Free Speech And Universities

We are fans of free speech.  Recently, we were less enthusiastic than Ann Althouse about UW-Madison’s robust defense of free speech she reported on December 21 because we thought we could predict the situations in which universities would defend free speech.  We think the data that Ann has compiled in an astonishingly short period of time is consistent with out theory.

The robust defense of free speech was posted on Wednesday.  On Friday she reports that one group at the same school, UW-Madison, is trying to silence the Young Americans For Freedom (YAF) and she wisely says:

Maybe the Student Coalition for Progress should be invited into some intensive freedom of speech training.

She is absolutely right again.  Unfortunately, there appears to be no comment from the previously robust defenders of free speech.  Of course, the YAF is a right wing group.

Again on Wednesday, Ann and then on Monday Eugene Volokh report on earlier events at the University of Oregon law school.  A white female law prof dressed up as a black male physician at a Halloween soiree that included students at her house.   Eugene gives extensive analysis.  Here is part of it:

Last week, the University of Oregon made clear to its faculty: If you say things about race, sexual orientation, sex, religion and so on that enough people find offensive, you could get suspended (and, following the logic of the analysis) even fired. This can happen even to tenured faculty members; even more clearly, it can happen to anyone else. It’s not limited to personal insults. It’s not limited to deliberate racism or bigotry.

This time it involved someone making herself up as a black man at a costume party (as it happens, doing so in order to try to send an antiracist message).

Ann is right: “What sad, timid people!”  That’s how life is at the university.  There are many attempts at intimidation and often they are successful.

Sidebar One: There seems to be no problem at Oregon with the female professor dressing as a man.  End Sidebar One.
Sidebar Two: We have often commented on how bias at the university hurts funding.  Eugene seems more hopeful:
For a long time, universities have argued that the public has to tolerate the views of professors, even when those views sharply depart from established moral and political orthodoxy, and even when the views create offense and upset (which indirectly often create disruption). That’s how universities have tried to maintain public support, including financial support from legislators [unsuccessfully in our opinion] and from donors[more mixed results here], in the face of such offensive professor views.
We are not convinced that the university has won the argument.  We see this as the cause of the funding problems.  We suggest that universities use more speech to reduce the funding problems.  End Sidebar Two.
Eugene agrees with Ann and us.  In discussing Oregon’s attempt to square its policy with free speech he says:

Lovely sentiments [about free speech]! But what do they mean? Nothing, when it comes to speech that the university labels “harassment” — which, recall, is apparently any speech that is seen as offensive based on race, religion, sexual orientation, sex, gender identity, and so on, and creates enough of a furor.

It takes less than a week to catalogue the problems of speech at the university.  Again, more speech should be the solution when concerns about free speech come up.  The problem is that the university will almost always defend speech from the Left and rarely defends speech from the right.  It puts faculty members in a bad light because we are shown to have no principles.  We can and should do better in promoting free speech.




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