The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Free Speech

Yesterday of group of left-wing "anti-fascists" rioted at UC Berkeley, rather than allowing an conservative Breitbart editor, Milo Yiannopoulos, to speak on campus. NPR reports:
In a statement, the university said: "The violence was instigated by a group of about 150 masked agitators who came onto campus and interrupted an otherwise non-violent protest."

It said that at the time more than 1,500 protesters were gathered outside the event.

A university should be a place where free speech and free inquiry reigns, where speakers can present ideas without being intimidated or shouted down, where administrators cannot summarily disinvite speakers because their views are arbitrarily considered offensive by a small number of students, where an arbitrary speech code that defines accepted terminology is shunned, where active and robust debate is encouraged. That is not what exists in the modern university setting. At school after school, Leftist thought police (in the form of student groups and many activist professors have succeeded in controlling the ideas that are espoused on campus. Anyone who disagrees with their totalitarian mindset is branded a racist, a bigot, a misogynist, or any of the other epithets that substitute for intelligent debate among the Left.

The Goldwater Institute—a conservative think tank—takes a number of positions I disagree with, but it has produced a worthwhile white paper that suggests model legislation to help change the totalitarian political atmosphere that pervades many American colleges and universities. They write:
In order to protect the increasingly imperiled principle and practice of campus free speech, this brief offers model legislation designed to ensure free expression at America’s public university systems. It is hoped that public debate over these legislative proposals will strengthen freedom of speech at private colleges and universities as well. The key provisions in this model legislation are inspired by three classic defenses of campus free speech: Yale’s 1974 Woodward Report, The University of Chicago’s 1967 Kalven Report, and the University of Chicago’s 2015 Stone Report.

The model legislation presented and explained in this brief does several things:
  • It creates an official university policy that strongly affirms the importance of free expression, nullifying any existing restrictive speech codes in the process.
  • It prevents administrators from disinviting speakers, no matter how controversial, whom members of the campus community wish to hear from.
  • It establishes a system of disciplinary sanctions for students and anyone else who interferes with the free-speech rights of others.
  • It allows persons whose free-speech rights have been improperly infringed by the university to recover court costs and attorney’s fees.
  • It reaffirms the principle that universities, at the official institutional level, ought to remain neutral on issues of public controversy to encourage the widest possible range of opinion and dialogue within the university itself.
  • It ensures that students will be informed of the official policy on free expression.
  • It authorizes a special subcommittee of the university board of trustees to issue a yearly report to the public, the trustees, the governor, and the legislature on the administrative handling of free-speech issues.
Taken together, these provisions create a system of interlocking incentives designed to encourage students and administrators to respect and protect the free expression of others.
In general, I am against federal legislation of this type. However, if a college or university accepts federal taxpayer funding (and almost all do) it would appear reasonable that the institution establish some basic protections for free speech, if it still wants to avail itself of such funding. If it feels that "safe spaces" and restrictive speech codes are more important, that's fine. But it then forfeits its right to be supported in part by the taxpayer.