We have previously discussed how universities have not only curtailed free speech but treated free speech as a threat to students. Nothing captures that trend as vividly as a sign (posted on the site Campus Reform) informing Colorado State University (CSU) students that there are 17 different departments or resources to help them if they are “affected by a free speech event.” Free speech is now treated like STDs and violence on campus with its own trauma-related or protective program. Despite the inherent message of the harmful effects of free speech, I still prefer such a program to a policy of speech censorship or curtailment. However, some of the “resources” appear to be ways to report “incidents of bias” and offenses for university action.
The sign reads, “If you (or someone you know) are affected by a free speech event on campus, here are some resources.”
Those resources include the Dean of Students, Office of Equal Opportunity, Multicultural Counseling, Incidents of Bias Reporting, the Office of Equal Opportunity, the Vice President of Inclusive Excellence, and a Victim’s Assistance Hotline.
It is perfectly reasonable for a university to post signs encouraging students to report incidents of racism or threats. However, the listing of resources to address the trauma from free speech events reinforces the view that free speech itself is a threat on campus.
We previously discussed the concern over the rising generation of censors on our student governments and journals. We recently discussed how Emory’s student body refused to recognize a free speech group because of “potential and real harm” that would come from free speech events. A CNN host called for censorship as a form of “hard reduction.”
The alleged harm (and need for action) seems to differ dramatically on the ideological position of the speaker. I have defended faculty who have made similarly disturbing comments “detonating white people,” denouncing police, calling for Republicans to suffer, strangling police officers, celebrating the death of conservatives, calling for the killing of Trump supporters, supporting the murder of conservative protesters and other outrageous statements. I also defended the free speech rights of University of Rhode Island professor Erik Loomis, who defended the murder of a conservative protester and said that he saw “nothing wrong” with such acts of violence.
Even when faculty engage in hateful acts on campus, however, there is a notable difference in how universities respond depending on the viewpoint. At the University of California campus, professors actually rallied around a professor who physically assaulted pro-life advocates and tore down their display. In the meantime, academics and deans have said that there is no free speech protection for offensive or “disingenuous” speech. CUNY Law Dean Mary Lu Bilek showed how far this trend has gone. When conservative law professor Josh Blackman was stopped from speaking about “the importance of free speech,” Bilek insisted that disrupting the speech on free speech was free speech. (Bilek later cancelled herself and resigned after she made a single analogy to acting like a “slaveholder” as a self-criticism for failing to achieve equity and reparations for black faculty and students). We also previously discussed the case of Fresno State University Public Health Professor Dr. Gregory Thatcher who recruited students to destroy pro-life messages written on the sidewalks and wrongly told the pro-life students that they had no free speech rights in the matter.
The CSU sign reaffirms the view of free speech as potentially harmful as well as the necessity of close monitoring and reporting on its use on campus. It is treated like a dangerous controlled substance. There was a time when universities relished the range of diversity in viewpoints as essential to a true intellectual community. Now we seem to be raising a speech-phobic generation that includes free speech trauma programs.