Middlebury Protests and Cancellation
No group of professors or students has the right to act as final arbiter of the opinions that students may entertain. No group of professors or students has the right to determine for the entire community that a question is closed for discussion. The purpose of college is not to make faculty or students comfortable in their opinions and prejudices. (Parini et al., 2017, paras. 11–13)
What are the psychological mechanisms?
They saw (nearly) the same game: Princeton versus Dartmouth, 1951
Charles Murray shouted down at Middlebury College
[They] are deeply susceptible to a renunciation of reason and celebration of ignorance. They know what they know without reading, discussing or engaging those who might disagree with them. People from both sides of the aisle reject calm logic, eager to embrace the alternative news that supports their prejudices. (Stanger, 2017, para. 15)
I am angry that students’ views were delegitimized because they had not read (Murray’s) entire oeuvre, meaning that to be able to fully participate in this rational debate they had to do extra work to prepare. So not only did they have to accept a racist on campus, they had to waste their weekend to read his work—long discredited by many already — in order to be able to take part in this wonderful dialogue. . . . I am angry that free speech is conflated with civil discourse . . . (Van Pelt, 2017, paras. 6 and 9)
Professor Stanger’s hair was not intentionally pulled but was inadvertently caught in the chaos that Public Safety incited. It is irresponsible to imply that a protester aggressively and intentionally pulled her hair. . . . This is not respectful discourse, or a debate about free speech. These are not ideas that can be fairly debated, it is not ‘representative’ of the other side to give a platform to such dangerous ideologies. There is not a potential for an equal exchange of ideas. . . . [W]e see this talk as hate speech. (beyondthegreen14, 2017, paras. 4 and 11)
For too long, a flawed notion of “free speech” has allowed individuals in positions of power to spread racist pseudoscience in academic institutions, dehumanizing and subjugating people of color and gender minorities. . . . I do not think Middlebury made sufficient avenues for students to engage with the implications of Mr. Murray’s ideas. . . . [T]he event was co-sponsored by the political science department and featured opening remarks by the president of the College, elevating the speaker’s institutional legitimacy. While students have the right to bring speakers of all kinds to campus, the university itself must be responsible and academically honest when giving such events a show of approval through co-sponsorship. Much of Murray’s work is not peer-reviewed and his assertions are not scientifically proven. (“Discord at Middlebury,” 2017, paras. 6 and 7)
We have a moral duty to defy immoral laws . . . we cannot be “good Germans.” Period . . . sometimes the rights of others you seem to want to protect at all costs demand the trampling of the rights of someone else or some ‘out group.’ Absolute protection of immoral hate law or protecting rights that in turn criminalize a group because of their own human rights is as short sighted and wrong as shouting down some speaker or other. Read the Universal Declaration of Human rights. (Alsotps, 2017)
What we face here is not an attempt to demonstrate, or to ask tough questions of our speaker, all of which are both protected and cherished on this campus, but rather to make it impossible for her to speak, for you to listen, and for all of us to debate. This we could not accept. (Kabbany, 2017, para. 23)
Was Murray’s Planned Talk Hate Speech? A Modest Experiment
Legal Considerations: The First Amendment
No private postsecondary educational institution shall make or enforce any rule subjecting any student to disciplinary sanctions solely on the basis of . . . speech . . . that, when engaged in outside the campus of a private postsecondary institution, is protected from governmental restriction by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution or Section 2 of Article 1 of the California Constitution. (Leonard Law, 2006)
(a) the governing body of every institution shall adopt a policy that affirms the following principles of free speech . . . : (1) Students have a fundamental constitutional right to free speech; (2) An institution shall be committed to giving students the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, learn, and discuss any issue . . . ; (3) An institution shall be committed to maintaining a campus as a marketplace of ideas for all students and all faculty in which the free exchange of ideas is not to be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the institution’s community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, indecent, disagreeable, conservative, liberal, traditional, radical, or wrong-headed; . . . (5) It is not the proper role of an institution to attempt to shield individuals from free speech, including ideas and opinions they find offensive, unwise, immoral, indecent, disagreeable, conservative, liberal, traditional, radical, or wrong-headed; (6) . . . concerns about civility and mutual respect shall never be used by an institution as a justification for closing off the discussion of ideas, however offensive, unwise, immoral, indecent, disagreeable, conservative, liberal, traditional, radical, or wrong-headed those ideas may be to some students or faculty; (7) . . . To this end, an institution has a responsibility to promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation and protect that freedom; . . . (c) Nothing in this section shall be construed to grant students the right to disrupt previously scheduled or reserved activities occurring in a traditional public forum. (pp. 3, 4, and 6)
While percentages in the high teens and low 20s are “low” relative to what they could be, it is important to remember that this question is asking about the acceptability of committing violence in order to silence speech. Any number significantly above zero is concerning. (Villasenor, 2017, para. 14).
