The snowflakes at Iowa State University just didn't get it.

No, not the students. It was triggered administrators who poured taxpayer cash down the drain defending their campaign against free speech.

The State Appeal Board this week approved paying $150,000 in damages and almost $200,000 in attorney fees to a pair of students whose First Amendment rights were worth less to ISU administrators than public relations. In 2012, the students, Paul Gerlich and Erin Furleigh, ran the campus' pro-marijuana legalization group, NORML. All was well and good until the organization's shirts, featuring ISU's mascot and a pot leaf, got a little press.

Suddenly, the Governor's Office was asking questions. Suddenly, political speech was a problem because it didn't jibe with top elected officials. 

Administration blocked the school-sanctioned group from re-ordering more T-shirts and leveled and rewrote ISU's trademark guidelines that specifically targeted ISU's NORML chapter. 

A lot has been said about university students and their supposed inability to face ideas that upset them. On campuses across the country, throngs of students have railed against conservative speakers. Those protesters have every right to deride the concepts pitched by conservative columnists and Breitbart writers. But that right doesn't extend to shutting down speech with which they don't agree.

But, at ISU, the students weren't the oft-criticized "snowflakes." This instance doesn't fit the narrative of coddled millennials seeking sanctuary from every offense and emotional stress.

At ISU, then-President Steven Leath and his top lieutenants went seeking a safe space. And Iowa's taxpayers will now pay for the willingness of a few triggered administrators who roughshod over the U.S. Constitution for the sake of protecting the brand. A federal judge reached the same conclusion this past year.

Public opinion about marijuana has changed drastically since ISU's 2012 crackdown on NORML. A significant majority of Americans now oppose U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' crusade against state-level legalization programs, polls show. Support for medicinal marijuana programs also have strong support. And, increasingly, support is shifting for recreational legalization. Marijuana is among those rare issues that can transcend partisan politics. Budget hawk conservatives aren't keen on paying for the Drug War's costs, especially in the justice system. Liberals decry the disproportionate effect criminalizing marijuana has had on poor and minority communities.

The pro-pot movement was only in its infancy six years ago.

Even so, the T-shirts that so offended Iowa's elected and appointed class was very much a political one. NORML's message was, and continues to be, a legitimate matter of political discourse. 

Even if it wasn't, though, ISU's targeted assault against NORML would stand as a stunning assault on free speech. Even the most vile speech -- what some call hate speech -- is protected, says a mountain of precedent. 

Call us idealists, but universities must always be among society's most free institutions. They're places where beliefs are challenged. They're places where ideas are argued. They're places where concepts too often barred from a politically correct culture are probed, tested and analyzed. They're the ultimate home of free expression. 

ISU officials, under political pressure, neglected their charge. Now, all Iowans will pay for that shameful weakness. 

Local editorials represent the opinion of the Quad-City Times editorial board, which consists of Publisher Deb Anselm, Executive Editor Autumn Phillips, Editorial Page Editor Jon Alexander, Associate Editor Bill Wundram and community representative John Wetzel.

Outbrain