The Fight For Free Speech: University of Chicago Leads Counter-Movement Against Speech Regulation

Unknown-2Below is my column on free speech on college campuses and the courageous decision of the University of Chicago to reject “safe spaces” and speech regulation.  We are facing a growing movement to curtail free speech on campuses.  Conservatives rightfully complain that they are being silenced as hecklers bar speakers and administrators punish unpopular speech. The forced silence of students and faculty will be the death knell for American higher education.  Too many faculty are unwilling to speak against these measures in fear that they will be labeled racist or micro aggressors.  Others like University of Chicago Professor Eric Posner have readily embraced speech regulations by belittling college students as just impressionable children.

They think universities are treating students like children. And they are right. But they have also not considered that the justification for these policies may lie hidden in plain sight: that students are children. Not in terms of age, but in terms of maturity. Even in college, they must be protected like children while being prepared to be adults.

So now people who are adults legally will be dismissed as children to justify the imposition of speech codes where faculty dictate what is acceptable or unacceptable viewpoints.  It is incumbent upon the rest of us to fight the rising tide of speech regulation and intolerance. To that end, every faculty senate should consider replicating the letter of the University of Chicago to its incoming class, as discussed in the column below.

The University of Chicago last week promised incoming students something that is increasingly rare in the United States: an unfettered and uncensored education. While most schools are actively curtailing free speech, its letter warned the students that they will not be protected against ideas or given “safe spaces.” Instead, they will be educated in an open and free environment where they will be challenged by a range of different views — ideas that will at times thrill and at times outrage them.

Where a campus was once viewed as a free-speech zone by definition, many schools now designate isolated spaces for free speech while guaranteeing students “safety zones” to protect them against opposing views.

When I attended the University of Chicago in the 1980s, I found myself in the midst of an intellectually vibrant community with a cacophony of voices, from Trotskyites to black nationalists to radical feminists to creationists. Then-President Hanna Gray told us that “education should not be intended to make people comfortable; it is meant to make them think.” And it did. Students thought a lot about where they fit in this world of ideas.

Tragically, fewer and fewer students will experience such an awakening today as officials impose de facto speech codes. These ambiguous codes often define prohibited speech by how it is received by others — allowing the most sensitive or vocal members to define the permissible speech on campus. For example, the University of North Dakota bans student speech that “feels offensive” or “demeaning.” Many schools are also embracing the ill-defined notion of “microaggressions” — speech considered “negative” or “reinforcing” stereotypes. For example, saying that America is “the land of opportunity” is considered a microaggression at North Carolina State University, while “melting pot” is deemed such a violation at Berkeley.

Schools are increasingly yielding to the “heckler’s veto” where protesters routinely stop people from speaking if they disagree with what they are saying. Just a few miles north of the University of Chicago, DePaul University allowed a handful of students to shut down conservative speaker Milo Yiannopoulos in May as school security just stood by. Recently, the school canceled another conservative speaker to avoid protests.

The students of the 1960s who fought the “establishment” have now become faculty members playing the role of censors — choosing arbitrarily between permitted and prohibited speech:

• At Dartmouth, Black Lives Matter protesters burst into the Baker-Berry Library and prevented students from studying or even leaving as some screamed racial epithets: “F–k you, you filthy white f–ks!” “F–k you and your comfort!” and “F–k you, you racist shits!” Vice Provost for Student Affairs Inge-Lise Ameer actually apologized to the protesters for all the negative comments directed at their conduct.

• A columnist at Berkeley wrote about “white devils,” students living off-campus at Claremont said they were looking for a roommate “of color,” and the University of Connecticut set up a living space designed to be supportive of black male students. Resident advisers at the State University of New York even created a course entitled “Stop White People,” and weren’t disciplined. Yet Rohini Sethi, Houston University’s student body vice president, was suspended for posting her view that “all lives matter” on social media. And Georgia Southern University student Emily Faz was the target of stalking and death threats after criticizing Black Lives Matter on Facebook; she had to take time off from her job to protect her co-workers.

