University of Chicago students whine after the University says that speech disruptions will be punished

In May of this year I reported on my University’s approval of the “Picker Report,” which modified previous school regulations to clarify that disruptive conduct—including “obstruction, impairment, or interference with University-sponsored or -authorized activities”—would be subject to punishment. (See the link for the possible punishments, which range from a simple warning through suspension, expulsion, and revocation of one’s degree). Here’s the regulation showing the changes that were made:

At the time, a group called UChicago United (a consortium of U of C student multicultural organizations) issued a list of 43 demands to the University, one of which was this:

  1. We demand that the university keep the 1970 Disciplinary System for Disruptive Conduct for the time being and suspend the faculty senate vote on the Picker Report.

That is, they wanted no formal code prohibiting the disruptions outlined above, or specified punishment for such disruption. Of course they didn’t win, and the Picker Report’s stipulations are now enshrined in the University’s student manual.

But the entitled young continue to beef, for they want the right to shut down talks and disrupt them—without any penalties. That’s the subject of an op-ed in the new Maroon (the U of C student newspaper) by Matthew Andersson, an alumnus of the business school. Though no longer a student, he wants his younger colleagues to have freedom to disrupt anything they want—without fear of sanctions. Or so it seems in his article, “Don’t shoot the messenger” (subtitle: “The University should be celebrating student activists, not disciplining them”).

Why would we want to discipline “activists”, though? Because Anderson is talking about those “activists” who violate University regulations and shut down or disrupt talks, as has happened here several times in the past three years. Here’s what he says:

While most casual observers would agree with UChicago’s longstanding support of free speech and inclusivity, the actual impact of these institutional beliefs is much more complicated. In particular, the University’s commitment to open discourse has led it to unjustifiably punish those who interfere with the implementation of free speech policies.

UChicago has utilized various gradations of punishment for violating its particular judgments of acceptable behavior and reserves the latitude to invent new forms of responses at its discretion. But punishment needlessly intimidates students, potentially impeding their academic journeys at the University. It also threatens legal interference with students’ future employment and educational relationships, such as by putting disciplinary letters in their permanent files, revoking financial aid, ordering probation, and even expelling them. Such harsh responses are not only morally questionable, but legally dubious. For those reasons among others, the institution’s speech conduct codes and contracts, actual or implied, should be rejected.

What a load of hooey! What he’s saying is that students could actually suffer from violating the disciplinary code, and they shouldn’t have to. They should be able to “interfere with the implementation of free speech policies”—Andersson’s euphemism for “shutting down talks or disrupting speakers”—without any punishment.

While Andersson’s main rationale seems to be the horrible suffering that students might experience if they broke the rules, he goes on to make an even weirder argument. Because student protest threatens a University that is becoming a capitalistic “multibillion-dollar asset corporation”, that protest must perforce be good. And students shouldn’t be punished for trying to change that “corporation”.  Finally, Andersson aligns his beloved speech-disrupters and shutter-downers with the U.S. civil rights movement, the Polish Solidarity movement, and protests against Vietnam War.

That’s more hooey, too. Those protestors were, by and large, peaceful, didn’t shut down talks, and, when they violated civil laws (not campus regulations), they did so knowing and accepting the consequences. Civil rights and Vietnam demonstrators were willing to go to jail for civil disobedience, and and I can’t remember a single time that these protestors thought they should be immune to the laws.

But the modern entitled students not only feel they not only have the the right to violate the First Amendment or the student disciplinary code (which pretty much follows the First Amendment here), but also have the right to go unpunished when they do so.

Sorry, Mr. Andersson, but you’re bawling up a drainpipe. Not only is shutting down or disrupting talks inimical to the free discourse that underlies our University, but your editorial is unconvincing when you argue that “we’re just like the civil rights movement in the Sixties.”

I needn’t go on. Andersson’s plea for exculpation is dumb, and, if followed, would completely destroy free speech on this campus. If nobody feared punishment, every “controversial” talk would be disrupted. And we know where that would lead.

54 Comments

  1. GM
    Posted October 28, 2017 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    “The University should be celebrating student activists, not disciplining them”

    If the system that your activism is supposedly directed against celebrates it instead of fighting it, then you are no longer an “activist” against the system, you and the system have become one.

    And then “activist” is less of an accurate description of your activities than “oppressor”.

    • Darrin Carter
      Posted October 28, 2017 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      +1

    • BJ
      Posted October 28, 2017 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      Isn’t that the ultimate goal?

      • GM
        Posted October 29, 2017 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

        It is indeed.

        BTW, quite a few people in positions of power in Western countries today were radical activists against the system that they are governing now back in the 1960s and 1970s.

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted October 28, 2017 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Yes, there is no excuse for what he wants to do and he expressed that very well. Privileged rubbish.

  3. Carey Haug
    Posted October 28, 2017 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Other colleges should adopt and follow this policy. Middlebury, Berkeley, Evergreen, and Reed come to mind.

    • Historian
      Posted October 28, 2017 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      An instructor at Reed College in Oregon, who describes herself “as an eminently replaceable, untenured, gay, mixed-race woman with PTSD,” has an article in the Washington Post dealing with how her humanities class was disrupted.

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/professors-like-me-cant-stay-silent-about-this-extremist-moment-on-campuses/2017/10/27/fd7aded2-b9b0-11e7-9e58-e6288544af98_story.html?hpid=hp_no-name_opinion-card-d%253Ahomepage%252Fstory&utm_term=.8b8e27833ce1#comments

      • darrelle
        Posted October 28, 2017 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

        JFCC. Protesters in the classroom / lecture hall during class should not be tolerated under any circumstances. That is just ridiculous and the administrative people allowing that have utterly failed in their responsibilities.

        • Hemidactylus
          Posted October 28, 2017 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

          So there are constraints on free expression?

          • Bruce Lyon
            Posted October 28, 2017 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

            Free speech ≠ free expression

          • darrelle
            Posted October 28, 2017 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

            Yes there sure as hell should be. Demonstrators can and should be able to protest in certain circumstances and should be disallowed to do so in others.

            In a classroom setting, when a class is in progress most definitely qualifies as circumstances in which demonstrators should not be allowed. If people take issue with a class there are already established avenues for them to voice their complaints or concerns. Also if they wish to demonstrate they can still do so somewhere outside the class. Alternatively they can vote with their feet by canceling the class or, if they really find things so unacceptable, leaving the school and finding another more to their likeing.

            I’d be interested in hearing any justification you believe there is for allowing protestors in the classroom or conversely how denying protestors the right to demonstrate in the classroom during class is unfairly curtailing their rights to free speech.

            • Hemidactylus
              Posted October 28, 2017 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

              I am establishing a baseline that free speech is not to be taken as an absolute that trounces all other considerations. I would not justify disruptive behavior towards what happens in a classroom setting.

              • Craw
                Posted October 28, 2017 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

                No. You are misrepresenting what free speech is. I suspect this is in order to get assent to a statement you will later use to justify curtailing real free speech. That is the import of your “baseline”.

            • Historian
              Posted October 28, 2017 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

              I wonder if there is a legal basis for non-protesting students to sue the college and/or the class disrupters for willfully denying them a service they paid for: to be taught the subject matter of the course.

              • Carey Haug
                Posted October 28, 2017 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

                I would think the administration has the authority to restrict class attendance to students who have registered for the specific class and to guests invited by the professor.

              • Carey Haug
                Posted October 28, 2017 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

                I would think the administration has the authority to restrict class attendance to students who have registered for the specific class and to guests invited by the professor.

              • BJ
                Posted October 28, 2017 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

                But Carey, as Hemidactylus so helpfully pointed out, then you would be restricting students’ ability to freely express themselves by coming to classes they didn’t register and/or pay for! All students should be allowed to show up to all classes, and scream and yell at the teachers all they like while they do it. Otherwise, it’s just not free speech.

