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Topic: Free speech on campus (Read 100 times) previous topic - next topic

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  • meepmeep
  • Administrator
  • zombiecat queen
Free speech on campus
 :stopper:  :stopper:  :stopper:  :stopper:  :stopper:  :stopper:

Consider a dual appearance of former Vice President Joe Biden and former House Speaker John Boehner at Notre Dame's commencement last year. FIRE lists these as the target of disinvitations, but its only evidence is a letter from 89 students saying they were "disappointed and discouraged" by the invitations chiefly because of Biden's tolerance for abortion. But the students didn't call for the invitations to be rescinded or for Biden and Boehner to be prevented from speaking. When commencement arrived, they spoke, peaceably.

Moreover, not every protest results in a speaker's invitation being withdrawn. Only 24 "disinvitations" in 2016 resulted in a true withdrawn invitation; in FIRE's full database of 331 incidents going back to 2000, only 145 were true disinvitations. Is a protest that fails to result in a withdrawn invitation a blow against free speech? Hardly. In many if not most cases, it's an expression of free speech. Or is an invitation to give a talk on campus supposed to be immune from comment once it's tendered?

The biggest flaw of the FIRE database is its conflation of commencements with campus talks and debates. As anyone knows who has spent even a semester on campus, one of these things is not like the others. Commencements account for about 40% of the incidents in FIRE's database of 331 "disinvitations" dating back to 2000, and seven of the 43 cases last year.

The right is still intent on undercutting what they see as the liberal political power of the university. But they're taking a different tack, pursuing their goals in more structural ways: weakening tenure, slashing budgets, upping teaching loads. It would be easy to dismiss this as simply a result of austerity programs, which have cut public services to the bone in states across America. But in states like Wisconsin and North Carolina, however, the cuts have been accompanied by rhetoric that makes the true goal clear: attacking curriculums and professors who seem too liberal, and weakening the overall power of the university.

Take North Carolina. Since Republicans took over the state government in the Tea Party wave of 2010, the state's universities have been under constant attack. Centers on the environment, voter engagement, and poverty studies have all been shuttered by the Board of Governors, which is appointed by the state legislature.

No sooner had Pat McCrory come into the governor's office in 2013 than he began making broadsides against the university, using stark economic measures to target liberal arts programs, like gender studies, with which he disagreed. His stated view was that university programs should be funded based on how many of their graduates get jobs.

Notably, the McCrory campaign was bankrolled by Art Pope, founder of the Pope Center for Higher Education (now the Martin Center), an organization dedicated to increasing the "diversity of ideas" taught on campus. As its policy director, Jay Schalin, explained in 2015, the crisis at the university stems from "the ideas that are being discussed and promoted": "multiculturalism, collectivism, left-wing post-modernism." He wants less Michel Foucault on campus, more Ayn Rand.

As two conservative professors, we agree that right-wing faculty members and ideas are not always treated fairly on college campuses. But we also know that right-wing hand-wringing about higher education is overblown. After interviewing 153 conservative professors in the social sciences and humanities, we believe that conservatives survive and even thrive in one of America's most progressive professions.

  • ksen
Re: Free speech on campus
Reply #1
we believe that conservatives survive and even thrive in one of America's most progressive professions

This can't be right.

Re: Free speech on campus
Reply #2
FIRE is reactionary garbage. Anyone who thinks people are entitled to give commencement speeches and be paid money/given honorary degrees and that anyone who objects to or protests a specific speaker is destroying muh free speech is an idiot.

It's great that a bunch of reactionaries now control most of the governments across the country and are actively destroying education and the environment though.

  • meepmeep
  • Administrator
  • zombiecat queen
Re: Free speech on campus
Reply #3
Yeah, I mean, I tend to fall on the side of promoting free speech and a wide range of different types of speakers, but I have zero problem with students protesting in response. And I completely agree that commencement speeches and honorary degrees are entirely different than an evening lecture or panel discussion. I also don't think there's much wrong with institutions having hard lines on what speakers they'd allow on campus, even if people might disagree on where to draw those lines. I see no value to anyone to have a public university paying someone an honorarium to extol the virtues of pedophilia, for instance, all in the name of intellectual inquiry.

And, honestly, it also depends on the context. If the vet school used tuition money to invite some fucking anti-vaxxer to talk about how vaccines are poison or some PETA asshole to talk about how pet ownership is slavery and vet med is evil, you're damn right I'd be protesting it and trying to get whoever was in charge to invite someone else instead. I'm not paying $50,000 per fucking year for them to invite speakers who contribute absolutely nothing to our education and push content that runs completely counter to what we do. But if you had those same people on some panel discussion for Philosophy Club or some shit, that'd be different.

Re: Free speech on campus
Reply #4
in line with that vox piece: "Who's Really Placing Limits on Free Speech?"

It's true that these battle lines are drawn across all campuses to one degree or another, but what many people don't realize is that they are the most pressing concerns only for elite private institutions like Oberlin and Yale.

