The high cost of free speech on campus

(Creative Commons)

Free Speech on Campusby Erwin Chemerinsky and Howard Gillman

Yale University Press. 216p $26

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University administrators these days often find themselves trying to navigate between two dangerous extremes: the Scylla of policing obsessively the expression of ideas so as to avoid triggering any university students who may feel unsafe, and the Charybdis of giving license to student groups to invite monsters like Richard Spencer or Milo Yiannopoulos to campus. The former can lead to the censorship of legitimate speech; the latter can turn campuses into unwitting forums for openly fascist rhetoric designed to torment the disadvantaged. Is there a way to steer between the two?

Not really, argue Erwin Chemerinsky and Howard Gillman in Free Speech on Campus. Steer as close to Charybdis as you can and hope for the best. Freedom of expression is close to an all-or-nothing proposition by their lights: Even the best-intentioned attempts to keep students safe from harm inevitably lead to censorship and coddled minds. Throughout history, from Reformation-era attempts to monitor printing presses all the way to the creation of “safe spaces” on our college campuses, they argue, censorship inevitably hurts those it is designed to help.

Freedom of expression is close to an all-or-nothing proposition by their lights.

The authors, legal scholars and academics both, fear that “students’ support for basic free speech principles is dramatically eroding” and that “university leaders are well versed in providing full-throated defenses of civility and tolerance, but their arguments for protecting the expression of all ideas, even those considered offensive and hateful, are often less clear or convincing.” While Chemerinsky and Gillman draw the line at physical threats and harassment based on sex, race, creed or sexual orientation, they otherwise recommend that universities defend freedom of speech at almost any cost.

Their most valuable contribution to this national conversation is a clear and coherent summary of the issues involved in free-speech debates. Accounts of controversies past and present are fair and nuanced, and consistently give the salient points in layperson’s terms. Accepting the authors’ arguments and their capacious willingness to tolerate offense, however, will be a hard sell for educators increasingly accustomed to a world of safe spaces and speech codes.

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J Cosgrove
9 months ago

What?

I have no idea what this author is recommending? At best it seems he is waffling on free speech.

I suggest that the author and all the editors of America as well as commenters read Jordan Peterson. You may not agree with him but he is the most insightful voice out there at the moment.

This passage is one of the most egregious from the OP.

giving license to student groups to invite monsters like Richard Spencer or Milo Yiannopoulos to campus. The former can lead to the censorship of legitimate speech; the latter can turn campuses into unwitting forums for openly fascist rhetoric designed to torment the disadvantaged.

Has he ever listens to Milo Yiannopoulos. Mr. Yiannopoulos who is very over the top claims he is an advocate of free speech and Western Civilization. He is gay, has a black boy friend but is a defender of free speech. How is that fascist or a threat to the disadvantaged? The threat lies elsewhere. The real fascist are calling their enemies fascist to distract from their ideology.

While I certainly don't support Richard Spencer, censoring him only makes him a hero. Letting him speak in the obscurity he will generate is the best way to silence him. In no way are Spencer and Yiannopoulos similar except they are condemned by the far left.

J Cosgrove
9 months ago

Google Milo

"Milo Yiannopoulos: What The ‘Alt-Right’ Is Really About (Full Interview) | Power Lunch | CNBC

Then see for yourselves if this is someone students should be protected from

I would put the link in but the comment software puts these comments with links into moderation.

Andrew Wolfe
8 months 4 weeks ago

If the University is not equipping its students to engage everyone's ideas, it's a failure.

Andrew Wolfe
8 months 4 weeks ago

Wow, what a non-article. The title "High Cost of Free Speech" is never explained or supported in this tiny little bit of rambling. Keane is completely incomprehensible in saying the free-speech solution advocated by Chemerinsky and Gillman doesn't solve anything. Even in his nutshell summary, Keane makes their approach compelling. Keane presents the crazy notion that bringing in provocative speakers to a university is a danger, because it gives them a forum. The university is the exact place where provocative ideas can be proposed, dissected, and analyzed. Seriously, we can't even trust the professors to refute Milo Yiannapolous? It's not just the students who have "coddled minds"? No wonder the administrators are so worried about "safe spaces." Or maybe it's just that they can't keep their jobs without more "safe spaces and speech codes" to enforce.

John Walton
8 months 4 weeks ago

I would suggest that when a writer like Mr. Keane can call another human being, whether Milo or Steven Colbert, a "monster", a Saturday afternoon in the Confessional box is in order and would be well worth his time.

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