By Jeffrey Herbst and Geoffrey R. Stone JUNE 05, 2017
The turmoil at Evergreen State College — where a professor is facing accusations and demands for his resignation because he said white students should not be asked to leave campus for a day — is only the most recent example of free-speech controversies roiling colleges across the country. Free speech faces many challenges at colleges and universities these these days, but none greater than the growing skepticism of some students — especially those who feel particularly marginalized and disempowered in our society. Vocal elements of these groups increasingly question what the Supreme Court has celebrated as the country’s profound commitment to "uninhibited, robust and wide-open" public discourse.
Campaigns led by these students to silence and to exclude from their campuses speakers whose views they find offensive and odious has triggered a serious politicization of the principle of free speech, with "progressive" and minority students tending to condemn freedom of speech, and political conservatives suddenly waving the flag of free expression. This politicization of a fundamental right would be bad enough if it were to stay on campuses, but, as Evergreen State demonstrates, controversies at higher-education institutions are driving the polarization of free speech nationwide. [JB emphasis]It also poses a special danger to the interests of those very same minority students because, in the long run, it is they who most need the vibrant protection of freedom of speech as an essential and powerful weapon in our continuing struggle for equality.
It was not always this way. The civil-rights movement of the 1960s, for example, energetically embraced the principle of free speech. In April 1968 in Memphis, in the last speech he gave before he was murdered, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. provided a ringing endorsement of the central importance of the First Amendment for the civil-rights movement, when he declared that the freedom of speech is a central guarantee of "the greatness of America."
In a similar vein, the women’s movement and the gay-rights movement were both made possible by the ability of courageous advocates for equality to challenge the accepted wisdom, to advance new ideas and understandings, and to shift the expectations and beliefs of countless Americans. Without a fierce commitment to freedom of speech, such progress would never have been possible.
Yet today, minority students and their supporters too often see free speech as the enemy. It is certainly understandable that they see certain speakers and certain ideas as offensive and odious. It is certainly understandable that they would be tempted to want to silence speakers like Milo Yiannopoulos at Berkeley, Heather Mac Donald at Claremont McKenna, and Charles Murray at Middlebury.
But it is also understandable that believers in creationism would want to silence supporters of Darwin in the 19th century, that supporters of the United States’ entry into World War I would want to silence critics of the war and the draft, that supporters of the belief that "a woman’s place is in the home" would want to silence supporters of the women’s-rights movement, and that supporters of the view that homosexuality is sinful and immoral would want to silence supporters of the gay-rights movement.
Wanting to censor those whose views one finds odious and offensive is understandable. Actually silencing them is dangerous, though, because censorship is a two-way street. It is an illusion for minority groups to believe that they can censor the speech of others today without having their own expression muzzled tomorrow.
When students last year were asked in a Gallup survey sponsored by the Knight Foundation and the Newseum Institute if they thought colleges and universities should restrict the expression of "political views that are upsetting or offensive to certain groups," 24 percent of white respondents and 41 percent of African-American respondents said "yes." But as Dr. King understood, a fierce commitment to freedom of speech is most important to those who lack political power.
Even from a short-term perspective, efforts by minority groups to censor the expression of offensive and odious speech often backfires, because it makes those they oppose into ever-more famous martyrs, giving them larger audiences and growing book sales. Little has helped the brand of the likes of Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos more than their exclusion from speaking on college campuses.
Although censoring others may appear to be a courageous sign of strength, it is actually an indication of weakness. Those who resort to censorship do so in no small part because they lack confidence that they can compete effectively with the ideas of their opposition. Allowing others to speak and then challenging them in a forthright and open manner with more persuasive ideas is the way to win in the long-term. It was for this reason that Dr. King in the speech later known as "I’ve Been to the Mountaintop" said, "We aren’t engaged in any negative protest and in any negative arguments with anybody." Rather, he said, "we are going on."
As President Barack Obama observed in a commencement address at Howard University last spring, No matter how much you might disagree with certain speakers, "don’t try to shut them down. … Let them talk, … but have the confidence to challenge them ... If the other side has a point, learn from them. If they’re wrong, rebut them. … Beat them on the battlefield of ideas. And you might as well start practicing now, because one thing I can guarantee you — you will have to deal with ignorance, hatred, racism" and stupidity "at every stage of your life."
It is through debate, argument, and courage — not censorship — that truth will win out.
Jeffrey Herbst, a former president of Colgate University, is president and chief executive officer of the Newseum. Geoffrey R. Stone is the Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago.
