This week, the University of Pittsburgh was under fire from State Rep. La’Tasha D. Mayes, who objected to conservative speakers, including competitive swimmer Riley Gaines, Daily Wire commentator Michael Knowles, and Daily Wire podcast host Cabot Phillips. Mayes’ objections reflect the growing anti-free speech movement, and its rationale of “speech-as-harm” that is sweeping the nation.
Mayes made her comments in a House Appropriations budget hearing, citing a petition titled “Hold the University Of Pittsburgh Accountable in Protecting LGBTQIA+ Individuals,” which had garnered thousands of signatures of people who seek to block opposing views from being heard at the university. The petition simply declares their views to be harmful and maintains that “this harassment and antagonism are not part of the exercise of free speech.”
Mayes objected that:
“It has come to my attention that three speakers who have crossed the line of free speech over into hate speech targeting transgender students and the transgender community, they’re coming to campus beginning this Friday. One of them saying essentially that transgender people should be eradicated
…So, Chancellor you’re allowing them to come on campus. How does this keep transgender students safe? ‘How does this keep LGBTQ+ students safe at my Alma Mater and how does this align with the values at the University of Pittsburgh and its commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity, and you know, making sure that it’s an inclusive place for all students.”
Chancellor Patrick Gallagher, however, responded that
“the university is a place of dialogue and in fact both constitutional and academic free speech are things that I am obligated to support. Which means that many of the rules governing, in this case extracurricular activities by registered student organizations has to be applied independent of the content of the events.”
He added “The one thing that makes this very challenging is there is a tendency to want to define what the university stands for by who’s allowed to speak on the campus and therein lies the problem.”
That only seemed to set off Mayes who declared:
“From here as the Representative and Pitt as part of my district I certainly echo my call for you to cancel the speakers who are coming to campus and I stand with the almost 11,000 students and supporters on campus who have asked you to do the same.”
So Mayes would have the university simply ban anyone like Gaines who questions the fairness of allowing transgender women to compete in sports with biological females. Gaines has been outspoken in her criticism of this trend since she tied with then-Penn swimmer Lia Thomas, who is transgender, at the NCAA championships last year.
The left has increasingly labeled anyone raising such views as hateful and has launched cancel campaigns against those who are declared “TERFs” for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists. The term is used for feminists who have voiced opposition to transgender policies and laws that they believe “erase” or “marginalize” biological women. The most famous such figure is author J.K. Rowling who has not only been the subject of a global cancel campaign but was listed by Buzzfeed with figures like cult leader Jim Jones, Benedict Arnold and O.J. Simpson as “villains.” Even a bar showing a Harry Potter game was recently targeted due to the association with Rowling.
On campus, the speech-as-harm rationale is used widely to curtail free speech, even in refusing to recognize free speech groups.
This dangerous trend in academia is discussed in my law review article, Jonathan Turley, “Harm and Hegemony: The Decline of Free Speech in the United States”, Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy.