Tufts University: a black hole for freedom of speech

Once again we must turn to right-wing websites, the College Fix and Heat Street (corroborated from other sites), to find out how free speech is going down the tubes at many American Universities.  In this case it’s Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts (home of Dan Dennett), which has been given a “red rating” by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for its speech code policy, a rating that means this:

A “red light” institution has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech. A “clear” restriction is one that unambiguously infringes on what is or should be protected expression. In other words, the threat to free speech at a red light institution is obvious on the face of the policy and does not depend on how the policy is applied.

What happened at Tufts is dire. A student, Jake Goldberg, introduced a resolution asking for clarification of Tufts’ nebulous speech code policy. The punchline is at the bottom of his resolution (reproduced below), asking the University to more clearly spell out what kinds of violations of the speech code and email policy will be considered transgressions subject to college discipline. That, however, may be hard given the unclear nature of already-specified violations, including “taunting; slurs, epithets, or biased-fueled jokes; derogatory language or negative images,” as well as “speech that creates emotional harm; hostile or inappropriate language, inappropriate gestures, or hurtful words; and acts of intolerance and hate.” Clearly, punishing students for language that creates emotional harm, or uttering hurtful words, is going too far unless it already violates legal restrictions about harassment in the workplace. My own view is that schools should obey the University of Chicago’s principles of Free Expression while obeying legal strictures about harassment.

Here’s Goldberg’s resolution:

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HeatStreet (the College Fix appears to be down at the moment) reports that this mild resolution was voted down by a the student senate—unanimously! (My emphasis in following).

Tufts student leaders did not agree. The student senate recently voted down the measure 26 to zero, with two abstentions, the College Fixreports. A number of student senators argued that the proposal “actually really harms students” because “clarity in itself is subjective.”

One student senator argued in a Facebook post, which she later deleted, that “a holistic process is needed to balance our right to free speech and everyone’s right to access their education free from discrimination.”

Student senator Nesi Altaras pushed pack on the suggestion that free-speech rights are the “best kind of rights,” because “there are other countries with free speech issues, and some countries handle them better than America.”

Another student senator, Ben Kesslen, suggested that Tufts students “instantly” began feeling “unsafe” upon learning of the resolution’s existence. “By passing this resolution, we [would be] making more students feel unsafe on a campus they already might not feel safe,” he said.

The safety card, often played by students who don’t really feel physically unsafe, always angers me. For everyone construes “safety” as “being safe from physical harm,” not “safety from having to hear things that upset you.” What kind of crybabies would instantly feel “unsafe” just by hearing of Goldberg’s resolution? And the complete unwillingness to even re-examine the speech code, or comport it with the First Amendment, bespeaks a disturbing undercurrent of authoritarianism among Tufts students.

Anyway, Goldberg was predictably vilified by his fellow students after he proposed this resolution. Here are some screenshots of Facebook posts directed at him:

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Poor guy!

h/t: Eli

50 Comments

  1. Posted November 28, 2016 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    I hear you. When I was teaching at Reed College here in Portland, OR, the students protested because a pro-life advocate was coming to speak on campus. The administration caved, citing as their reason that the speaker might cause “unnecessary trauma” to women on campus who might have had an abortion. All of which puts a draconian spin on the idea of providing a “liberal education.”

    This kind of politically correct crap is rampant at colleges and universities and is one reason why someone as extreme as Donald Trump can come across as talking common sense.

    • Leigh
      Posted November 28, 2016 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

      I would have a problem with a forced-birth advocate being invited to speak at my school. Such people pose a direct threat to my life and health.

      I think several things are being overlooked in
      the ongoing discussion of free speech on campus. First, is that under our system of laws and government rights are balanced against other rights. There is no absolute right of free speech. Your right to speak is balanced against my right to protest, vigorously and passionately. I have the right to challenge every assertion you make, and I should be able to do so during your speech. I should not be required to sit politely and wait for you to kill me to prove I respect your right to speak. I am not sure that people on this site believe I have the right to protest.

      The other issue that is ignored is what constitutes a proper response to a speaker who truly has nothing of value to impart — an outright racist or anti-semite for example. Barring them from campus is not a good solution, but I don’t recall reading about constructive responses or direction for student protesters.

      If you do not like how students react, what to you suggest they do? As college teachers, what do you offer? I think you are required to do more than call them names and make fun of them.