Very good article. I disagree, however, with the sentiments in the citation of Obama’s remarks at Howard as some sort of sanctimonious stand on free speech. The actions he took as President were focused on silencing the opposition. One needs to look no further than his stand on “Black Lives Matter.” He shouted down opposing views or views supporting “All Lives Matter” concepts as racist. Obama is not a supporter of free speech.
FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights Education) reports that during Obama’s presidency, the speakers who have faced the greatest amount of push back against their speaking invitations are former President George W. Bush (seven disinvitation incidents) and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (four disinvitation incidents). There were none on the political left in the list.
Equally insidious is the emergence of intolerance against traditional academic issues. The global warming snake oil bottled in as a “climate change” that ensures “heads I win and tails you lose” certainty receives no critical analysis on college campuses. The supporters are all for the Federal dime to support their fake research. Opposing views are shouted down and the concept of free speech seldom matters.
I wonder whether anyone on the left would share the admonition by the authors that “It is an illusion for minority groups to believe that they can censor the speech of others today without having their own expression muzzled tomorrow.” No; with the media on their side, violent silencing of uncomfortable ideas has become fashionable and acceptable in college campuses with the tacit approval of administrators. This is what happened in Berkeley; it will continue to happen unless a tidal wave of activists on the right become visible and effective.
Beyond expressing his own opinions, how did Obama silence the opposition? Did he claim the media were publishing “fake news”? Did he fire any FBI directors? Did he threaten to sue anyone who criticized him? Did he attack judges as political, terrible or ridiculous when they issued decisions he didn’t like? Did he characterize people he disagreed with as sad, pathetic, disgraceful or criminal? Did he threaten to lock up any political opponents? Something else?
The answer, sadly, is yes to nearly all of your perhaps rhetorical questions.
IRS and Tea Party/Conservative Groups.
His commentary on the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United.
"Bitter clingers" commentary.
Blaming Benghazi on a youtube video and then sicking the FBI on the producer and locking him up.
Violent rhetoric on the campaign trail about bringing guns to knife fights related to his legislative agenda.
Condi Rice was herself no friend of free speech as secretary of state under Bush. She implemented the policy of ideological exclusion by denying visas to foreign scholars whose views the Bush Administration did not like.
On one hand, this argument claims Obama attempted to silence "All Lives Matter" as racism, but holds the contradictory stance that "All Lives Matter" itself was not doing the same. It was an attempt to shout down Black Lives Matter. The "All Lives Matter movement" went further, in grossly distorting BLM as a terrorist group, where legislation was submitted to actually list BLM as a terrorist organization.
On one hand, this argument claims intolerance against traditional academic issues. "Fake research" is an intolerant attempt, again, to slander an oppositions stance by a gross mischaracterization to influence policy and policy makers. This is a classic 'creationist' technique to bypass traditional academia. Furthermore this is being done by Trump, who claims nearly any opinion he disagrees with is fake, and actually fits the bill of what you claimed Obama did with All Lives Matter to begin with.
Everything you cite as attempts to shut down or shout down the Left is all speech. It cannot coerce those who refuse to be coerced or silenced. BLM, however, has engaged in actual violence, as have the 'Antifa' and many others who want to deny some on the Right the ability to speak. They run the risk of not just being censored, but of some fighting back. It is a foolish risk to run and will not gain them political power in the long run. Our polity and government structure did not grow in a vacuum. It was the result of long and often bloody conflicts that resulted in a philosophy of individual rights AND responsibilities. The Marxist fools who want to 'tear it all down' won't like what replaces what we have. Their grandchildren would eventually come to the same conclusions and the same results but only after massive death and destruction.
Am I the only one challenging the 3rd paragraph? ("The global warming snake oil bottled in as a “climate change” that ensures “heads I win and tails you lose” certainty receives no critical analysis on college campuses. The supporters are all for the Federal dime to support their fake research. Opposing views are shouted down and the concept of free speech seldom matters."). Speaking of "snake oil", this ideologically (and non-scientific) motivated rhetoric should not be shouted down but exposed for what it is: political propaganda, climate change denialism, not even skepticism.
Those who are baptized into believing in climate change religion, may want to read “U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Minority Staff Report (2009)” in which more than 700 international scientists dissent over man-made global warming claims scientists continue to debunk “Consensus” in 2008 and 2009. The fake media and the political left have cleverly put a lid on this report and dozens of other serious writings challenging global warming alarmists.
The media has also created a misconception that those who challenge fake result on climate change are somehow against environment. This is not so. Environment often is a local phenomenon where the noxious gases or poisonous residues will have a direct impact on living things in the vicinity. One can easily model what happened in areas such as the Love canal, Bhopal, Hanford and Flint. And, prudent actions could and should avoid repletion of such disasters to safeguard human health. Climate, on the other hand, is a meta phenomenon and is profoundly different.