• Tulane students tore down a “Trump wall” at a fraternity off campus without any sanction, but when someone wrote “Trump” on sidewalks in chalk, Emory issued a long letter commiserating with the students who were offended by the supposed intimidation.

• Boston University sociology professor Saida Grundy posted a series of racist screeds against white people but retained her job. Memphis professor Zandria Robinson was hired by Rhodes College after denouncing whites and insisting that “whiteness is most certainly and inevitably terror.” There is little doubt what would have happened to a professor who said the inverse of such statements about minorities.

Even criminal acts can be excused in the name of progressive causes. Mireille Miller-Young, a feminist studies associate professor at the University of California, led students in attacking pro-life demonstrators and tearing up their display. The faculty overwhelmingly supported Young, who retained her job even after being convicted of criminal assault.

I have discussed this with many faculty and students who are fearful to speak up. No one wants to be declared a microaggressor or sent to sensitivity training.

Where students once suffered from the fear of public speaking (glossophobia), they are now taught to fear public speakers. We are raising a generation of speechphobic, hypersensitive citizens. Students forced Clemson to apologize for their Mexican food night, Dartmouth students forced the cancellation of a Kentucky Derby celebration, Oberlin students opposed the serving of sushi, Ottawa students forced the suspension of yoga classes, and Bowdoin students pushed to sanction student government officers who attended a “fiesta” (thrown by a Latino student) where people wore sombreros. All were denounced as microaggressions or “cultural appropriations.”

There is an alternative stated in the U-Chicago letter: “Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called trigger warnings, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”

There is a word for that. It is “education.”

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors.

33 thoughts on “The Fight For Free Speech: University of Chicago Leads Counter-Movement Against Speech Regulation”

  1. The American Library Association defines Intellectual liberty as the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause, or movement may be explored.

    The extent to which that is lost for whatever the rationale may be at any moment in time is also the extent to which a society becomes less liberating and its members less liberated for the remainder of their time.

  2. Free speech. The premise begins here with those two words. Not: “Counter movement against speech regulation.”

    This is all about mental illness and the inability to analyze mental illness and treat it accordingly.

    “Students” are “hurt” by insults or people talking about issues that matter? Hurt? Lock em up and throw away the key,.

  3. As a gay man who was severely discriminated against at my secular university on the basis of my sexual orientation (subjected to lie detector tests about my sexuality from a recruiter and threatened with loss of interviewing privileges when I walked out) I don’t support safe spaces at federally funded universities. I think the remedy for odious speech is more speech.

    However, if it’s wrong for a private secular university to establish safe spaces, how is it right for religious universities to ban gays all together while the receive federal funding.

    If you’re going to ban safe spaces (a good idea), then eliminate ALL TITLE IX exemptions.

  4. @Gary T

    Actually it was $100,000 the students had to pay for extra security –which Milo paid for. The disruption of the event at DePaul resulted in the president resigning and the monies were returned as well. This debacle served as a warning to other universities although to my knowledge only U of Chicago has had the guts to truly stand up to SJWs. I think more will follow suit. More and more people are tired of extremism and shutting down free speech.

    1. So why doesn’t Milo bring his own security? A couple of beefy guys and a big bruiser bull dyke could have tossed those two mutts out of there in minutes. Instead he pays $100,000 for some rent-a-guards who don’t care and don’t want to get involved? Ridiculous. I wouldn’t waste my time or money going to see someone who has so little regard for keeping his own show on time and on point.

  5. Perhaps control of speech is not enough, controlling facial expressions of mascots is next.

    ” A University of Iowa professor is asking the athletics department to make the university’s mascot, Herky the Hawk, display friendlier facial expressions, arguing that his angry grimace is traumatizing students.

    “I believe incoming students should be met with welcoming, nurturing, calm, accepting and happy messages,” Resmiye Oral, a clinical professor of pediatrics, wrote”

    ” “As we strive to tackle depression, suicide, violence, and behavioral challenges and help our students succeed, I plead with you to allow Herky to be like one of us, sometimes sad, sometimes happy, sometimes angry, sometimes concentrated,” Ms. Oral wrote.”

