Northwestern President Again Denounces “Absolute” Free Speech Values And Calls For Some Offensive Speech To Be Treated As Assault

I have previously criticized Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro for his lack of support for free speech on campus.  Unlike the University of Chicago across town, Schapiro has been leading the calls for limiting speech deemed to be a “microaggression” or offensive.  (For full disclosure, I am a graduate of both Northwestern and Chicago).  His lack of commitment to free speech has made him popular with some groups while alarming free speech advocates.  That concern was heightened this week when Schapiro defended his efforts to give protected “safe spaces” on campus and said that some offensive speech should be considered a form of “assault.”  The comments further distinguish Schapiro was one of the most hostile university presidents toward free speech principles in the country.   His pandering to those demanding speech codes and regulations should be an embarrassment for the university, which remains one of the world’s premiere academic institutions.  He has taught his students well.  Soon after the publication of his latest remarks, student groups shutdown a speaker and a class on immigration.  It appears that even classes must now adhere to the mob rule at Northwestern.

In his speech, Schapiro repeated his mantra that the First Amendment “isn’t absolute” and dismissed free speech advocates as reducing “it to slogans or free speech at all costs.”  It appears that we should listen to Schapiro who views free speech as little more than a speed bump on the path to speech regulation.  Schapiro’s view of free speech is truly chilling. He notes that “if you shut down freedom of speech, you better have a really good reason. … I think if you shut down anything, you better be really sure that you have a moral and legal justification to do it. That’s my view.”  Really?  You have to have a moral and legal justification?  So free speech can be limited out of concern that it endangers moral values?  People have long argued for barring and even burning books as compelled by moral concerns.  As for legal justification, the first amendment protects against government censors and regulation. That means that figures like Schapiro have ample legal room to at a private institution to curtail free speech in the name of moral and racial justice.

Schapiro’s students have learned his relativistic view of free speech well — as demonstrated in a class on campus.  The incident vividly showed not only how free speech has been curtailed at Northwestern but so has academic freedom.  Ironically, the focus was a Sociology 201 class by Professor Beth Redbird that examines “inequality in American society with an emphasis on race, class and gender.”  To that end, Redbird invited both an undocumented person and a spokesperson for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  It is the type of balance that it now considered verboten on campuses.

Members of MEChA de Northwestern, Black Lives Matter NU, the Immigrant Justice Project, the Asian Pacific American Coalition, NU Queer Trans Intersex People of Color and Rainbow Alliance organized to stop other students from hearing from the ICE representative.  However, they could not have succeeded without the help of Northwestern administrators (including  Dean of Students Todd Adams).  The protesters were screaming “F**k ICE” outside of the hall.  Adams and the other administrators then said that the protesters screaming profanities would be allowed into the class if they promised not to disrupt the class.  Really?  They were screaming profanities and seeking to stop the class but would just sit nicely as the speaker answered questions?

Of course, that did not happen. As soon as the protesters were allowed into the classroom, they prevented the ICE representative from speaking.  The ICE representatives eventually left and Redbird canceled the class to discuss the issue with the protesters that just prevented her students from hearing an opposing view.

The comments of the Northwestern students were predictable after being told by people like Schapiro that some offensive speech should be treated as a form of assault.  SESP sophomore April Navarro rejected that faculty should be allowed to invite such speakers to their classrooms for a “good, nice conversation with ICE.” She insisted such speakers needed to be silenced because they “terrorize communities” and profit from detainee labor. Here is the face of the new generation of censors being shaped by speech-intolerant academics like Schapiro:

“We’re not interested in having those types of conversations that would be like, ‘Oh, let’s listen to their side of it’ because that’s making them passive rule-followers rather than active proponents of violence. We’re not engaging in those kinds of things; it legitimizes ICE’s violence, it makes Northwestern complicit in this. There’s an unequal power balance that happens when you deal with state apparatuses.”

It is reminiscent of chilling recent editorial by students at Wellesley dismissing free speech protections for those with whom they disagree.  We have also seen physical attacks on pro-life advocates at the University of California justified on the basis that such views constitute a form of “terrorism.”   Likewise, leaders like Howard Dean have dismissed the notion of free speech protection for anything that he views as hate speech.

As for Northwestern, the official response to students shutting down a class to silence an opposing view resulted in a statement that the actions of the students were “disappointing that the speakers were not allowed to speak.”  Even more bizarre, there was no demand from the faculty senate to an investigation and for the students to be disciplined.  It appears that even academic freedom can be sacrificed in this new orthodoxy on our campus.  It is little more than mob rule than professors have to cancel classes when they allow opposing viewpoints to be heard.  If universities stand for the exchange of ideas, those who try to silence others must be expelled from the community.  Going into a classroom and forcing the cancellation of a class should result in the immediate suspension and eventual expulsion of these students.  Navarro have every right to protest but not enter and stop a class to prevent fellow students from listening to opposing views.

If this trend continues under Schapiro, Northwestern will not only fail to be viewed as a leading academic institution but any type of academic institution.  The school must decide if it has the courage to stand by free speech and academic integrity or whether it will merely pander to the mob.



49 thoughts on “Northwestern President Again Denounces “Absolute” Free Speech Values And Calls For Some Offensive Speech To Be Treated As Assault”

  1. Northwestern has a highly touted school of journalism. I cannot imagine this position of the Shapiro helps to recruit students. Then again, are they hoping to develop journalists who will help to maintain politically correct newsrooms?

