Free speech

U of Oklahoma students' racist video, departure prompt First Amendment questions

Legal experts ponder whether public universities can ask students who are racist or who misbehave to leave. Has this become the new strategy to avoid kicking them out and facing First Amendment backlash?

UMass Amherst student asked to remove anti-Nazi poster for not being inclusive

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University of Massachusetts at Amherst has come under fire for asking a student to take down a poster from her dorm room that condemned Nazis using profanity, saying it was not "inclusive."

The Chicago principles are a gold standard for freedom of expression on campuses (opinion)

Sigal Ben-Porath’s Inside Higher Ed article, “Against Endorsing the Chicago Principles,” puts the urgent need for uncompromised freedom of expression on a slippery slope. While properly observing that espousing even a clear statement of commitment is insufficient, Ben-Porath rejects the idea of its absolute necessity and thereby risks entirely derailing mainstream efforts to protect free speech on college campuses.

The “Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression,” now widely known as the Chicago principles, has become a gold standard among institutions that wish to show their commitment to this core principle of American higher education. There has recently been a significant uptick in the number of institutions joining in support -- which is not surprising, given that the 931-word statement is balanced and nuanced, protecting both those articulating unpopular viewpoints and the rights of protesters. Let us underscore that point at the beginning: the Chicago principles envision and protect both controversial viewpoints and protests against those viewpoints, with the proviso that protesters “may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe.”

Ben-Porath expresses two major concerns with the Chicago principles: 1) that they are not a one-size-fits-all solution to the free speech debate and 2) that the Chicago principles, and free speech more widely, can come at the cost of silencing minorities -- whether religious, ethnic, racial or sexual.

Ben-Porath is correct that endorsing the Chicago principles is not a silver bullet that ensures freedom of expression, a point that the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education recently concurred with. But that is not what endorsing the principles is meant to accomplish. The Chicago principles constitute a statement of intent that a university can use to guide it in fostering the free exchange of ideas. If a university is so committed, it will align its bylaws, student code of conduct, faculty handbook and programming to reflect that commitment.

For example, after Purdue University endorsed the Chicago principles, it instituted a freshman orientation that focused on the importance of free speech. Other institutions translate the Chicago principles into action in other ways. Just as the Declaration of Independence has no legal power and cannot ensure that all men are treated with the respect due to being created equal, it articulates a sacred American value with profound effect.

Ben-Porath’s second point is that the demand for free speech is itself problematic, arguably even destructive of academic values. That assertion bears the marks of ideological prejudice in its portrayal of the concern to protect free speech not as a categorical value of higher education but as a means of protecting conservatism. It is true that, in many instances, conservatives have rallied for academic freedom, as they often feel marginalized on college campuses, but they are hardly the only beneficiaries of a culture of free and open discussion. C. Vann Woodward, for example, led the committee at Yale University that drafted the classic 1975 Woodward Report on freedom of expression, but before one concludes that its intent was to protect speakers such as General William Westmoreland or the racist William Shockley, it is important to recall that decades earlier he had defended Angelo Herndon, an African American communist charged in Georgia with insurrection.

Ben-Porath claims that free speech “comes at the expense of the reasonable demands” from those burdened by the free speech that protects biased views. But what is bias to one person may reasonably be seen as truth by another: that is precisely why the free exchange of ideas alone can further understanding. Perhaps Ben-Porath is right that proving biased views to be incorrect is a burden, but it is a responsibility that comes with leading an examined life and a valuable educational exercise in and of itself. To protect students from this activity would weaken the academic experience.

It is, moreover, all too short a step from that to Herbert Marcuse’s theory that tolerance of viewpoints that diverge from liberalism is itself repressive, and from there to the contemporary meme that speech that departs from the perceived interests of the oppressed is a form of violence that justifies physical violence to counter it. At institutions including the University of California, Berkeley, and Middlebury College, the fruit of that ideology has stained the reputation of higher education. The clarity of the Chicago principles is urgently needed.

But even more troubling is Ben-Porath’s suggestion that free speech is of particular value to conservative students and is “too often used as a political tool by the right.” It is Ben-Porath, however, who thereby politicizes the discussion. The opening of the Chicago principles references how the University of Chicago’s president Robert Maynard Hutchins defended the absolute right of William Z. Foster, the chairman of the Communist Party USA in the 1950s, to visit and address the university despite public outrage. Hutchins said that “our students … should have freedom to discuss any problem that presents itself,” despite his personal anticommunist beliefs. The Chicago principles are a seamless extension of the university’s proud legacy of protecting unpopular viewpoints.

Ben-Porath seems to imply that a college that accepts freedom of expression may become a toxic environment in which minority students cannot express themselves. That does not appear to have happened at the University of Chicago, Purdue University, Princeton University or Johns Hopkins University -- top-tier, diverse institutions that have all adopted the Chicago principles. And that raises the question, is the anti-Chicago principles hysteria at Williams College and elsewhere factually based, or is it simply fantastical? Just as Americans during the red scare feared that allowing Marxists any type of platform would lead to revolution, chaos and despotism, overly zealous campus communities seem to dread that permitting controversial thought will undermine all sense of intellectual decency.