      • ploubere
        Posted November 28, 2016 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

        There are limits to speech: slander, incitement to violence, revealing classified or proprietary information, that kind of thing. But you don’t have the right to prevent someone else from expressing an idea simply because you don’t like it.

        Yes, you do have a right to protest, but pretty much only in the form of a counter argument. And that should be at the heart of a college education, learning how to compose your arguments and learning how to express yourself well and clearly. To censor ideas is anathema to higher education.

      • Diane G.
        Posted November 29, 2016 at 3:01 am | Permalink

        Your right to speak is balanced against my right to protest, vigorously and passionately. I have the right to challenge every assertion you make, and I should be able to do so during your speech.

        Uh, no. You’re missing the first word in “free speech.” Speech is not free when it is stifled.

        I am not sure that people on this site believe I have the right to protest.

        Of course you do, and we all believe it. That’s your free speech.

        As to “I should not be required to sit politely and wait for you to kill me to prove I respect your right to speak,” that’s just overwrought hyperbole. The thing about speech is that it’s just, well, speech. Remember the old Sticks and Stones proverb? Plus, you always have the option not to listen to it.

        (Note: I never much liked that proverb myself as we all know words can figuratively hurt us; but that’s when our right to protest comes to the fore. And often when other people need to stand up for us as well.)

      • GM
        Posted November 29, 2016 at 3:13 am | Permalink

        I would have a problem with a forced-birth advocate being invited to speak at my school. Such people pose a direct threat to my life and health.

        What about people who are pro-abortion but against choice (as with most things these days, it is often forgotten that the space of possible position is larger than the two most people have aligned themselves around)?

      • Posted November 29, 2016 at 7:04 am | Permalink

        When you refuse to tolerate differing opinions, you no longer have a free society or a democracy. You then have a dictatorship, like Nazi Germany or Stalinist USSR. (Maybe that’s what you want, with you in charge of what people are allowed to say; but the rest of us don’t want that.)

        “a speaker who truly has nothing of value to impart”

        Who’s to judge whether their speech has value or not? You? Why? Donald Trump? Why not?

        You are completely missing the point of free speech. Free speech only exists when and exists only to the extent that one allows opinions one doesn’t agree with to be expressed. Lacking that, there is no free speech.

        Shouting someone down or interrupting them is not allowing free speech. (Would you consider it so if you were subjected to that kind of treatment? — you seem to lack empathy here.)

        Shouting others down or otherwise preventing them from speaking is also a symptom of one’s inability to advocate for one’s own opinion. Maybe more work is in order.

        If being exposed to ideas you disagree with (or even knowing that they exist in other peoples’ heads or in their notebooks, etc.!) causes you to feel unsafe (short of direct threats to your person — “Leigh is a bad person and needs to be dealt with”.) then (and I’m trying hard not to be too harsh here) it’s probably time for a counselor or some psychological help.

        In what world do you think you aren’t going to be exposed to ideas that you disagree with?

        And, as others have noted, university is where you learn to marshal your own ideas and express them in persuasive ways. How can you do that if you never consider conflicting ideas?

        One of the exercises I’ve seen commonly in writing courses is for student to take the opposite side of an issue from the one they themselves hold and write an essay supporting that opposite view. This is learning how to research and how to think.

        • Historian
          Posted November 29, 2016 at 7:50 am | Permalink

          You and the other responders to Leigh have nicely provided a tutorial on what free speech entails and how one can appropriately counter speech that is not liked. Unfortunately, Leigh reflects an authoritarian mentality in which a group (this time on a college campus) can through intimidation block the speech of people they don’t like. Of course, Leigh has the right to present her views, which right I totally defend, no matter how noxious I may find them.

  2. Donald Fox
    Posted November 28, 2016 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if Tufts is monitoring students’ TV viewing habits. What if you’re caught watching episodes of The Simpsons or Family Guy or Real Time or streaming the comedy routines of George Carlin or Louis C.K. and even worse caught in the act of laughing at politically incorrect comedy! Surely any of these transgressions would result immediate expulsion.

  3. Posted November 28, 2016 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  4. Posted November 28, 2016 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Why is everything full of WHEREASes? Is it a requirement for resolutions in the US to be formulated in a really obnoxious writing style?

    Not an American myself, so honestly puzzled.

    • Posted November 28, 2016 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

      See here: http://www.princetonmodelcongress.com/delegates-write-bill/

      I think it’s just tradition.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted November 28, 2016 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

        Attorneys love it.

      • Posted November 28, 2016 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

        Thanks.

