I have always been proud of my alma mater, The University of Chicago, and the education that I received in Hyde Park. However, that pride has been magnified this week with a letter sent to the class of 2020. As we have been discussing how various schools have eradicated free speech protections on campus in a national trend toward speech regulation. UChicago has decided to stand its ground and reaffirm its commitment to free speech on campus. The letter warns students that they will not shielded from views that upset them or given “safe spaces” on campus. In doing so, UChicago has recommitted itself to the very touchstone of education: the free and robust exchange of ideas.
The University of Houston has offered the latest example of how free speech is being rapidly eradicated on our campuses. Rohini Sethi, vice president of the university’s student government association, was given a 50-day suspension from her student government post for saying “all lives matter” on social media. She has now been told that the suspension will be lifted after she publicly apologized and agreed to attend cultural events.
As we previously discussed, Twitter has become a lightening rod for the free speech community — repeatedly accused of content-based censorship and a liberal bias. Now Twitter is again being accused of a departure from the policy of unfettered free speech in the filtering of negative comments against President Barack Obama. The culprit of this latest violation is former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo who in 2015 allegedly ordered employees to remove abusive or offensive replies to President Obama during a Q & A session.
England has seen the rise of calls for speech prosecutions, including calls from powerful politicians for crackdowns on insulting or offensive comments. We have previously discussed the alarming rollback on free speech rights in the West, particularly in England ( here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). The rapid decline of free speech in England has been both chilling and frightening for civil libertarians as the country appears to have abandoned this once defining right of Western Civilization. Now, a Manchester man reportedly has been arrested and sentenced for making “grossly offensive” comments about Muslims on Facebook. Stephen Bennett, 39, (who has a Muslim mother-in-law and sister-in-law) has been sentenced to 180 hours of unpaid work and a 12-month community order for expressing his views.
My friend Professor Eugene Volokh raised an interesting case out of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) where the commission reinstated what many would consider a facially invalid harassment lawsuit over a worker wearing a simple “Don’t Tread on Me” cap. The cap was claimed cited as “racially offensive to African Americans” because “the flag was designed by Christopher Gadsden, a ‘slave trader & owner of slaves.’” It is a bizarre case but the concern over the fluid standard for such cases was magnified by a response to Gene from Harvard Law professor Noah Feldman who added that a worker “Saying at work that ‘Hillary Clinton shouldn’t be president because women shouldn’t work full-time’” could also be a legitimate basis for sanctions.
We previously discussed the controversy surrounding Oberlin Professor Joy Karega, who has attracted fervent criticism for her social media comments including blaming Israel for the 9/11 attacks. In a move that will magnify the free speech issues discussed earlier, Karega has been suspended with pay as assistant professor of rhetoric and composition.
In May, we discussed the highly disturbing incident of DePaul security standing around as a conservative speaker was prevented from speaking on campus. It was a terrible low for DePaul in allowing free speech to be denied to appease those who believe that only their views should be heard on campus. Now another conservative speaker, Ben Shapiro, has reported that his event was canceled after objections from protesters.