                [obvious sarcasm tag]

              • Posted October 30, 2017 at 11:45 am | Permalink

                About Carey Haug’s question (replying here because we’re at the “right” of the page already):

                Every institution of higher education I have attended as a student has the policy that strictly speaking showing up in a class one is not registered for without the instructor’s permission is trespassing, and the instructor has the right to call campus security/police to remove you. (How they were supposed to do that in the days before cellphones, I have no idea, but these days I imagine it would be easier.) This was explicit in the student handbooks. Similarly, members of the public are not, technically, allowed in the libraries at McGill or UBC, at least when I was there. (Contrary to popular belief.)

                Professor Bunge even had an explicit policy for visitors: everyone in the world is allowed to attend, please register if you want to be guarantee your place in the queue for questions and discussion remarks. Limit your discussion to the Canadian official languages. (This is more to himself – the problems with being pentalingual. :))

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted October 28, 2017 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

          A classroom does not constitute a traditional “public forum” wherein the government must permit free speech. It has a constitutional counterpart in the First Amendment’s “captive audience” doctrine.

  4. Jake Sevins
    Posted October 28, 2017 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Reminds of me the times Antifa compared themselves to the soldiers storming the beach at Normandy… yeah, pretty much the same thing.

  5. Ken Kukec
    Posted October 28, 2017 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    I absolutely agree that protesters should never be allowed to prevent anyone from speaking. But, where supporters are allowed to cheer or applaud or waive placards in support of a speaker, protesters should have the exact equivalent right to boo and jeer and waive signs of disapproval. There’s nothing more American — and nothing that better encapsulates American free speech — than a well-timed, old-fashion Bronx cheer.

    • Historian
      Posted October 28, 2017 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

      Imagine a scenario where admission is charged to attend a talk. At the talk, the speaker is drowned out by protestors, making it impossible for him or her to deliver the talk. Is such an action justified by the First Amendment since it denies the people who want to hear the talk a service they paid for?

      Also, consider the fact that shouting protestors at congressional hearings have been summarily removed from the room. Are the protestors being denied freedom of speech?

      I am not a legal scholar or lawyer, but I would find it quite surprising that under the guise of freedom of speech another person’s freedom of speech can be denied. Perhaps the line can be drawn at the point when disruption makes it impossible for the speaker to complete the talk.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted October 28, 2017 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

        I have no problem with the host of a speech setting ground rules for audience conduct. But, where the host is a governmental entity, those rules must be fairly and equally enforced, pro and anti. “Viewpoint neutral,” if you will.

        If you allow a standing ovation by those who approve of the speaker’s message, allow a standing show of disapprobation for those who reprove. It would be patently unconstitutional, I believe, for the congressional sergeant-at-arms to remove disruptive protesters from the gallery, but to allow equally disruptive supporters to remain.

        Those who speak on controversial topics are no more entitled to snowflake-treatment than are those who would seek to silence them.

        • Historian
          Posted October 28, 2017 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

          It strikes me that some of these free speech issues would be decided by the ideological makeup of the courts hearing the cases. For example, suppose a talk at a public college is sponsored by a student group. Would the student group be considered a governmental entity because it was chartered by the school? I don’t know, but I could see arguments on both sides. But, for me, the issue is not whether the supporters and detractors of a speaker should be given equal time to verbally and boisterously express their feelings toward the speaker. Rather, in the case of a public institution, does the school authorities have the legal right to remove people who make it impossible for speakers to actually deliver their talks? If they don’t have the right because of the First Amendment then, in my view, we invite anarchy.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted October 28, 2017 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

            Sure, a university can remove people disrupting a speaker. A speakers’ program merely creates a “limited public forum,” not a forum where unlimited speech must be tolerated. Under the First Amendment, however, a public university, as an arm of the government, must must exercise that authority in a neutral manner, without favoring one viewpoint over another.

            I don’t think that should be a difficult or controversial proposition.

  6. Posted October 28, 2017 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    I guess freedom to whine is part of free speech. And, as always, no one should feel obligated to listen.