        So there are actual instructions that say “This section’s clauses should always begin with a Whereas…”. Wow.

      • Diane G.
        Posted November 29, 2016 at 2:50 am | Permalink

        When I was at Oregon State in the very late 60’s, part of the faculty proposed that said group as a whole should pass a resolution condemning the war in Viet Nam. This caught the attention of students and so a great many of us showed up for the next faculty meeting.

        The extreme deference to Robert’s Rules of Order was stilting throughout, but eventually it came down to this: one of the infinite whereas-es in the proposal began with “Whereas there should be…” Wait, wait, someone objected, you can’t use a “should be” in a “whereas…”

        The resolution was tabled, naturally. I don’t think they ever finished the conversation about whether or not there should be a should be in a whereas.

  5. J.Baldwin
    Posted November 28, 2016 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    Who should be afraid of whom?

  6. Historian
    Posted November 28, 2016 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Poor, Jake. He must now feel unsafe — physically as well as emotionally. I wonder who on the campus will help him feel “safe.”

  7. fjordaniv
    Posted November 28, 2016 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    A great number of Trump’s supporters play the victim card, and the students’ responses give them more ammunition to do so.

    Now that they have their hands on the wheel, the right wing will no doubt, under the guise of “fiscal responsibility,” attempt to target higher education funding, and their efforts will be defended in part as a sensible reaction to leftist “indoctrination.”

    They’ll claim that it isn’t censorship, as they aren’t passing laws or resolutions to restrict speech—yet.

    The authoritarians and Orwellians on the right are far more dangerous and powerful than those on the left. It’s a pity that these students are incapable of discerning how much the political landscape has shifted in the past few weeks or of how contemptuous many are toward their theatrical grievances.

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted November 28, 2016 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

      I will thank you not to use the term “Orwellians” as if it meant those in favour of authoritarianism and censorship. I am an Orwell adherent and I am neither. Nor was he.

      • Carl
        Posted November 28, 2016 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

        How about as an adjective? True or false:
        George Orwell (i.e. Eric Arthur Blair) was not Orwellian?

        • Diane G.
          Posted November 29, 2016 at 3:08 am | Permalink

          I agree with you that “Orwellian” as an adjective (and I’ve never heard it as a noun, quite frankly) refers to the behavior George was satirizing.

    • Taz
      Posted November 28, 2016 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

      The authoritarians and Orwellians on the right are far more dangerous and powerful than those on the left.

      I don’t think you can look at them in isolation. They feed off each other.

      • Diane G.
        Posted November 29, 2016 at 3:10 am | Permalink

        Yes, we have to remember that the far wings of both parties have more in common than in dispute, behaviorally speaking. It’s that old horseshoe, again.

  8. mfdempsey1946
    Posted November 28, 2016 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    This combination of pabulum and self-righteous outrage should persuade anyone with half of a functioning brain from ever wanting to to be a student at Tufts.

    • Posted November 28, 2016 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      + 1. But where should the prospective students go? Too many universities seem to be the same or worse.

      • mfdempsey1946
        Posted November 28, 2016 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

        Perhaps one may hope that this will prove to be a passing trend in American and other countries’ universities, one that will melt away quickly. Just like snowflakes.

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted November 28, 2016 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

        My university is just fine.
        Several months ago our sidewalks were defaced with big swaths of chalk graffiti that was pro-Trump. Did our students march to the admin building, demanding the offending material be removed? Did they exclaim that they felt unsafe? No. Some simply got chalk and wrote counter-graffiti over it. After a few days you could barely see the original messages. I was very proud of ’em, though I regret not taking pictures.

        • mordacious1
          Posted November 29, 2016 at 8:59 am | Permalink

          Why is this different than shouting down a speaker?

      • Carl
        Posted November 28, 2016 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

        Jonathan Haidt’s group – Heterodox Academy – has conveniently rated 150 schools for you on a 100 point scale (100 being the most open to speech). Tufts gets a 17.5.

        http://heterodoxacademy.org/resources/guide-to-colleges/

    • rickflick
      Posted November 28, 2016 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

      But as a student at Tufts you can take a philosophy class from Dan Dennett.😎

      • Diane G.
        Posted November 29, 2016 at 3:15 am | Permalink

        The horns of a dilemma!

  9. Posted November 28, 2016 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    So I find it very interesting that these special snowflakes feel “unsafe” or “offended” by simple exposure to ideas they don’t like — but feel perfectly free to viciously personally attack any individual that they don’t agree with.

