There's No Free Speech Crisis on Campus, So Please Shut Up About It

Comments

1
Can't wait til UW President Ana Mari Cauce picks up a wine bottle and tackles this one with another incoherent blog post full of hand-wringing about the lack of civics among her students and a half-assed attempt to drag her brother's moldering corpse back into the spotlight to use him as a bludgeon against leftists on campus.
2
Asking if people support free speech is like asking is they support murder being illegal. Everyone is fine with the idea of free speech.

The real question is how the individual defines free speech.

The extreme left wants to classify any speech or idea they don't agree with as "hate speech," and the extreme right more or less want to shrink the definition of "hate speech" to only things Hitler said. The actual debate is there, not if the ideal itself is justified.
3
Hmmm, the right complains the colleges are too liberal and the left (including this article) complains colleges are under attack by conservatives by donating money to education. Yep, nothing has changed, nothing to see here.
4
While it's never ok to assault someone unless you're being assaulted already, shouting down other people isn't illegal. Sure it might not advance your cause very well, but it's still legal. If someone wants to ensure they won't be shouted down, then hold a private event and hire security.
5
Sigh. New issue is neither new nor an issue: http://tinyurl.com/ybx2mzs6. Note original pub date. Americans want their team to win. They really don't care about the rules of the game.
6
"even liberal ones!—support free speech, though minorities, women, and Democrats say they're more open to some restrictions on speech for the sake of promoting a more inclusive society."

"Restrictions" oh you know, just this one little restriction on free speech because you know, it's for the children or what ever. Next year they'll place another restriction on free speech because we want it to be free for all.

1984 double speak.
7
@6 - if you're going to counter empirical data with anecdote, at least provide the anecdote.
8
@6:

So, how did things work out the last time you shouted "fire!" in a crowded theatre?
9
But there really is an "appropriate" speech crisis for those mush-minded students whose delicate sensibilities don't pair well with thoughts that have been deemed as too dangerous for them to hear by the social justice warriors and the elite inteligencia.

For example, hearing a commence speech from our former Secretary of State at Rutgers University.
10
This is just another phony, dumFux Nooz fauxtroversy ginned up by pathetic, inadequate, white male failures as a smokescreen for their hateful, racist, sexist stupidity that disgusts decent people.

Swipe left.
11
@7&8. The empirical data has been leaning towards free speech being less valued by today’s students for years.

You cunts have just been sticking your fingers in your ears until a study came along that skewed in your direction.

Good job.
12
"Shut up about Free Speech" so perfectly sums up the current state of things that I suspect the author may be trolling us. We are shown one single data point -- on one survey, when asked about Free Speech in general terms, a narrow majority of respondents supported it. So why worry?

Well, one reason someone might continue to worry would be that once respondents were presented with specific cases, support fell considerably. Like the author's snide little just-askin question about why we should respect the free speech rights of "nutty professors," it betrays a failure to grasp what free speech means. Put simply: A right that you don't have to respect isn't a right. If you get to pick and choose who gets to speak and who doesn't, that's exactly what free speech isn't.

Another reason someone might worry about speech on campus? Those adjunct professors you mention, the ones that are increasingly doing most of the teaching? Can be let go at any moment simply by not renewing their contract for another quarter. And every one of them is required to hand out student surveys at the end of the quarter. They are keenly aware that it just takes one student phrasing their objections to subject matter taught in class as "the ideas expressed in class made me feel unsafe" and they will be out of a job. This chilling effect is hard to measure, but it's real.

This also highlights another issue: Even if the majority of people do support the idea of free speech, a relatively small number of people who don't can decide the issue for everybody. This is ultimately what no-platforming is: deciding for other people what they should be allowed to hear. The idea that the public has to be protected from certain offensive ideas is currently quite popular.

