) And finally, is the word “repugnant” ever used in any other context? Why is it so popular among campus condemnations?