The Philosophy of Free Speech: Rights and Obligations
He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion.” (Mill, 1859/1869, p. 21)
Few things have done more harm than the belief on the part of individuals or groups (or tribes or states or nations or churches) that he or she or they are in sole possession of the truth . . . & that those who differ from them are not merely mistaken, but wicked or mad: & need restraining or suppressing. It is a terrible and dangerous arrogance to believe that you alone are right: have a magical eye which sees the truth: & that others cannot be right if they disagree.” (cited in Hardy, 2001, para. 1)
The human understanding, when it has once adopted an opinion, draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, either neglects or despises, or else by some distinction sets aside and rejects. (Francis Bacon, as cited by Nisbett & Ross, 1980, p. 167)
Universities cannot be viewed as a sanctuary for comfort but rather as a crucible for confronting ideas and thereby learning to make informed judgments. . . . Having one’s assumptions challenged and experiencing the discomfort that sometimes accompanies this process are intrinsic parts of an excellent education. Only then will students develop the skills necessary to build their own futures and contribute to society. (para. 10)
Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not. . . cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own. (para. 3)
The oeuvre review
We tried to consider this very carefully in going forward, and different perspectives on the possibilities of him giving a science-based lecture. With respect to his past, the email that I sent out stated very clearly that we didn’t condone any of his past comments, racist comments and sexist comments. And we noted that he had apologized and thought about all those very carefully. (“Editorial: The U. of I. shuns,” 2017, para. 6)
Moving Forward: Two Principles and Several Corollaries
Based on the judgment of the Claremont Police Department, we jointly concluded that any forced interventions or arrests would have created unsafe conditions for students, faculty, staff, and guests, I take full responsibility for the decision to err on the side of these overriding safety considerations. (para. 2)
Principle 1: There is really no alternative to free and open speech
Intellectual advancement has traditionally progressed through discord and dissent, as a diversity of views ensures that ideas survive because they are correct, not because they are popular. Colleges and universities—sheltered from the currents of popular opinion by tradition, geography, tenure and monetary endowments—have historically fostered that exchange. But that role in our society will not survive if certain points of view may be declared beyond the pale. (Rodriguez v. Maricopa County Community College, 2010, p. 7264)
Corollary A: Psychological science argues for humility
94% of George W. Bush supporters thought the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Florida recount was fair and justifiable, whereas only 17% of Al Gore supporters thought so. By contrast, 66% of Al Gore supporters, but only 31% of George Bush supporters, thought that members of the Supreme Court had been influenced by their “personal political views.” (p. 680)
Corollary B: Marketplace of ideas
As the philosopher John Stuart Mill points out, when you assert that a topic is not to be debated, you are foreclosing not some narrow statement of opinion on that topic, but the whole spiralling universe of discourse that it may inspire. Mill thought that only someone so self-deluded as to think his own judgement was infallible could wish to circumscribe an unpredictable future in this way. (Flynn, 2009, p. 146)
Principle 2: College experiences should involve challenging our beliefs even when those experiences go beyond our comfort level
Corollary A: No campus group has the right to determine for the entire community what can be discussed
Corollary B: Protestors also have a right to be heard
What Can Colleges and Universities Do?
None of us is infallible. Whether you are a person of the left, the right, or the center, there are reasonable people of goodwill who do not share your fundamental convictions. This does not mean that all opinions are equally valid or that all speakers are equally worth listening to. It certainly does not mean that there is no truth to be discovered. Nor does it mean that you are necessarily wrong. But they are not necessarily wrong either. . . . [One] will want to listen to people who see things differently in order to learn what considerations—evidence, reasons, arguments—led them to a place different from where one happens, at least for now, to find oneself. (para. 3)
Everything we know about the world—the age of our civilization, species, planet, and universe; the stuff we’re made of; the laws that govern matter and energy; the workings of the body and brain—came as insults to the sacred dogma of the day. We now know that the beloved convictions of every time and culture may be decisively falsified, doubtless including some we hold today. A third reason that free speech is foundational to human flourishing is that it is essential to democracy and a bulwark against tyranny. How did the monstrous regimes of the 20th century gain and hold power? The answer is that groups of armed fanatics silenced their critics and adversaries. (The 1933 election that gave the Nazis a plurality was preceded by years of intimidation, murder, and violent mayhem.) And once in power, the totalitarians criminalized any criticism of the regime. (paras. 8–9)
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
I think it’s worth pointing out the Orwellianness of demands for “inclusiveness.” Campuses bend over backwards to be inclusive *toward people the protestors care about*. Otherwise, they go out of their way to make you feel like you *don’t* belong. When they say, “You’re threatening our inclusivity,” what they really mean is “You’re challenging our lack of inclusivity—and we won’t let you get away with it.
