We recently discussed the courageous stand of the University of Chicago in favor of free speech (a position followed by schools like Purdue). We can now add the Cardiff University in Wales as a school standing with free speech principles over demands for censorship and “safe zones”. Conversely, student leaders at Tufts University unanimously voted against a measure protecting free speech by addressing the vague and fluid terms used to curtail free speech.
Cardiff took a strong stand for free speech in breaking away from other schools which have have imposed stringent speech codes and regulations. The university pledged to end its past censorship and platforming rules. It declared that it would not bar controversial speakers and that “censorship is not the answer.”
Instead, Cardiff passed a motion that was entitled “Challenge, Don’t Censor.” The motion declared that “students are capable of challenging intolerable views through rigorous debate; censorship is not the answer.”
Amen. This is particularly impressive in Europe where free speech is being sharply curtailed.
Across the pond, the students of Tufts University unanimously stood against free speech and in favor of vague standards used to regulate speakers on campus. Tufts have received the lowest grade for free speech by the organization FIRE. The students defeated a resolution from Tufts student Jake Goldberg that called for adding clarifications to the university’s speech guidelines. The resolution identified vague terms like “demeaning” language in seeking greater clarification in the lines of allowable and prohibited speech.
Students leaders denounced a resolution as creating an “unsafe” environment and declared that the resolution itself is harmful to students.
One student leader explained that “clarity in itself is subjective.” That certainly ends all debate. If clarity is subjective, isn’t all language subjective? If so, Tufts speech code sets student adrift on a sea of subjectivity – subject to discipline based on the subjective feelings or interpretation of the most offended or sensitive members of the community.
What is truly distressing are comments from students like senator Nesi Altaras who reportedly challenged the importance given free speech and said “there are other countries with free speech issues, and some countries handle them better than America.” Really? Which countries are those? This country has some of the highest protections for free speech. Those countries “handle” free speech by abridging it. There is of course the standard in 1984 where “The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better.”
Senator Ben Kesslen denounced the free speech resolution as “instantly” creating the view of an “unsafe” campus by even being proposed. He added “By passing this resolution, we [would be] making more students feel unsafe on a campus they already might not feel safe.”
Clearly these students have found a home at Tufts. Free speech is now viewed as a dangerous and threatening element on campus by students. Faculty who have pushed this pro-censorship line have succeeded in warping a generation of students into believing that speech regulation is a good thing and that free speech makes them unsafe. Where college students once marched against limitations on speech, they now readily defend such codes and the silencing of those with whom they disagree.
So there you have it: two divergent paths by two leading universities. In the end, however, the path chosen by Tufts will lead it further away from the core mission of educational institutions to challenge and stipulate thought in an open and free academic environment. Tufts and other universities are producing a generation of Orwellian “Little Brothers” — eager citizens supporting government restrictions on their own liberty. The impact of that trend will be felt far beyond the confines of our academic institutions.
As stated in the novel 1984, “Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” Tufts students appear to have learned that true freedom is to be protected from free speech.
Here is the resolution’s language:
A Resolution Requesting Free Speech Rights for All Members of Tufts University
WHEREAS the TCU Senate has already unanimously passed “A Resolution Supporting Freedom of Expression,” on April 15, 2012, which urged the university to “respect and protect freedom of speech and freedom of expression at Tufts University, now and forever”;
WHEREAS Tufts’ Board of Trustees has previously declared, on November 7th, 2009, that freedom of expression and inquiry are fundamental to Tufts’ academic pursuits;
WHEREAS Tufts’ President Monaco has expressed the necessity of having a campus culture that protects the free and unfettered exchange of ideas, a deep concern of calls to silence speech on our university, the need to protect all points of view regardless of their unpopularity, and the need to respond to offensive speech with more speech rather than censorship;
WHEREAS Tufts University stated on October 26, 2016 that the university remains “committed to a campus climate that protects free speech and an open and vigorous exchange of ideas”;
WHEREAS The Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Education has stated that Title IX and the First Amendment are entirely compatible;
WHEREAS Students Advocating for Students has identified threats to free speech due to the vagueness and lack of clarity in Tufts’ Sexual Misconduct Policy (SMP). The SMP prohibits the following conduct if it is sufficiently serious, pervasive or persistent as to create a “demeaning” or “sexually offensive” environment: inappropriate communications via letters, telephone calls, emails, or texts; sexual jokes or describing of sexual conduct; comments on an individual’s body or appearance; comments about sexual activity or experiences; innuendos of a sexual nature; use of nicknames or terms of endearment; sexist statements or behavior; verbal conduct against those who are perceived to be failing to conform to expected notions of masculinity or femininity;
WHEREAS Students Advocating for Students has identified threats to free speech due to the vagueness and lack of clarity in Tufts’ Sexual Misconduct Brochure: the prohibition of gender bias; verbal conduct that creates an offensive environment in which to work; making statements that convey insulting or degrading attitudes or opinions based on gender; making sexually explicit jokes or statements;
WHEREAS Students Advocating for Students has identified threats to free speech due to the vagueness and lack of clarity in Tufts’ Bias Incident Reporting Procedures, as the following may lead to disciplinary punishment: taunting; biased-fueled jokes; derogatory language or negative images;
WHEREAS Students Advocating for Students has identified threats to free speech due to the vagueness and lack of clarity in Tufts’ Guide to On-Campus Living: the prohibition of speech that creates emotional harm; inappropriate language, inappropriate gestures, or hurtful words; and acts of intolerance and hate;
WHEREAS Students Advocating for Students has identified threats to free speech due to the vagueness and lack of clarity in Tufts’ Student Code of Conduct policy: the prohibition of speech that is not becoming of a Tufts’ student;
WHEREAS Students Advocating for Students has identified a threat to free speech due to the vagueness and lack of clarity in Tufts’ Email Policy: the prohibition of sending offensive emails;
BE IT RESOLVED that the TCU Senate urge the administration to add clarifying language to the above identified policies, and all other similar campus policies, with First Amendment parameters and principles, so that we the students are fully aware of exactly what conduct violates Tufts’ policies and simultaneously receive the full protection of the First Amendment in regards to speech.