    And make implied threats (like working to get him expelled).

    Real threats with potential to have lasting effects on a person’s future prospects. Not: I had to listen to something I don’t agree with (for f*ck’s sake!).

    Hypocrisy much, Tufts students?

    • ploubere
      Posted November 28, 2016 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

      sub.

  10. Merilee
    Posted November 28, 2016 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Clarity is subjective??? Some countries ( North Korea?) handle free speech better than the U.S.? Whatta buncha hogwash!

    • Posted November 29, 2016 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      There is a movement, coming from some pomos or the like, who think that the call for clarity is oppressive for some reason or other. I think it comes from a weird sense of “don’t tell me what to do, man!”

      Needless to say, I agree with Sokal (and what he says about deconstruction he and I would generalize):

      “I confess that I’m an unabashed Old Leftist who never quite understood how deconstruction was supposed to help the working class.”

      I would also add “or anyone else except the powerful who stand to gain by having everyone confused and ununderstanding”, etc.

      • Merilee
        Posted November 29, 2016 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

        Perfectly put, Keith!! There should be a sequel to Analyze This ( and That) called Deconstruct This! ( where’s the cat barf emoji?)

  11. Randall Schenck
    Posted November 28, 2016 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    I suspect mentally, some of these students were unsafe when mom let them out of the house on their own. A good brainwashing is so much easier when the brain is relatively free of anything.

    • rickflick
      Posted November 28, 2016 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

      When their brains overload and they feel unsafe, students often return home to have mom do the laundry and cut up their meat at dinner.

    • Kevin
      Posted November 28, 2016 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

      Bubble upbringings have brought us the Bubble World – thank you Bubble Parents.

      This is what happens when people are trapped simultaneously by empathy guided without reason and and an unconstrained offensiveness meter.

      • darrelle
        Posted November 29, 2016 at 7:24 am | Permalink

        I’m convinced that a big factor is an above average craving for attention. Judging by the evidence of their behavior towards those that challenge them in any way they don’t actually believe the things they say.

  12. Posted November 28, 2016 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    Free speech only seems to apply when it comes to insults for anyone deemed a bigot.

    Bring back Frank Zappa.

    • Posted November 29, 2016 at 6:43 am | Permalink

      And I (or the committee) get to decide …

  13. Posted November 28, 2016 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    When universities give legitimacy to the idea that speech is harmful it’s hardly surprising that some students respond to this ‘harm’ by running people over and stabbing them.

    Ohio State University scores a Yellow FIRE rating.

    https://www.thefire.org/schools/the-ohio-state-university/

  14. Posted November 28, 2016 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    Echoing Mr. Baldwin’s statement above – who should be afraid of who?

    Carl Kruse

  15. David Duncan
    Posted November 29, 2016 at 1:34 am | Permalink

    This all proves that there are too many universities, too many kids there that don’t belong, and a lot of money being wasted. Let the snowflakes and their academic enablers go and explore new opportunities. i.e get a real job.

  16. Diane G.
    Posted November 29, 2016 at 3:41 am | Permalink

    While the whole PC movement has undeniably jumped the shark, it’s important to remember the kernel of truth that was the impetus for the idiocy. There is such a thing as white privilege, there is such a thing as white male privilege, there are such things as sexism, racism, xenophobia, etc.

    Obviously the scary restraints on free expression mandated by the SJW crowd need opposition, but at the same time we all need to speak up for those who are truly hurt or, worse, endangered by traditional codes of behavior.

    Rather than the complete silencing advocated by the SJW’s (and the “snowflakes”), students (and liberals as a whole) need to spend their time loudly opposing oppression rather than thinking they can simply outlaw it.

    (Just a very wordy endorsement of the old saw, “the answer to hate speech is more speech.”)

  17. eric
    Posted November 29, 2016 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    Another student senator, Ben Kesslen, suggested that Tufts students “instantly” began feeling “unsafe” upon learning of the resolution’s existence.

    If the mere existence of an opinion that disagrees with your own makes you stressed to the point of harm, you really need to see a psychologist.

    Kind of interesting how the far left and far right can function in parallel. On the right, you have news reporting of every bad act leading people to have a very skewed and wrong estimation of the level of violence in society. But on the left, perhaps we’re seeing the same thing here; constant reporting of the very worst, most extreme sort of PC intolerance ‘normalizes’ it in the minds of college students, so that they think that claiming PTSD-like symptoms whenever someone voices social policy opinion they disagree with is a normal human response.


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