    Somehow, I just don’t think Herky getting a 😯 or a 😀 emoji head will work on the gridiron.

  6. On the Milo event:

    The disruption was obviously very effective.
    Pivotal was the girl grabbing one of the mics and gaining on-par status in the audio.
    Then of course the thing that totally enabled them, was the police and security that charged an additional $1000 to provide for that security who did absolutely nothing to stop them (I wonder what kind of sanctions if any occurred).
    Then, when Milo took the initiative and attempted to continue the presentation in the middle of the hall instead of the stage, said obstructor then grabbed the mic on the podium and totally over-talked anything that Milo tried to say.
    That the cops refused to make any arrest or otherwise stop them, is very telling.
    I wonder what would happen if another event occurred that was SJW inspired, and someone walked onstage from the Trump camp to disrupt the show.

    1. the event organizers or whomever paid that $1,000 for security ought to demand a full refund and an apology,.

    2. I watched the clip. There was an entire room full of “men” who allowed one guy and a scrawny girl to disrupt their event. They could have physically thrown them out the door, but chose to do nothing but be gutless victims. No sympathy from me.

  7. Let’s see how long the University of Chicago’s policy stands once it’s challenged by some group or individuals who demands trigger warnings and safe spaces. Something tells me that the U of C, for all its good intentions, will cave once pressured.

    1. No it won’t “cave”. The nit wits will wither. It is time for free speech and free expression to take hold. It is a choice, not an echo.

  8. I wish both the “All Lives Matter” and “Black Lives Matter” activists would join the peace movement. Unfortunately a lot more folks think that killing people by bombing cities is the solution to the world’s problems.

  9. When these ‘students’ graduate, I wonder just what their education will offer any private sector employer. I can just hear the interview now as Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. HR asks Mr. or Mrs., or Ms. questions about their college education.
    HR: What were some of your most difficult classes?
    Grad: Oh, oh,,, duh,,, lemme se now, OH!, that was the time I went to the student center and disrupted activities for a whole afternoon. Whewww, really tiring, but we showed dem racist white MF’s who we are.
    HR: Well, you seem to be a stand up person. We like high achievers here. What were you trying to achieve that afternoon?
    Grad: I and others wanted to stop free speech and tell them white M f*****s just how to talk to us. We showed em!
    HR: OK, what were some of your classes that prepared you for this job?
    Grad: Well after I get the job and know how much vacation time, sick leave, personal time off, how I will protected from the white racist’s you have hired, OH, and that my space that is protected from
    microaggressions or “cultural appropriations, I will can just show you how I am prepared to do dis jub just the way you want.
    HR: Well thank you for your time. We’ll call you.

  10. President Hanna Gray told us that “education should not be intended to make people comfortable; it is meant to make them think.” Wow, what a concept! Making people think. I’m all for it but many aren’t.

    The same people that argue students should vote are now arguing students should be protected from opposing view points. if college students are too young to think and must be protected perhaps it is time to re-evaluate their voting rights!

  11. Social justice warriors keep pushing and believe that they are winning because of the few isolated incidents (and others) that Prof. Turley mentions.

    But many Americans are getting irritated.

    The SJW’s better take care that they don’t irritate too many people or the backlash will be expensive.

  12. I recall the name Eric Posner from some other blog or whatnot. What got into this dork’s head?
    In America you are a citizen with voting rights at age 18. We call it : 18 up and out. That means that parents need to put the so called kids out in the pasture to live free or die. For some weenie to think that an 18 year old cannot be subjected to all kinds of free speech is about as dumb as it gets.

    Black Labrador’s Lives Matter. To hell witth the weenie kids in Posner’s school. Went in dumb, come out dumb too, hustlin round Atlanta in their alligator shoes, keeping the ….

  13. Now if we could just get that school up the road in Evanston to do likewise we might get a serious trend going.

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