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. Mr. Schapiro apparently stated, “‘[I]f you shut down freedom of speech, you better have a really good reason.'” He’s right, of course. And when he said, freedom of speech “isn’t absolute,” he’s right there, too, in terms of current law.

    Mr. Turley writes, “You have to have a moral and legal justification? So free speech can be limited out of concern that it endangers moral values?”

    You have to have legal, not moral, justification to shut down speech. I think imminent threat of physical violence that cannot be controlled by campus police on a public university without resorting to bulwarks and grapeshot is good enough legal justification. I also think that audience members disturbing the peace at a public lecture is justification to have them removed from the lecture site. There’s a difference between a lecture and dialogue. On the other hand, thought control has been the stuff of certain private universities that aren’t bound by the First Amendment, like Liberty, Brigham Young, Pepperdine, Georgetown, Bob Jones, and the like.

    For example: See if you think BYU’s Honor Code permits free speech:

    “Honor Code Statement

    “We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men….If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things. (Thirteenth Article of Faith.)

    “As a matter of personal commitment, the faculty, administration, staff, and students of Brigham Young University, Brigham Young University-Hawaii, BYU-I, and LDS Business College seek to demonstrate in daily living on and off-campus those moral virtues encompassed in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and will:

    Be honest
    Live a chaste and virtuous life [premarital sex is grounds for expulsion]
    Obey the law and all campus policies [Right, and no matter whether they’re appropriate.]
    Use clean language [For Joseph’s Smith’s sake, what is “clean” language?]
    Respect others
    Abstain from alcoholic beverages, tobacco, tea, coffee, and substance abuse
    Participate regularly in church services [Screw you atheists!]
    Observe Dress and Grooming Standards [No nose hair! Be able to fry an egg on your sphincter!]
    Encourage others in their commitment to comply with the Honor Code . . .”

    “Good Honor Code Standing

    “Students must be in good Honor Code standing to be admitted to, continue enrollment at, and graduate from BYU. The term “good Honor Code standing” means that a student’s conduct is consistent with the Honor Code and the ideals and principles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. . . .”

    Here’s Liberty University’s policy statement under which students give up fundamental rights:

    “An uncompromising doctrinal statement, based upon an inerrant Bible, a Christian worldview beginning with belief in biblical Creationism, an eschatological belief in the pre-millennial, pre-tribulational coming of Christ for all of His Church, dedication to world evangelization, an absolute repudiation of “political correctness,” a strong commitment to political conservatism, total rejection of socialism, and firm support for America’s economic system of free enterprise.”

    Perhaps there’s a better way: NU President Schapiro could simply let students communicate freely but catalog all of it off site for use in prosecuting future crimes against them. At least, he’d be in line with our federal government’s policy on speech.

  2. Professor Turley,

    1) Will you please post your letter of rebuke to the Northwestern President on this blog?

    2) Are you going to submit something similar as you wrote here for your next entry in US Today?

    3) Are you going to return your diploma (less frame) to Northwestern? ( NYT, Post, etc….”Distinguished GW Law professor and Northwestern grad returns diploma in protest”).

    4) Finally, you continue to espouse views not commonly supported, endorsed or associated with your party yet you stay and remain there.

    Don’t you think it’s time to switch? Our door is a wide wide open one. So wide as to accommodate ALL of your candid, fact, legally based, merited and enormously respected views. We need people, leaders of your caliber. As you know from my previous personal emails to you, that the many of Presidents mistakes and unsuccessful efforts could have been avoided and successes achieved had he had you in his presence and council.

    Simple reporting and awareness is not sufficient to stem the tide of what will be the birth and acceptance of new higher education “Americans Radical Madrassa System”.

    We need solutions. We need educational leaders of action not talk.

    Students recently walked out on the commencement address of the Vice President of the United States of America.

    “Dozens of graduates left the university’s graduation ceremony as Vice President Mike Pence took the podium.”

    Why didn’t the Notre Dame put out to the college prior to graduation, rehearsal, letter to each grad, that any student displaying ANY disrespect (turning their back, walking out, booing etc) will have their diploma and transcript withheld. End of problem.

