Yigal M. Gross

In Defense of Doxing College Students

Pershing Square CEO Bill Ackman recently observed that “[i]t is pathetic that we need to rely on law firms and corporations to police antisemitism on campus.” His comments come in the wake of corporations and law firms withdrawing job offers from college students who have been publicly outed as Hamas supporters and suggest that colleges are essentially outsourcing their responsibility to police on-campus hatred to the job market.

While I share Mr. Ackman’s sentiment, I disagree with his assessment.

In recent weeks, Colleges have actually done far worse than fail to police on-campus hatred—they have actively undercut efforts by those like Mr. Ackman, and others in the professional community, to hold students accountable for hatred and harassment of fellow students on campus. Instead of being outraged at such students’ conduct, these schools have instead condemned those who publicly expose (or “dox”) such students and thereby make them vulnerable to potential consequences for such conduct.

A cynic would say colleges want to ensure hateful students can still land cushy jobs from potential employers who would never knowingly hire them. A more charitable interpretation is that these schools’ have misguided notions of free speech and intellectual discourse.

Either way, colleges are wrong to oppose doxing.  Indeed, I believe that those who lawfully employ the practice do us all a service and should continue doing so.  Here is why.

First, “[d]eath and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21).  One cannot divorce the right to speak from a sober recognition of speech’s power.  Words move markets and end careers; they can spark wars and bring peace.  Our right to speak must be exercised responsibly.  Consequences ensure it is.

Second, it is wrong to equate speech where the speaker is identified (attributed speech) with speech where the speaker remains anonymous (anonymous speech).  The two are categorically different.  Anonymous speech is a sticker on a utility pole; attributed speech resembles a peer-reviewed study.  Attributed speech promotes rigor and excellence.  It enables discourse. Anonymous speech is a “hit-and-run.” It undermines discourse. It is difficult to understand society’s gain—and certainly that of leading educational institutions—by insulating such speech.

Third, anonymous speech undercuts the value of student opinions. Students perpetually complain that society does not take their opinions seriously.  But students cannot have it both ways.  Students cannot ask to be heard but take a pass on the accountability.  Sorry, in the adult world it’s a package deal.  Adults do not get an exemption for stupidity.  If you want to join us, neither should you.

Fourth, from a fairness standpoint, it is wrong for students to seek consequences for others but not be willing to face consequences themselves.  It is not deeply ironic, for example, that students advocate that college-age Israeli soldiers be exposed to hand-to-hand combat with terrorists (i.e., “restraint”) but then demand anonymity “for their personal safety”?

Fifth, it is wrong to detach “expression” or “advocacy” from any other student activity that the professional community evaluates in hiring decisions.  Students are certainly not shy about listing extracurricular activities that look good—including more acceptable forms of advocacy—on their resumes.  Activities which look bad should be equally relevant.

Sixth, employers are right to care about students’ on-campus activities.  Character and judgment are fundamental to an employee’s role.  Lawyers, for example, must maintain confidences and refrain from trading on insider information.  Good judgment is fundamental to those responsibilities.  Students who lack it are a risk to their clients, their firms and, ultimately, themselves.

Seventh, once employers make clear that students who engage in activities like supporting terrorism have no place in their workplace—and many have—it is deeply unethical for colleges to assist students in concealing such activities from employers.  Colleges would never, for example, discourage reporting students who hide failing grades or fabricate accomplishments to potential employers.  Why should exposing their support of Hamas be different?

Finally, there is long-term value in the professional community’s renewed engagement with the academic community.  The current reckoning makes clear that the professional community’s voice has not been absent on America’s college campuses.  Those of us who champion open discourse should welcome its arrival.  Frankly, it is long overdue.

About the Author
Yigal M. Gross is an attorney who lives in Teaneck, New Jersey with his wife Tamar Warburg and their children Ella, Sara, Yonatan, Aviva and Norman.
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