Our students must master the skills of respectful dialogue across all barriers. Our community must protect the right to learn from others, especially those with whom we strongly disagree. And Claremont McKenna College must take every step necessary to uphold these vital commitments. (“Claremont McKenna College completes,” 2017, para. 13)
Nana Gyamfi, a lawyer with the group Justice Warriors for Black Lives, has been advising the students who faced charges. She called the college’s actions “completely outrageous” and said that the students were being punished by the college “to intimidate and to bully” them. She said that the protest was warranted because of Mac Donald’s views. “This particular person is a person who has expressed her antagonism toward Black Lives Matter” and “has been giving excuses for extrajudicial killings of black people,” she said. Gyamfi said that Mac Donald’s free speech was not limited in any way, in that she was able to give her talk online. “What free speech rights did the students prevent? Did they jump up in her speech? Did they grab her and pull her aside? She could talk all day long.” Asked about the students who wanted to hear Mac Donald, Gyamfi said that “there is no right to hear someone speak.” The real issue, Gyamfi said, is that Claremont McKenna is not committed to diversity. “They need to understand what it means to be diverse, that it’s not about having a quota of marginalized people to say ‘we have black people’ and ‘we have brown people.’” Real diversity is about “creating safe spaces” where students feel respected. She said that Claremont McKenna’s leaders should enroll in a course she teaches . . ., called Race, Activism and Emotions . . . to understand why it was wrong to permit Mac Donald to be scheduled to give a lecture on campus. (Jaschik, 2017b, paras. 13–16)
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education maintains an incomprehensive database of more than 300 attempts to disinvite campus speakers since 2000. About three-quarters of the attempts involved pressure from liberals. Evolution and Israel are among the most controversial topics. But more often the disinvitation attempt stems from disagreements over views on immigration, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or abortion. (McLaughlin, 2017, paras. 28 and 29)
The combination of basic research demonstrating high degrees of hostility towards opposing partisans, the ﬁeld studies demonstrating discrimination against research projects that are unﬂattering to liberals and their views, and survey results of self-reported willingness to engage in political discrimination all point to the same conclusion: Political discrimination is a reality in social psychology. Conservative graduate students and assistant professors are behaving rationally when they keep their political identities hidden, and when they avoid voicing the dissenting opinions that could be of such great beneﬁt to the ﬁeld. Moderate and libertarian students may be suffering the same fate. (p. 11)
the objection to Kehowski’s speech is based entirely on his point of view, and it is axiomatic that the government may not silence speech because the ideas it promotes are thought to be offensive. See Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444, 448-49 (1969); Saxe v. State Coll. Area Sch. Dist., 240 F.3d 200, 204 (3d Cir. 2001); DeAngelis v. El Paso Mun. Police Officers Ass’n, 51 F.3d 591, 596-97 (5th Cir. 1995). “There is no categorical ‘harassment exception’ to the First Amendment’s free speech clause.” Saxe, 240 F.3d at 204; see also United States v. Stevens, No. 08-769, slip op. at 7 (U.S. April 20, 2010) (“The First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech does not extend only to categories of speech that survive an ad hoc balancing of relative social costs and benefits.”) Indeed, precisely because Kehowski’s ideas fall outside the mainstream, his words sparked intense debate: Colleagues emailed responses, and Kehowski replied; some voiced opinions in the editorial pages of the local paper; the administration issued a press release; and, in the best tradition of higher learning, students protested. The Constitution embraces such a heated exchange of views, even (perhaps especially) when they concern sensitive topics like race, where the risk of conflict and insult is high. See R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, 505 U.S. 377, 391 (1992). Without the right to stand against society’s most strongly-held convictions, the marketplace of ideas would decline into a boutique of the banal, as the urge to censor is greatest where debate is most disquieting and orthodoxy most entrenched. See, e.g., Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652, 667 (1925); id. at 673 (Holmes, J., dissenting). (Rodriguez v. Maricopa County Community College, 2010, pp. 7263–7264)
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