Ivar Giaever, a mechanical engineer (RPI graduate) who won the 1973 Nobel Prize for his experimental discoveries regarding tunneling phenomena in superconductors was one of President Obama’s key scientific supporters in 2008. But seven years after Giaever mocked Obama for warning that “no challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change”. Giaever called it a “ridiculous statement.” “I say this to Obama: Excuse me, Mr. President, but you’re wrong. Dead wrong,” Giaever said.
Physicist Dr. Gerhard Gerlich, of the Institute of Mathematical Physics at the Technical University Carolo-Wilhelmina in Braunschweig in Germany, and Dr. Ralf D. Tscheuschner co-authored a revealing paper titled "Falsification of the Atmospheric CO2 Greenhouse Effects Within the Frame of Physics." Gerlich and Tscheuschner's study concluded, "The horror visions of a risen sea level, melting pole caps and developing deserts in North America and in Europe are fictitious consequences of fictitious physical mechanisms, as they cannot be seen even in the climate model computations. The emergence of hurricanes and tornados cannot be predicted by climate models, because all of these deviations are ruled out. The main strategy of modern CO2-greenhouse gas defenders seems to hide 113 themselves behind more and more pseudo explanations, which are not part of the academic education or even of the physics training."
There are many others like Dr. Frederick Seitz, renowned physicist and former president of the National Academy of Sciences, Atmospheric physicist James A. Peden, Geophysicist and former NASA astronaut Dr. Phil Chapman. College campuses do not invite or hear from them. So much for academic honesty in science. Bad, very bad.
It is not merely the importance and the scope of free speech that are at issue.
As the admissions of conservative entities backing conservative student newspapers have made clear--with both strategic advice and their supply of abundant cash--a principal objective of these conservative organizations is less to make space for the presentation of conversative views than to make sure that these institutions are pressured to invite speakers whose mission is, explicitly, to provoke 'liberal' students to engage in illiberal activities. It is less the embrace of the free and open exchange of ideas that is driving many of the conservative complaints and more the explicit intention to embarrass colleges and drum up support for the conservative complaints of hypocrisy, etc.
It is important to encourage the presentation of a wide spectrum of points of view. But, equally, it is important to call out the deliberate embrace of provocation as a strategy. There are plenty of serious, scholarly, available conservative speakers. If the core issue really is the concern for a presentation of a spectrum of views--I.e., really is free speech concerns rather than mere trolling and provocation--why not invite more of them rather than those of the vicious, hateful, or hothead variety?
It's not about free speech, because they can *say* whatever they like. It's about whether they're worth listening to. There's no First Amendment guarantee that anyone has a right to an auditorium and a respectful audience.
Of course. The people who wanted to hear those speakers can always do so in an alley or some out of the way place where serious people won't be offended, or where mobs can't find them. But whenever someone in authority can pick and choose who may speak there is censorship. Speech is the most fundamental freedom, and any restriction on free speech is inherently suspect.
How about Charles Murray? Serious enough for you? Check out Middlebury's behavior.
Even Ben Shapiro, hardly a scholar, is certainly bright, articulate and regularly harassed are his speeches. So, no I do not think people are trying to cause trouble when they invite either of these men. Left is certainly willing to ban them
I'm always bothered by the notion of one person being provoked by another to engage in "illiberal activities." There is nothing anybody could say to me, no idea that could be expressed, that would cause me to engage in the sort of behavior we've seen from some students on campus. Let's call it what it really is: an excuse for them to behave the way they wanted to behave. Unfortunately, the illiberal activities are too often tolerated, even tacitly encouraged, by campus administrations.
The mention of creationism puts me in mind of the zeal with which science engaged with creationism in the past 35 years. You'd think that faculty and students would relish taking on Charles Murray et al. If they are not going to be seriously challenged on a college campus, then where? Although I admit that the design of any forum has to permit serious dialogue and argument. As things stand, I am seriously dismayed at the lack of willingness to engage -- rather, we have kids putting their hands over their ears and making noise so they don't even hear what someone has to say.
Free speech for spoiled children only makes teaching them impossible. It is fast approaching a time to apply Military-style discipline to bad campuses. And if the trouble makers were "special admissions", meaning they would not otherwise be admitted, then turf them out now and do it quickly. This simmering pot needs to be pulled off the fire.