  3. Yes, actually, it is absolute. The only thing that will register with these fascists is to stop giving them our dollars. The onus is on us to respond in a way that actually creates a result, and denying them tuition and federal funds is a perfectly peaceful way to do it.

  4. The trustees and board have absolutely no incentive to change things. 10% of Northwestern applicants are accepted and 90% are rejected, despite tuition and room and board costing $70,000 per year. It’s a very rational decision to pay that ransom for the credential. On average, over the course of their life a graduate from one of the Ivies, a graduate from one of about 10-15 other private, elite liberal arts schools and a handful of public universities will earn several million dollars more than someone without a college degree. That credential puts them in a very small elite and privileged club from whom the future technocrats, bureaucrats and managers will come. In 20-25 years, today’s graduates from those schools will be corporate CEOs, heads of foundations, doctors, military generals, college presidents, law school deans, executive editors of newspapers, and so on. They will be the elite running society and making enormous amounts of money.

    I lived in NYC in the early part of this century. I remember reading a New York Times story about how the city’s elite were paying over $20,000 a year to get their kid into certain PRE-SCHOOLS and the acceptance rates were almost as competitive as an Ivy League school. Having that pre-school on the kid’s resume was seen as important because it would improve their kid’s chances of being accepted into one of the tony elite boarding schools that are feeder schools to the ultimate prize which is a ticket to one of the Ivies, or one of about 10-15 other private, liberals arts schools. And graduating from one of those schools is like hitting the lottery for most graduates.

    So, it is all quite rational.

    The trustees have no reason to change anything because they are rejecting 90% of applicants already and the parents of the 10% who are accepted are willing to pay over a quarter million for a piece of paper that entitles their kid to a lifetime earnings stream several million dollars more than someone without a college degree. And probably even at least a million more than someone with a degree from most good public state universities.

    1. It’s a very rational decision to pay that ransom for the credential. On average, over the course of their life a graduate from one of the Ivies, a graduate from one of about 10-15 other private, elite liberal arts schools and a handful of public universities will earn several million dollars more than someone without a college degree.

      Why not try comparing them to people accepted at Northwestern or Carnegie-Mellon but attending Champaign-Urbana or the University of Pittsburgh? (BTW, Thomas Sowell has been referring for years to research on the career trajectories of such people). There’s what a student brings to the table and what the institution puts on the table. The former matters. The latter, not so much.

    2. The trustees and board have absolutely no incentive

      It’s not a commercial company. The academic integrity of the school is certainly a concern of the trustees, properly understood.

      The acceptance rate is actually 13%.

      Sorry you overpaid for a degree from such a place.

      1. 9%. I rounded up.

        You not only took the time to correct a trivial fact largely unimportant to the substance of my general comment, but you got the correction of the trivial fact wrong. Then you irrationally felt compelled to insult me.

        As always, in your perpetual quest to present yourself as smarter than everybody else the only thing you ever succeed in doing is reinforcing our impression of you as a snotty, arrogant, condescending jerk.

        1. The 13% figure is from U.S. News, and is more authoritative than the 9% figure. Again, implicit in your argument is the notion that the value-added provided by Northwestern is worth the additional cost vis a vis Champaign-Urbana. That’s a dubious proposition.

  5. “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.”

    The second sentence certainly does not support the first.

  6. Can we please quit subsidizing higher education?

    1. End federal guarantees of student loans; Amend the architecture of federal law on banking and finance to vest the function of student loan origination with banks, credit unions, and finance companies (who will engage in serious underwriting or eat the losses).

    2. Amend the bankruptcy code to allow discharge of student debt in a greater range of circumstances.

    3. Liquidate Sallie Mae, selling off tranches of its loan portfolio at auction.

    4. Limit federal grants and scholarships for aspirant students to select clientele: federal employees (military and civilian) assigned to training programs, veterans, reservation Indians, and residents of the small insular dependencies.