    Can you imagine what it is like being the spouse of a man who thinks he has the moral authority to decide who is morally eligible to speak?

  2. Turley is still wrong about free speech. The several states do impose limits on speech: inciting to riot is unlawful. Furthermore the states still pass on in Loco Parentis duties to universities.

    I am not necessarily defending the Northwestern administration, rather the general point that so-called free speech can be limited on university property.

  3. The actions of the students at Northwestern remind me of the “Brownshirts” allied with Adolf Hitler and the “Blackshirts” allied with Benito Mussolini. They accuse their enemies of being exactly what they are, which is ignorant fascists. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. There is a very good reason that the Founding Fathers put freedom of speech in the First Amendment. Sadly these students could care less about the First Amendment or any of the other Amendments, except when it would advance their agenda.

  4. It’s a sad day for Northwestern alumni. I was encouraged when Associated Student Government Senator Lauren Thomas managed to push through a resolution supporting free speech and academic freedom. But Schapiro seems to have lost touch with the things that make research universities important to the larger society. I have no idea how long it will take, but I suspect Northwestern will stagnate academically, particularly in the humanities and social sciences. Then it will become just another ordinary $10 billion hedge fund.

  5. Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro did not make this leftist policy at the University. He is merely following the orders of those who DO make policy: the financial backers of the University.

    So just follow the money, as always applies. And here is what you will find. For example, the largest single gift in the University’s history — more than $100 million — was made in 2015 by alumna Roberta Buffett Elliott to create the Roberta Buffett Institute for GLOBAL Studies. A 1954 graduate of Northwestern, she is the sister of Warren Buffett, chairman, and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.

    I put “GLOBAL” in all bold letters because “global” is a buzz word for the leftist “New World Order” or “One World Government”–a leftist agenda that includes the destruction of family units, the abrogation of free speech, the confiscation of all guns that citizens use to defend themselves, and the end of all personal freedoms and privacy.

    What more need be said?

      1. I agree. Your statement is utter nonsense . . . and devoid of fact and pointless.

  6. As gauged by the SCOTUS ruling in Synder v. Westboro Baptist Church, SCOTUS showed an unwliingness to uphold reasonable time and place restrictions on vulgar, disruptive, ad hominem attacks on a solemn event (the family funeral of a US serviceperson KIA). In earlier times of our Republic, this level of disrespect would have been dealt with harshly, with the support of local police and community. There are norms and standards that govern civilized society — and it is naive idealism to think that these ever can be fully codified in statutes and law casework. The realpolitik is that anti-social behavior be immediately confronted, and whatever authority is present in a situation, the norms are defended. SCOTUS, with its hyper-legalistic mindset let us all down with Westboro Baptist.

    Do you want to live to see a total breakdown of civility? We’re on a path to that destination. Among the activists on any issue today, you’ll find zealots so drunk with self-righteousness that they will put their creativity to the task of all manner of hyper-personal ad hominem attack, seeking to inflict psychological injury, intimidation, character assassination, veiled threats of sexual violation and/or assassination, denial-of-privacy attacks by posting home addresses, names of children and spouses online, etc. We have come very far from the slashing of car tires.

    I don’t think there is any perfect, legalistic solution to maintaining social norms, but I implore you to reconsider abandoning them in principle because of this limitation on practical rule-of-law. We have seen in 20th century history lapses of societal norms that surrendered to zealotry. The most noteworthy was the Cultural Revolution of Mao, which killed 20 million and did not achieve its objectives. What degree of anti-social zealotry are we willing to countenance and protect under the 1st Amendment? How many more sickening, depraved, delusional spectacles like Westboro Baptist are we going to invite?

    Norms and standards of public speech are as essential to our way of life as the 1st Amendment. The imposition of civility on discourse is a shared responsibility, and it falls on the shoulders especially of authorities in the private sector and universities. What we should be debating is the norms of public discourse worth preserving, not the freedom of zealots to commandeer the public debate under our system of law.

    1. “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech,..”

      Now which part of the First Amendment regarding speech do you not understand?

      You’re like the insurrectionist Justices of the Supreme Court; you believe you have the authority to legislate under the guise of “interpretation” which is nothing but wrong.

      (The Supreme Court has but one charge and authority and that is to assure that actions comport with the founding documents as written, and the only precedent that exists is the one found in the founding documents, not one written by an official of the judicial branch. Any legislation which the judicial branch cannot understand and must “Interpret” must be remanded to Congress – precisely what the treasonous Chief Justice Roberts was compelled to do with the wholly unconstitutional ACA).

  7. Shapiro is advocating modifications to the First which would be impossible to control or inforce. Again micro managing human behavior.

  8. First Amendment

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

    Fifth Amendment

    “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

    James Madison on Private Property –

    “that dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the
    world, in exclusion of every other individual.”

    Just as the government is limited by the Preamble to security and infrastructure because the right to private property precludes redistribution of wealth (by definition, private property cannot be taken from one man and given to another), Northwestern University may exercise censorship on its property.

    Congress, on the other hand, shall make no law…

    Even the eminent, “interpreting” and “legislating-from-the-bench” Justices-of-the-Supreme-Court-in-overreach can read that.

  9. It’s up to the alums. Cut-off donations until Shapiro is out of there. He is debasing the value of their degrees, but if the alums don’t care, then why should we?

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