But then again, it always has been. The "fire in a crowded theater" line that Comte quotes above has its origins in Oliver Wendell Holmes' opinion on U.S. v. Schenck, a case where the court was ruling on whether Charles Schenck, the Secretary of the Socialist Party of America, could be convicted under the Espionage Act for writing and distributing a pamphlet that expressed opposition to the draft during World War I. The pamphlet did not call for violence or for civil disobedience. And yet the court did rule in favor of prosecuting Schenck, opening the floodgates for a period of prosecuting labor organizers, socialists, and anti-war activists. The principle enshrined in Schenck was not overturned until Brandenburg v Ohio in 1969 ruled that even speech that advocates violence is protected unless it "is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action."

Whether the current vogue for no-platforming and for characterizing offensive speech as indistinguishable from physical violence amounts to a crisis is debatable. The author would prefer everybody shut up and stop debating it.
13
It's not a single data point and it didn't just come along, it's a longitudinal survey that dates back to the 1970s, and it finds that everyone is generally more supportive of free speech today than they were in the past, with a few exceptions around the margins. Here is the original report: http://jmrphy.net/blog/2018/02/16/who-is…

The takeaway shouldn't be that everyone supports free speech, but that there is no evidence to support the hypothesis that support for free speech is declining, despite what the paid opinion-havers who have staked their careers on this notion would like you to believe.
14
There is a free speech crisis on campus.

The problem isn't the ideas that controversial speakers are spreading, it's the cost of maintaining Public Safety during these events.

Colleges and universities around the country have seen their funding shrink, and more and more of the cost of providing education are being picked up by the students.
The cost of extra security at these events is eventually going to be picked up by the students, and that's an extra expense very few college students are going to be able to afford.

This problem isn't limited to colleges and universities. Small communities around the country face the same issue, but in those cases the security costs are picked up by the taxpayers.

The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, it is not a guarantee that the government will pay to protect speakers.
If a controversial speaker is unwilling or unable to pay for security at their event, they should not be allowed to hold that event in a public space.

It's freedom of speech, not free speech.
There is a difference.
15
Actually Rich the numbers you have don’t show what you are stating they show. People believing in free speech on campus is not the same thing as people acting to shut down free speech on campus. If 90% of students believes in free speech on campus but the number of acts to shut down/distrupt free speech has grown, then its a problem.

What you did is similar to saying “hey the amount of people who believe climate change is real is really high, so there’s no problem here”.

Belief is different than action. Show some stats on how actions to stop/distrupt free speech has gone down then you got a point. Until then you’re just making the data fit your ideology.
16
Most Americans say in surveys they support gun control measures. Does that mean we should just shut up already about the gun issues that need to to be addressed? Most Americans say in polls they support at least some form of access to legal abortion services. Does that mean we should just shut up about protecting reproductive rights? Most Americans say they favor gay marriage and equal rights for homosexuals. Does that mean we should just shut up about actual ongoing threatened desires for discrimination? I'm a lefty, too, but one honest enough to admit that we have seen threats to speech, assembly, press and petitioning for grievance come under serious questioning by some on the left. And we even have seen some of this enforced by the State via public universities and high schools. Just as with the three issues I've already mentioned – and numerous others we could cite – it's too glib to short-circuit discussion and questioning by saying "sure, there are some people on the Left who want to trade off freedom for security, but really everybody's pretty well on board in this study, so quit fretting about your First Amendment rights." That sounds too close to the sort of populist wingnut rationalization that causes so much damage in this and other areas. Why are people so afraid to call out proposed citizenship restrictions for what they are when they come from some quarters?
17
Telling a person to shut up is not a violation of free speech. Large groups of people waving signs telling others to shut up is likewise not a violation of free speech. Even if it's black students telling a racist teacher to shut up. The free speech crisis actors don't seem to understand that concept. It's also ironic that they support a muslim ban, despite that actually violating the first amendmen.
18
@17: I could not agree more. That's a robust and, even if sometimes heated, healthy application of speech rights used to respond to other speech rights. And if it began and ended there, I very much doubt there would even be a need for such a story as this one. I think what some people object to is when words or symbols or speaking engagements are policed or even outright banned. We should be wary of the State weighing in with its thumbs on the scales on any side when it comes to Constitutional rights. That hasn't worked out well in the past for anyone, especially those who need their voices to be heard on issues of equal treatment and civil rights. Again, I don't know why some folks can't understand that one can balance respect, support and action for the demands of oppressed classes of people with a full-throated defense of democratic rights – rights, for all their faults by the way, that have made and continue to make it possible for oppressed classes of people to be heard, to organize, to assemble, to argue and fight for justice. And by way of apology, I seem to have succumbed to wordiness as a new poster here. I'll try hard to do better.
19
@17 scream in classes/lectures to tue point where they cancel the class is a problem, punching teachers and speakers is a problem, punching photographers and reporters is a problem. Having a teacher told his safety can’t be guanteed on campus is a problem.