I find the new tactics of the far left quite tragic. Silencing, shaming, name-calling are all tools for the weak-minded and poorly educated. I fear that today the outcome of a university education is more along the lines of Wizard of Oz gift giving and academic hucksterism:
"Why, anybody can have a brain. That's a very mediocre commodity. Every
pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy
seas has a brain. Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of
great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they
come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you
have. But they have one thing you haven't got: a DIPLOMA.
Washington State should immediately withdraw public funds and rapidly sell off the Evergreen facility to privately run higher education. That would send a message to those who want to play at "revolution" at a educational institution.
I'm fed up with the right trying to portray these campus events as First Amendment issues. Not wanting to hear someone speak might be ill-mannered, but it isn't "silencing" or "censoring" them. And some points of view, such as Milo Yiannopoulos', don't deserve a platform or an audience.
The Evergreen protest is a total non sequitur because it has nothing to do with free speech. The students weren't protesting what Weinstein said, they were protesting his unwillingness to support campus diversity efforts or show respect for a reasonable request made by students of color in honoring a well-established campus tradition.
You are totally wrong about that. The professor is a progressive who supported the students, except for their racist demand to expel (force to leave, even if they didn't want to) all whites from campus. They freaked out when he SAID that this was unwise and unfair. They cited his SPEECH as a reason to fire him, and tried to physically prevent him from speaking on campus, and succeeded. QED. Speech suppression.
To clarify a few facts: the "request" was not to "expel ... all whites", or anything outrageous like that. People should go read the actual e-mails instead of repeating stuff they hear around. The proposed plan for the Evergreen Day of Absence was for interested minority individuals to meet on campus, while "allied" non-minorities would meet off campus (the opposite happened on prior occasions), to discuss minority-relevant issues from different perspectives. Obviously the intent was not to "expel" anyone, let alone "all whites", because a) participation to the events was, as always, completely voluntary, and b) the off-campus venue had a capacity of 200 people, so in fact interested individuals were asked to RSVP to confirm they could even attend.
Personally, after looking at all the original info, it seems to me that Dr Weinstein misinterpreted the proposed plan, or possibly overreacted to it. That of course does not in the least excuse the intolerant and threatening reaction by some students and - most inexplicably and worrisome - the weak response to it by the administration and other faculty.
I also agree with the other commenter who said that the Evergreen episode has very little relevance to the issue of perceived "censorship" that the article actually focuses on, which has to do with students protesting controversial speakers on campus and at graduations.
When some exercise violence and intimidation to punish or prevent someone's speech, and the official response is 'weak', that is de facto censorship. The violent responses to speech must be forcefully confronted in support of our rights or those rights are forfeited.
Depends. Did the undergraduates actually prevent the speaker from being heard by the people on campus who wanted to hear the speech? Or did they attempt to achieve this result? If "yes," then that's speech suppression, or attempted speech suppression. It's not a difficult test.
The fact that the speaker could still speak at a different college, or on the internet, doesn't matter at all to this question. Protest-but-don't-interfere is one thing. Protest-and-prevent-a-speech is quite another.
In my experience, white "free thinking progressives" are probably the worst at talking about matters of race. They tend to hide behind the dichotomy of "left" and "right" rather than listening to genuine concerns of those speaking out their concerns. I do not know the specifics of this particular case, but given the headline and its provocative language to insight that very dichotomy, its easy to detect the bait for those "free thinking progressives" to continue to dismiss the concerns of people of color in the name of civil discourse. So many white dudes proclaiming how to conduct "civil" discourse is laughable and revealing of a much deeper problem in so called "liberal" circles. We have a lot of work to do.
Actually, free thinking progressives, typically those who are white, receive the most scorn from activists like you because they're soft targets where their own professed sensitives can be used against them. You're not going to get anywhere with alt-right activists, but many free thinking white progressives - having wedded themselves to the team - are put into a bind if they go off the reservation. Activists know this and pounce on them, the moment they smell blood. Most of these free thinking white progressives have two options: 1) the path of least resistance: compliance; or 2) resistance and feel the wrath of the backlash. Most opt for 1. A few opt for 2. In the end though compliance may feel good, but it accomplishes nothing - it arguably is worse for the cause. It's part of the reason why you still feel there's a lot of work to do - b/c a lot people simply have heard your case and politely nodded while privately rejecting it.
