Over the past several years, in examples like the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris, there has been no shortage of righteous indignation in this country by people who are quick to champion those who satirize or condemn the views and religion of Islamists in places like France and Denmark. But most of these same people seem to forget that if these people had made an attempt to publish the same satire in almost any prominent American university publication or campus newspaper, it would have immediately been brought down under accusations of hate speech by administrators, faculty, and students. The dirty little secret fact is that the citadel of intolerance of free speech is in the upper reaches of higher education in America. And this extends most prominently to the shouting down or forced “disinvitation” of campus speakers who are not acceptable to the leftist point of view.
To be fair, there is a fine line here between standards of civility and respect for all views and the maintenance of proper decorum and order. But finely tuned legalistic guidelines that turn out to be codes attempting to define hate speech are nothing more than lightly veiled and often ham-handed censorship of speech, and this approach is doing more harm than good.
So it is refreshing to note that in 2015 the University of Chicago released its “Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression” drafted by a group of professors led by law professor Geoffrey Stone appointed by the University’s President and Provost. Here is an excerpt:
The University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments, not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose……………..To this end, the University has a solemn responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it.
Good for Chicago in their leadership. And good for the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), which has now followed up on Chicago’s leadership by conducting a nationwide campaign among university trustees and alumni to have this resolution adopted broadly throughout the higher education community. Let’s hope that this resolution will be widely adopted and strictly enforced. As for accountability for those institutions whose leaders don’t adhere to these principles, particularly those that are public, how about denying federal and state funding to those who restrict freedom of speech through “speech codes” and other obstructions to free exchange?