Note: This article has been updated. See the update at the conclusion of this post.
As an alumnus of NC State, I was upset but not surprised when some idiots1 wrote hateful, racially offensive graffiti concerning Barack Obama in the Free Expression Tunnel â€” upset because of the content, not surprised because of the location (the Free Expression Tunnel has been a reliable source of material offensive to anyone from any walk of life ever since it came to be).
I was mortified when the leadership of NC State decided to publicize this idiocy in a press release and then compounded it by vowing to prosecute the students responsible, who were after all writing under the correct belief that their bilge constituted free expression â€” mortified because there was no need for the university to embarrass itself, because students and leaders have known for decades that a little bit of paint takes care of anything so offensive you don't wish to see it again (there is no guarantee that anything painted in the Free Expression Tunnel will last the night, let alone several days), and most of all because it signaled the university's complete aversion to free expression and by extension the First Amendment.
I maintain that NC State has missed a crucial chance to use this controversy as a "teachable moment" for the First Amendment and the critical nature of free speech in a free society. You fight offensive speech with more speech, not by repression and usurping the God-given, self-evident right of free speech. So you paint over it, you protest, you hold rallies, you attempt to shame the offensive speakers into mending their ways, write op-eds, whatever â€” but you don't try to repress them or use the power of government to punish them.