This one-sided representation of campus speech doesn't reflect my 14 years teaching in large public institutions in Michigan, Texas and Wisconsin. In that time, no student has ever demanded that my classes include a trigger warning or asked for a safe space. But my colleagues and I have been given much more reason to worry about the ideological agendas of elected officials and politically appointed governing boards. Students can protest on the campus mall, demanding that policies be changed; elected officials can pass laws or cut resources to reflect their beliefs about how a campus should operate. One group has much more power than the other

  • ksen
Re: Free speech on campus
Reply #5
Read this the other day about this topic:

'Hiring Out' to Understand the White Working Class

After I wrote about last week's protest at Middlebury College, one of my most thoughtful email correspondents, Brown University medical school student Ronald Ray Magee Jr., wrote in with a different perspective.

As a staunch proponent of free speech and cross-ideological dialogue, he objected, along with so many others, to the protesters who prevented Charles Murray from speaking (and hoped for the speedy recovery of the injured professor). But he also argued that the rationale students offered for bringing Murray to campus--that some wanted to understand the white working class voters who supported Donald Trump--highlights a failure of diversity at the institution. What if Middlebury, a residential college where students are meant to learn partly by living together, could get more of those insights from within its community?

. . .

He writes:
I do not support the violent actions demonstrated by a contingent of the protesters last week; they were wholly unjustified and likely inimical to the interests of those most marginalized by the views of individuals like Dr. Charles Murray. As a Black man educated in predominantly white spaces, the value of free speech and engagement with opposing or even hostile views is already known to me. My mission in life is to aid my race in ameliorating the deep and painful scars of years of oppression; much of the little progress I or others around me have made towards that end has been won in moments when we reach across the proverbial aisle in an effort to understand and hopefully change the views of those who would seek to perpetuate a history of harm against my color. It can be frustrating, isolating, and sometimes just plain dark, but my experience so far has been that the gain is worth the pain.

After much reflection on the shutting down of Dr. Murray at Middlebury, taking the events on their own terms and in continuity with similar occurrences on campuses throughout the nation, my position is that the stance against shutting down speakers like Dr. Murray and for engagement with even the most noxious ideas is still the right one.

But it is a stance that Middlebury and most of higher education in this nation lacks the moral authority to make.

The narrative pushed by a lot of detractors of this protest and others like it is reducible to this: if elite college liberals are unwilling to engage with such-and-such highly public and highly controversial figure, then they risk remaining an echo chamber and their education will be the poorer for it.

Those should not be the only two options.

Middlebury should not have to hire out to find someone who can speak with them about the white working class or conservative ideals; there are quite a few people who bear one or both of those labels and I imagine that a number of them may even want to go to college. Yet I look at Middlebury and I see an institution where, according to the New York Times, 23% of the student population comes from families in the top 1% of American earners.

I see an institution where the free exchange of ideas and benefits of academic debate has an entrance fee of about $61K. I see an institution ranked as "most selective" by U.S. News and World Report, based in large part on test scores that do more to reflect a student's income or ethnicity than their intelligence level or capacity for success, especially if they are afforded the resources available at an institution with the financial endowment of Middlebury.

Taken together, it is pretty clear that the environment of free debate at Middlebury is actually tightly walled off to certain populations for reasons that have much less to do with the quality of their ideas or capacity for debate than with the lack of dollars in their pocket. And I imagine many, if not most, at the school would agree with me. Some of the facts I mention above are from an excellent editorial on the school's challenges regarding socioeconomic diversity, published in The Middlebury Campus in January of this year. But it is not enough to agree; the perilously high economic barrier to pursuing higher education represents a threat to both free speech and the ideals of justice and equality themselves on college campuses.

On one level, this barrier represents a direct extension of historical injustices. When the high tuition and over-reliance on standardized testing that clearly favors those with resources meet our society's longstanding racial wealth gap and rising income inequality, the result is too many students left unable to gain admission or matriculate for reasons that have less to do with merit and more to do with our historical amnesia; these students are silenced just as effectively as Dr. Murray was silenced last week, if not more so since few of them will go on to write bestselling books. In the face of this, it is important to remember Dr. King's assertion that "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere". Those are not mere words; it is incredibly difficult for a university to make an appeal to students based on the lofty values of free speech and exchange of ideas when it is abundantly clear that much of their academic experience is decided on the basis of far lowlier concerns.

On a deeper level, if the only time college students come into contact with those that disagree with their most strongly held views is when they are debating those very same views, I do not anticipate many gains in understanding on either side. At the end of the day, engaging with Dr. Murray or anyone who thinks like him on one occasion to discuss all the reasons you disagree is insufficient to gain true understanding; that sense of perspective comes when the two of you both make an intentional decision to participate in the hundreds of different interactions in nearly as many contexts that form the work of community-building.

College can be a vessel for those sorts of interactions, but we will have to work to make it so.

Dr. Murray was invited to Middlebury, at least in part, so that the campus could refute his views on the connection between race/socioeconomic status and intelligence. Yet, if Dr. Murray were provided with a demographic snapshot of Middlebury,  he would find much there to support his views. This is my plea to Middlebury and any other institution struggling with how to balance a respect for free speech with a respect for the lived experience of the marginalized: Do not just make the argument; be the argument.

Re: Free speech on campus
Reply #6
Community is the key. I entirely agree with that.
Love is like a magic penny
 if you hold it tight you won't have any
if you give it away you'll have so many
they'll be rolling all over the floor