    5. End federal grants to institutions for research or any other purpose. The fulfillment of the institutional mission of a federal agency may require academic or technical research. This can be done by federal employees on salary. If the agency wishes to pick the brains of college and university faculty, it can award term fellowships which incorporate a salary for the researcher and an indemnity for his institution for the loss of his time.

    6. As a consequence of the foregoing, the following federal agencies and programs should be liquidated tout court or be liquidated bar a remnant: the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities (deeding the National Humanities Center over to Chapel Hill), the National Science Foundation (transferring the polar programs to the Interior Department), the National Institute on Food and Agriculture and the grant facilities of the National Institutes of Health, the National Laboratories, NASA, and various components of the Departments of Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Interior, and Education.

    7. Transfer the assessment and statistical collection services in the Department of Education to the Labor Department and establish a stand-alone regulatory commission to supervise the higher education sector. That accomplished, shut down the federal Education Department, discontinue all of its other programs, and discharge its employees.

    8. End employment discrimination law. Higher education’s role in sorting the labor market is crucially dependent on federal statutes which effectively debar cheaper and simpler methods like recruiting and promotional examinations administered by employers. Also, strip the federal courts of jurisdiction over civil service examinations administered by federal, state, and local government so they cannot make use of bogus 14th amendment jurisprudence to institute racial preference schemes by judicial ukase.

    9. Establish a new federal code on inter-state contracts for educational services. The salient provisions would be as follows:

    a. billing and advance notice of charges would have to follow a standard format;

    b. The school would have to disclose data (in a standard format) on the stock and flow of the demographics of the institution including and especially the college board scores of demographic subsets admitted. These disclosures would have to be certified by an outside firm and the institution itself, its trustees, and specific employees therein would face civil and criminal penalties for lying.

    c. Degree programs offered to out of state students in academic subjects and the arts would consist of 1, 2, 3, and 4 year degree programs the contents of which would be courses in a specific subject, cross-listed courses in cognate subjects, and prerequisites to those cross-listed courses. A research doctorate in such subjects would consist of a dissertation atop the 4 year degree program; performance doctorates would be limited to the DMA degree. “Liberal Arts” degrees could follow one of three formats: a “St Johns” style ‘great books’ program (of varying lengths), a medieval trivium-and-quadrivium (or components thererof), or a 16-20 course program in philosophy, history, mathematics, and statistics / research methods.

    d. Degree and certificate programs in vocational subjects contracted for across state lines could be of varying lengths (a fragment of an academic year, an academic year, a fragment of a calendar year, a calendar year, multiple academic years) but would consist of course in that particular occupation, cross listed courses in cognate disciplines, or (within limits) pre-requistes to those cross-listed courses. Institutions would have a franchise to require a preparatory certificate in arts and sciences and / or business as a condition of admission to the occupational course of study, provided the duration of the certificate program required did not exceed 60 credit-hours. Research doctorates in vocational subjects would be limited to biomedical sciences, public health, agronomy, engineering and architecture, information science, public policy, professional psychology, law and perhaps elements of business. Professional doctorates would be limited to psychology, medicine, and selected medical occupations (dentistry, podiatry, physical therapy…).

    e. Interstate contracts to enter degree programs would be invalid unless:(a) the state legislature in question gave express authorization in statutory law to the state school in question to offer a degree with that specific name or (b) the state legislature gave express authorization to the state higher education system to offer degrees with that name and the board of regents allocated a franchise to the state school in question to offer the degree or (c) the state legislature offered an express franchise to private institutions domiiciled locally to offer said degrees at their discretion.

    f. States would have an explicit franchise to scale in-state tuition to the number of years a prospective student and his custodial parents have filed tax returns in the state. Federal courts would be stripped of jurisdiction to rule on these matters.

    g. In order to recruit and admit aspirants across state lines to dissertation programs in the arts, humanities, and non-quantitative social research disciplines, schools would have to purchase a berth from the federal government. Multiple price auctions would be held annually to vend the berths. The initial quantum vended might be about 8,000, with the number adjusted each year according to the annual change in the number of students in general matriculating in the fall.

    h. Interstate contracts for faculty employment could not incorporate a promise or grant of continuous tenure for any aspirant, nor could any grant of tenure incorporate an obligation enforceable in a federal court.