All the problems Rich listed are horrible problems tha need attention and addressing. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the violence being used to shit sown discussions on campus.
20
No Rich,
YOU SHUT UP.

I'll be starting a change.gov petition to have you fired from The Stranger and any other publication you write for. Have fun back on livejournal, asshole.
21
@20:

Oh gawd, I HOPE you're being facetious, otherwise - AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
22
All these surveys show is that lefties are hypocrites.

But we knew that already - that's how tribalism works.
23
@blip: there is no evidence to support the hypothesis that support for free speech is declining

No evidence except the violent protests, threats to fire faculty, doxing, physically blocking people from attending speeches, trying to ban speakers, policing people's Halloween costumes and hairstyles, and setting up hotlines to report professors who stray from the party line.
24
@Urgutha Fork: shouting down other people isn't illegal

Free speech is not just a legal issue, it's a civics issue. There are countless ways for governments and political factions to legally suppress free speech, and the effect is exactly the same as if they used illegal tactics.

By analogy, if the government suddenly imposed a $100k fee on everyone who gets an abortion, that's still a HUGE problem for abortion rights, even if abortion remains legal.
25
i stand corrected this empirical survey dating back 40+ years is garbage and everyone's pre-existing beliefs about the directionality of public support for free speech is actually the truth and we are descending into an authoritarian dystopia where people are thrown into thought-prison for wearing blackface on halloween because the freedom to be offended and speak out about it is the actual threat to free speech, somehow

i read that somewhere on the internet so it must be true
26
(also the abortion analogy to shouting protesters would be anti-abortion protesters shouting at women going into clinics,which is something that already happens literally every single day in this country and has been ruled constitutionally protected speech in the courts)
27
Talk about a disingenuous article. Why don't you show the part of the data from the same servey that contradicts what you showed? you know, the part that shows that 63% would restrict offensive or stereotypical costumes, 69% would restrict offensive speech towards certain groups, and 27% would restrict political views that are upsetting or offensive to certain groups. Yeah, they all approve of free speech, as long as it doesn't offend them or some group... that means they don't really support free speech.
28
@25 are people are really saying the study is wrong? I think the main point is we believe people say they support free speech more than the did in the past, but the small group that doesn’t has gotten more vocal and more violent.