There is a sad irony that Ben-Porath’s own institution, the University of Pennsylvania, most desperately needs a recommitment to the free exchange of ideas. Last summer, the University of Pennsylvania Law School began its own campaign of harassment against Amy Wax for co-authoring an op-ed identifying the positive impact of bourgeois values and questioning the effectiveness of affirmative action. Penn’s posture and official sanctions of Wax are chilling evidence of why Ben-Porath’s institution itself needs a cultural reset that would engage challenging ideas rather than put them to silence.

The worst irony of all is that the world of higher education, which should be eager for vigorous debate and challenge, often lags behind the diverse leaders who embrace free speech as the engine of progress. U.S. congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis asserted, “Without freedom of speech and the right to dissent, the civil rights movement would have been a bird without wings.” And, in a more recent struggle, Jonathan Rauch, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and LGBTQ advocate, observed, “Not long ago, gays were pariahs. We had no real political power, only the force of our arguments. In a society where free exchange is the rule, that was enough. We had the coercive power of truth.”

The integrity of higher education, too, rests on the uncompromising protection of the powerful truth that those who struggle for minority rights know so well.

Michael Poliakoff is president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.

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LA Community College District Settles Free Speech Case

The Los Angeles Community College District settled a free speech lawsuit with Pierce College student Kevin Shaw, the Los Angeles Daily News reported. Shaw sued the district after he was reprimanded for passing out Spanish-language copies of the U.S. Constitution to recruit new members to Young Americans for Liberty, a libertarian student organization. Shaw had been distributing the pocket Constitutions outside Pierce College’s “free speech zone” and without university permission. As part of the settlement, the district agreed to enlarge the free speech zone at Pierce College -- which at the time was the size of about three parking spaces -- and ensure that the other eight colleges in the district have similar free speech protections.

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LIU students want apology after 'berating' of editor

LIU Post student government association demands that President Kimberly Cline and the other officials publicly apologize for berating a co-editor of the student newspaper for its coverage of anonymous pamphlets targeting Cline and others.

Columbia students boot comedian off stage, citing offensive jokes

Students at Columbia University interrupted routine of former Saturday Night Live writer they invited to perform at a cultural event after deeming his jokes too offensive.

New policies, student groups change the culture of free speech at Berkeley

More than a year after Milo Yiannopoulos's talk at the university attracted violent protest, the university sees a different style of political engagements on campus -- actual discussions across ideological divides.

Students Refuse to Cease and Desist Using Bear Image

The University of California, Los Angeles, asked a student Palestinian-rights group to remove UCLA's name and references to the university's Bruin Bear mascot from its promotional materials. The students are pushing back.

A logo for Students for Justice in Palestine's upcoming conference depicts a bear with a Palestinian kite, which, the university claimed in its cease-and-desist letter, "some may interpret as an intention to endorse violence." The university also requested that the group remove any mention of UCLA except to state where the conference will be held.

"Taken as a whole, these uses claim, suggest, or imply an affiliation with or an endorsement by UCLA of [National Students for Justice in Palestine] and/or its annual conference which is simply incorrect," the letter read.

The students, in conjunction with the ACLU of Southern California and Palestine Legal, issued a statement in response.

“We condemn attempts by UCLA administration to taint imagery that is grounded in freedom and liberation. Moreover, we reject UCLA’s attempt to infringe on our right to associate a bear (which is not trademarked) and a kite -- a children's toy -- with justice for the Palestinian people,” the statement read in part. “The stated demands are ridiculous, and we will continue to use both design elements.”

The ACLU of Southern California and Palestine Legal sent an additional letter to university officials and requested a response from them by Nov. 9 that confirms they will not take legal action against the students.

Tod Tamberg, a university spokesman, said that the students had complied with the university's request to remove "UCLA" from the conference logo.

"Some members of the Jewish community have been sharply critical of upcoming conference, demanding that UCLA move to cancel it. As a public university, UCLA is legally bound to comply with the First Amendment, which protects everyone’s right to express their views, even those that are offensive and hateful or that the university opposes," Tamberg wrote in an email. "Use of campus facilities by a registered student organization to host an event neither constitutes nor implies UCLA’s endorsement of the event, the speakers or the views expressed."

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UW-La Crosse Invites Former Porn Performer

The University of Wisconsin at La Crosse invited Nina Hartley, a former pornographic actress, to speak on campus last week about sexuality and adult media, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported.

About 70 students attended Hartley’s talk, which Joe Gow, university chancellor, described as “essential, and gets to the heart of free expression.” Hartley spoke on campus the week following Free Speech Week, a series of events dedicated to highlighting a new UW System policy that protects free expression.

The university paid Hartley $5,000 from the chancellor’s discretionary funds, made up of interest earned on revenue from auxiliary services including dining services, parking fees and residence halls. Taxpayer dollars did not contribute to Hartley’s speaker fee.

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Seton Hall students occupied administration building in quest for institutional change

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Protests lead to meetings, a scuffle between a student and professor, and a relocation of the president's office.

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