There are some nuances lost here, I think. When a university invites a speaker with a controversial point of view to give a speech, it doesn't necessarily promote dialogue unless a specific rebuttal is given equal time, or an actual debate occurs. Furthermore, inviting a speaker implicitly endorses that their point of view has some merit. But when someone like Murray, or some Creationist speaker is invited by an institution to present thoroughly debunked pseudoscience as if it were supported by evidence, or when some third-rate shock-jock like Yannopoulos or Coulter can present their hate-speech unchallenged, honest intellectual debate is not the outcome. These individuals of course have the right to express their opinions in other venues - which they do, amply - just not to do so unopposed and at the expense of the taxpayers and/or students (or parents, via tuition costs) at a higher-learning institution. Finally, the right of free expression also applies to the students themselves, who have therefore the right to protest a speaker, and put pressure on their institutions to un-endorse them. We have seen what fake "balance" has done to the news media, where basic standards of fact, reason and ethics have almost disappeared in recent years. We certainly do not want the same degradation of discourse to also happen in colleges and universities.
It shouldn't be about silencing but understanding respect, and like this old saying:
“Is not this a free country?”
“Have not I a right to swing my arm?”
“Yes, but your right to swing your arm leaves off where my right not to have my nose struck begins.”
Conservatives want to make political hay with recent events, claiming that this is an issue of "free speech" and that they are being "marginalized and silenced." The whole notion of "the new censorship on campus" is just a Trojan horse on the part of the political right in America. The Koch brothers, FIRE<, Kissel, and DeVos want more power, push and prominence on campuses. This has nothing to do with free speech. They don't care about anyone else's freedoms. If they are themselves ever in dominance, they will shut out racial minorities, gays, and discriminate against women as harshly as went on in the 50s.
\Why does the right proclaim that if we are disgusted with their notions and ideologies, we are not open-minded and don't listen? For Christ's sake, when has the right EVER been quiet in this culture? When have they not spread their "alternative facts" and hatreds across talk radio and snarky news guests and Breitbart and Fox and all that?
Faculties have been listening to these "views" and reading, considering and dealing with the ultra-right in America for forty years. And don't tell me students don't listen! Plenty of them grow up in areas where the ultra-right is in complete cultural dominance.
The problem is that many conservative views are not just "views" on a continuum of "views." They are ideologies of white supremacy, Christian supremacy, western supremacy, and male heterosexual supremacy that can, have, do and would lead to the wholesale discrimination against anyone not exactly like themselves. The kind of contempt that Kissel, DeVos, the Koch brothers, Coulter, and Milo have expressed towards minorities, gays, non-Christians, and women is repugnant in the extreme.
When those speakers do come to campus, expect intense reactions. And campuses, no matter what they decide, had better take that seriously. So many campuses are competing for students now . If your campus is in the news for having invited some hateful vicious bigot, students will be less likely to go there.
why must those who argue for unfettered free speech always resort to insults? "Although censoring others may appear to be a courageous sign of strength, it is actually an indication of weakness. Those who resort to censorship do so in no small part because they lack confidence that they can compete effectively with the ideas of their opposition. " That's akin to saying, 'you're psychologically weak and your argument is pathetic, and you know it.'
The students' behavior at Evergreen State College was not an exercise in free speech, it was juvenile and criminal in nature. It should be treated as such. To wax eloquently about this group of miscreants encourages unacceptable behavior.
We need to stop calling Hate Speech speech with which we simply disagree. The voice that spews that which is commonly referred to as Hate Speech - speech that threatens, insults, or offends groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits - is dangerous. Truth, pursued through rigorous scholarship, reveals that Hate Speech compromises what we know to be basic needs of human beings. As such, efforts to non-violently neutralize such a divisive/destructive force, are quite appropriate. Those who feel otherwise, need to offer a persuasive argument for why support for/protection of all students' basic human needs is an inappropriate concern for today's institutions of higher education. I'll wait...
A Princeton PhD, was a US diplomat for over 20 years, mostly in Eastern Europe, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in 1997. For the Open World Leadership Center, he speaks with
its delegates from Europe/Eurasia on the topic, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United" (http://johnbrownnotesandessays.blogspot.com/2017/03/notes-and-references-for-discussion-e.html). Affiliated with Georgetown University (http://explore.georgetown.edu/people/jhb7/) for over ten years, he still shares ideas with students about public diplomacy.
The papers of his deceased father -- poet and diplomat John L. Brown -- are stored at Georgetown University Special Collections at the Lauinger Library. They are manuscript materials valuable to scholars interested in post-WWII U.S.-European cultural relations.
This blog is dedicated to him, Dr. John L. Brown, a remarkable linguist/humanist who wrote in the Foreign Service Journal (1964) -- years before "soft power" was ever coined -- that "The CAO [Cultural Affairs Officer] soon comes to realize that his job is really a form of love-making and that making love is never really successful unless both partners are participating."