If we went from 20% of the population believing in free speech to 90% buy at the same time went from 1% of people believing violence is justified to prevent disagreeable speech to 5%, then yes there still is a problem. Now i just pulled those numbers out of my ass, but my point is the study only does the first part, it doesn’t say anything about how extreme those who don’t believe in free speech have or haven’t become.
29
@25: Whatever the study says certainly adds some needed context to this complex and challenging issue, but it is not the end of a discussion. It's not a question of the study being thought "wrong" or intentionally misunderstood. That study simply is not fully relevant to the kernel of the issue, which is whether or not there are credible threats to free speech, regardless of what a majority may think. Are speaker disinvitations not really occurring? Are there not lists of words or symbols or actions that bring sanctions – including possible expulsion – at some colleges? Are curricula not being vetted against concerns over triggering or "othering"? I know a number of public high school and university educators. My son recently wrapped up his undergrad degree. Even if I would ignore media reports as hyperbolic, unless a lot of people who I know personally – people all on the left by the way, not alt-right blowhards – are having simultaneous fever dreams, there are potential and already-existing threats to free speech. The real debate therefore is whether we feel we can justify them or not, not whether they're happening. And it would be intellectually lazy as well as poor citizenship to allow a study showing even majority support for free speech to replace thinking hard and honestly about all of the issues on the table right now.
30
This is so dishonest. Its not just Milo & Richard Spencer. It's Bret Weinstein & Heather Heying (did you see the latest video from Portland?), it's Christina Hoff-Summers, Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, etc. The truth is that when a clown like Richard Spencer speaks, so few take him seriously that he's not really a threat. However the others are legit intellectuals, and they expose the folly of this SJW nonsense.
31
I'm just gonna quote, verbatim, one of the brilliant regular commentators on this here Slog.

Take it away, Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn:

"We do not have free speech. We have a vast, complicated system of controls on speech. Copyright. Trademark. Trade secrets. Government secrets. Personal information. Libel. Slander. Medical advice. Legal advice. Lawyer client privilege. Doctor patient privilege. Limits on broadcasting: how many watts, what frequency, seven words you can't say, what time of day you can say it. All manner of gag orders. 

This is only off the top of my head. With some homework the number of ways the freedom of speech and the press is limited, even though it "shall not be infringed period" goes on and on. 

But here comes a white Christian radicalizing the next Dylan Roof or Timothy McVeigh, and *then* all of a sudden freedom of speech is a radical absolute. We think nothing of jailing people for printing images of Mickey Mouse, but the "right" of Nazis to spread terror is sacred? 

Don't tell me censorship is some foreign practice you can't tolerate. You live comfortably with censorship every day, and you like it. Censorship is normal and healthy. Be a grown up about that simple fact.

If we can contort ourselves around the black arts of copyright and fair use laws without crushing freedom, we are capable of telling the ethnic cleansers and terrorist apologists to shut the fuck up, while still having a vibrant body politic.

And this is not a hypothetical claim. Look around at dozens of advanced democracies across the globe. They do it every day and it works".

32
@21 I find it deeply disturbing that you wondered for even a second
33
@31: What might seem profound to some can seem overgeneralized, reductive or even specious to others. For example, here:

1- Since we've already compromised some rights for whatever reasons, the post you quote is saying, we really shouldn't be too concerned with further compromising any rights that remain. And it does this without fully explicating a positive argument for doing so. I sure missed that claim in every history/political science/philosophy/journalism/civics class; in Z, the Progressive, Harper's, the Baffler, Adbusters, et al and nearly every mainstream newspaper and yes, even in the Stranger; in the works of Voltaire, John Stuart Mill, Clarence Darrow, Eugene Debs, Kurt Vonnegut; in the comedy of George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, Richard Prior, John Stewart...In other words, there’s a lot of dissent toward your read of things that goes back for quite a long time.

2- Not all of these restrictions apply to individual First Amendment speech rights directly (libel is press, for just one example) or even always indirectly (copyright and trade are clauses in the Articles that sometimes intersect with speech but are also subject to differing interpretations and enforcements). To lump them together as if they are all only speech issues overgeneralizes the nuance of applicable laws and rulings. For example, I am allowed to speak about the Oscars, the Super Bowl or Mickey Mouse to my heart’s content; I just can’t appropriate them in certain other contexts, especially for profit or other direct personal gain. Since we’re talking about only free speech here, distinctions matter greatly.