    1. N.B. conjoined to point 9B, anti-discrimination law would no longer apply to institutions of higher education. They could admit and discharge whomever they cared to, as long as they adhered to obligations assumed in their contract with the aspirant student.

  7. Put Northwestern University on the itShay List. If you have a relative or friend who is looking for a college then advise them to choose a free speech place that has no mob rule. Mob Rule is the correct term to employ here.
    If, per chance, you are an employer and are interviewing new folks with college experience then inquire as to where they went and just casually bring up some free speech issue. Do not hire anyone from Northwestern if they fail your inquiry.
    ItShay List.

  8. “Shapiro” says it all. America is a Marxist country. Tom Paine, a central Founding Father, was a cosmopolitan. Abraham Lincoln imbibed heavily from the New York Tribune in the 1840s which ran over 400 articles by Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels. In 1880s there were over 200 Communist and Socialist organizations in America. Political Correctness is Cultural Marxism and that is the ethics being taught on EVERY college and university campus. Marxism was first called “International Socialism”. Why? Because it sought to do away with nations and races. It is founded in Jewish Messianism that requires such. Karl Marx and the sixties SDS in America has called for the killing of reactionaries. A nationalist of any stripe is a reactionary and is to be killed. Shapiro is only enforcing the dictum that heresy be squashed. Christendom was destroyed by the Enlightenment with its “Free Speech” only now to recreate its evil Doppelgänger, Marxist America. Prof. Turley is working in a Marxist environment. When has Marxism ever allowed free speech? It’s a religious movement; secularized millienarianism and heresy is to be quashed and Shapiro is only about enforcing his agenda. It all must come to pass. America is Marxist. Back in the 80s?, Fr. Hardon, a traditional Roman Catholic, said America is a totally converged Marxist state.

    Shapiro is only enforcing the cultural law of Marxist America.

    1. Someone else wants to use the dayroom computer, and it’s time for your thioridizine.

  9. “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.”
    Trend? That horse has already left the barn. When you promote the heckler’s veto you’ve forfeited the right to call yourself anything other than a leftist mob. I bet the admissions office is already employing an ideological purity test on prospective students limiting those with conservative viewpoints.

  10. The responsible parties here are the trustees. They leave this repellent institutional politician in place. Name, shame, and dox the trustees.

  11. As I said before, why would anyone want to sit in a class room with these people. There are other schools to go to.

  12. 1) stop tax paid funding
    2) sue for violation of 1st Amendment
    3) sue the school for allowing hate speech, failure to maintain peace, and fostering violence
    4) boycott sporting events
    5) boycott businesses that support school
    6) petition/sue for removal due to violation of the US Constitution:
    a) of the militarily funded NROTC program
    b) of school’s credentials
    c) of the Association of American Universities charter

    Money. That’s what they hear. That’s what moves them.

  13. Bugsey Siegel and Al Capone believed in mob rule. Look what happened to them.

    1. Al Capone went to jail for not paying his taxes. Today he’d just hire a lobbyist and get the law changed!

  14. I don’t think it is a matter of giving in. It’s a matter of allowing proxies to implement one’s goals.

  15. Any “leader” of an educational institution who attacks free speech needs to get another job. Our schools are becoming sad limited organizations that rake in money and sick up tax payer grants and other benefits while watering down free speech and education itself. In my opinion any organization that enjoys non profit status receives taxpayer support and should not be allowed to crush free sleach or “make” its own rules relating to constitutionally protected rights.

  16. As a private university, Northwestern is free to set its own rules, however it begs the question; should the school be able to receive any tax payer funds if it continues its attack on free speech?

  17. Not sure how it remains ‘respected’ with that sort of non leadership and give-in-ship So wnen to the students start booting out the faculty and admnistation and putttng their own in place., Oh that’s right. Who would no if there is no free speech.

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