Home / Blog / Article


April 26 2017

Campus Free Speech--NOT! Roundup

by Charlotte Allen

Time for a campus free speech--NOT! roundup:

Middlebury College:

The chairman of the elite Vermont college's political science department has finally issued an apology in the March 2 student riots that shut down a speech by conservative author Charles Murray and sent a Middlebury professor to the hospital with an injured neck.

An apology to the rioters, that is. Political science chairman Bertram Johnson says  Murray should never have been invited to speak on the Middlebury campus in the first place.

Johnson's apology, published in the student newspaper, the Middlebury Campus, reads as follows:

The short amount of time between when the event became public and when it occurred gave all of us scant opportunity to listen to and understand alternative points of view. Most importantly, and to my deep regret, it contributed to a feeling of voicelessness that many already experience on this campus, and it contributed to the very real pain that many people – particularly people of color – have felt as a result of this event.

Wonder how Johnson feels about the "real pain" experienced by his colleague, Middlebury politics and economics professor Alison Stanger, injured when some of the "many people" experiencing a "feeling of voicelessness" assauted her and pulled on her hair as punishment for hosting Murray's speech online after the "many people" blocked him from speaking in public.

New York University:

NYU's Ulrich Baer, professor of German and comparative literature, writes in the New York Times that he actually doesn't believe in campus free speech, period--at least when it comes to speakers on the right. Here he goes:

Liberal free-speech advocates rush to point out that the views of these individuals must be heard first to be rejected. But this is not the case. Universities invite speakers not chiefly to present otherwise unavailable discoveries, but to present to the public views they have presented elsewhere. When those views invalidate the humanity of some people, they restrict speech as a public good.

In such cases there is no inherent value to be gained from debating them in public. In today’s age, we also have a simple solution that should appease all those concerned that students are insufficiently exposed to controversial views. It is called the internet, where all kinds of offensive expression flourish unfettered on a vast platform available to nearly all.

Baer invokes French intellectual heavyweights to bolster his proposition that only untutored rubes who have failed to keep up with the latest in philosophical thinking believe that even controversial speakers should be allowed to air their views:

Widespread caricatures of students as overly sensitive, vulnerable and entitled “snowflakes” fail to acknowledge the philosophical work that was carried out, especially in the 1980s and ’90s, to legitimate experience — especially traumatic experience — which had been dismissed for decades as unreliable, untrustworthy and inaccessible to understanding.

The philosopher Jean-François Lyotard, best known for his prescient analysis in “The Postmodern Condition” of how public discourse discards the categories of true/false and just/unjust in favor of valuing the mere fact that something is being communicated, examined the tension between experience and argument in a different way.

Instead of defining freedom of expression as guaranteeing the robust debate from which the truth emerges, Lyotard focused on the asymmetry of different positions when personal experience is challenged by abstract arguments.

Back to those "many people" and their "feelings of voicelessness."

The great value and importance of freedom of expression, for higher education and for democracy, is hard to underestimate. But it has been regrettably easy for commentators to create a simple dichotomy between a younger generation’s oversensitivity and free speech as an absolute good that leads to the truth. We would do better to focus on a more sophisticated understanding, such as the one provided by Lyotard, of the necessary conditions for speech to be a common, public good. This requires the realization that in politics, the parameters of public speech must be continually redrawn to accommodate those who previously had no standing.

Even the liberal New York Times felt compelled to insert a disclaimer into Baer's op-ed piece stating that his theories don't "represent the views" of his employer, NYU.

University of California-San Diego:

UCSD's choice of the Dalai Lama as this June's commencement speaker has resulted in a rush for tickets to hear the exiled Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his calls for an autonomous Tibet, which was forcibly annexed by China in 1959. A Gallup poll last year rated the Lama, with his message of hope and compassion, as America's sixth most admired figure.

But not among the 3,543 Chinese nationals who are students at UCSD. They've been agitating since February for UCSD to rescind its invitation. The Chinese Students and Scholars Association issued this statement:

Currently, the various actions undertaken by the university have contravened the spirit of respect, tolerance, equality, and earnestness—the ethos upon which the university is built. These actions have also dampened the academic enthusiasm of Chinese students and scholars. If the university insists on acting unilaterally and inviting the Dalai Lama to give a speech at the graduation ceremony, our association vows to take further measures to firmly resist the university’s unreasonable behavior.

According to Quartz:

Comments from Chinese students on Facebook were also couched in rhetoric commonly used to rally for inclusivity on campus. One simply read #ChineseStudentsMatter. Some argued that the invitation goes against “diversity” and “political correctness.” Others contended the university was acting hypocritically by inviting an “oppressive” figure like the Dalai Lama while fostering a climate of anti-racism and anti-sexism.

The university isn't backing down, but according to the San Diego Union-Tribune, UCSD has been advised by at least one expert that the Dalai Lama ought to keep his commencement speech "brief."

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
Follow us