3- Just because you can cite a list of lesser or greater restrictions doesn't mean that everyone just lies down and accepts or endorses them (ACLU fights some of these, press trade organizations others, advocacy groups others, radical politicians others, private citizens others, etc.) The assertion that accepting censorship is "grown up" behavior would come or would have come as a huge surprise to Eugene Debs, Noam Chomsky, Ida B. Wells, Nat Hentoff, the NYT in the Pentagon Papers case, Crystal Eastman, Ralph Nader, I.F. Stone and on and on and far on. Denying your peculiar definition of maturity is a long legal and cultural tradition in America.

4- The list of exceptions to "free speech" presented here themselves have serious exceptions (whistleblower laws, fair use doctrine, the rejections of prior restraint) carved out expressly to encourage and protect speech; so they are not absolute bans, as implied in the post, nor are they accepted as absolutes by individual citizens or even always by courts, lawyers and all governmental leaders. I would argue that being “grown up” actually means being able to detect, comprehend, incorporate and enact such vital distinctions.

5- Furthermore, not all but much of the remainder of what is on the list of your examples of speech restrictions apply only in very narrow senses (health care, slander, public airwave technologies) usually attempting to weigh privacy rights or creative rights against the larger social good. Little to none of it is designed to suppress political speech or individual expression. Misusing a beneficial if admittedly restricting principle (privacy, commercial) out of context to ban a wider array of speech (political, social, cultural) where no privacy or property concerns attach is disingenuous.

6- And speak for yourself, don't project: we don't all like censorship and we don't all think it's normal and healthy. What a strangely reductive and reactionary attitude. And every flavor of censorship is not as strong as every other. We have free speech rights, in part, in order to explore those gradations, not to simply line up and be told to accept them without question or cause.

7- There already legally are such concepts as fighting words, imminent lawless action and hate speech, to name some relevant ones here, and we have addressed these via legislation. Despite the picture you try to paint here, we cannot legally use speech to urge direct action on crimes, including but not limited to your emphasis of ethnic cleansing and terrorism. But we are allowed to discuss all aspects of those topics otherwise, whether you like it or not. We allow white supremacists or fundamentalist religions to hold such discussions just as we allow the Southern Poverty Law Center or Amnesty International to do so. It may seem too contradictory to some, but each right of expression upholds the other.

8- How many foreign democracies that practice serious restraints on free speech and “function well” exist under First Amendment-style guarantees? We have agreed to abide by the articles and amendments of the U.S. Constitution, and we try to or do change them when they are too unfair or unbalanced. But where overseas censorship practices do exist, show me that citizens don't challenge, violate or otherwise bristle at such restrictions. (I can tell you that in dozens of other non-democratic countries the argument to lovingly embrace censorship would be well received, at least by the rich and powerful.)

Yes, speech rights, as with all rights, are not limitless. But do you think there are many to whom that is not a clear concept? We understand that it’s a balancing act intended to protect some semblance of human rights and freedom within a society and culture, but it is certainly not an open invitation to further erode them and just “shut the fuck up.”
34
@33 whole lotta words to defend genocidal freaks
35
@34 How would you know what the 'whole lotta words' say? You clearly didn't read them.
36
The category of "Hate Speech" is il-defined. It's not a legal term, with a solid definition. Before we can actually have this conversation, we would need a solid definition of it-- especially if we want to enact legislation to restrict speech based on it's quality of being "hate."

Right now, just bringing up topics from a right, or traditionalist perspective is interepreted as hate by the left. Speech which contains no hateful remarks, but argues that, for instance, race is real or IQ is related to human biological diversity, is labeled as hate. Even though these are neutral statements concerning facts and statstics, and not calling for acts of hatred or expressing hatred on the part of the speaker, they are labled as hate speech.
37
What a deceptive article.
Here's a list of 371 disinvitation & deplatforming incidents from 2000 onward:
https://www.thefire.org/resources/disinv…

What's cool about this database is that it highlights ideologues from all sides of the political spectrum who've shut down or attempted to shut down campus speaking events.
I don't think your posturing article is rooted in a reasonable reality. But that's okay because this is The Stranger after all.