  7. DrBrydon
    Posted October 28, 2017 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    We’ve heard from Mr. Andersson before.

    I won’t say more other than observe that these groups are so self-absorbed and incapable of seeing the larger picture that they can’t even formulate a single list of demands. The list is repetitive, and even the Organization of Latin American Students and the Movimiento Estudantil Chicanx de Aztlán (MEChA) de UChicago can’t seem to work together. As long as they present themselves as nothing more than a collection of cliques, they shouldn’t expect anyone to listen to them.

    • Posted October 28, 2017 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

      Good catch! I couldn’t remember that; how did you? Either I’m old and forgetful or you have an especially good memory.

      • DrBrydon
        Posted October 28, 2017 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

        It was the B-School connection.

  8. Hemidactylus
    Posted October 28, 2017 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    I see a dilemma in weighing out the concerns of those most despicable goons who wish to spew their vile hatred behind the protective buffer of campus free speech and those who wish to express themselves by overtly and assertively countering such bilge. At what point does limiting the expression of counterdemonstrators or protestors constitute a limitation of their own free speech and assembly rights? Sure we could see the idealized first amendment implementation result in a cacophonous battle of the bullhorns. To prevent such an outcome limits someone perhaps unjustly.

    • BJ
      Posted October 28, 2017 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

      “I see a dilemma in weighing out the concerns of those most despicable goons who wish to spew their vile hatred behind the protective buffer of campus free speech and those who wish to express themselves by overtly and assertively countering such bilge. ”

      Nobody is stopping people of the latter group from expressing themselves, only from purposefully trying to keep the former from expressing themselves in school-sponsored and sanctioned events. Is this somehow unreasonable to you? And, if so, does it also apply to, say, alt-right idiots who might wish to “express themselves by overtly and assertively countering such bilge” (what a ridiculous way to try and reframe things by dancing around them) by disrupting and/or shutting down leftist speakers (even though that has yet to happen on campus)?

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted October 28, 2017 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

        … by disrupting and/or shutting down leftist speakers (even though that has yet to happen on campus)

        Oh, that happened; it was just before your time, BJ. (Technically, before my time, too. 🙂 ) It’s what the Berkeley Free Speech Movement was all about (the granddaddy of all campus free-speech issues).

        • BJ
          Posted October 28, 2017 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

          Yes, I meant in the rash of disruptions of recent years, but your correction is technically correct, which is the best kind of correct 🙂

  9. Hemidactylus
    Posted October 28, 2017 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    And in highly circumscribed cases where we are talking about the alt-right or Nazi extremists wanting a podium I have a hard time with that sympathy thing if they are denied. To argue a slippery slope in such cases seems very close to a perversely ironic flipping of Niemöller’s “First They Came…”. I guess that makes me an authoritarian regressive leftist. Oh well. Nobody is perfect.

    • Posted October 28, 2017 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

      If their ideas are so obviously wrong, you should have no trouble refuting them either in the Q&A after the talk, in a separate speech, in letters to the editor of the campus paper, or in your own blog. Your desire to deny others the right to listen suggests that you lack confidence in the persuasiveness of your arguments.

    • darrelle
      Posted October 28, 2017 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      You don’t have to have any sympathy.

      • Hemidactylus
        Posted October 28, 2017 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

        I don’t feel obligated to lose any sleep either.

    • Posted October 28, 2017 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

      Granted that those are exceptionally bad hombres, but it is important to see that the slippery slope problem is a key flaw in the whole argument that it is ok to shut down speech. This is because among those who would shut down speech there is absolutely no consensus on where to draw the line over who gets shut down and who gets merely demonstrated against with counter-speech.
      There are those who would shut down the nazis and pretty much draw the line there — they would not not shut down someone from the far right who holds very conservative social and religious views but who is not racist and anti-semitic. But there are those who would shut down those from the far right who are like that. And, there are those who would also shut down those who are just from the right. Just look at the myriad cases where invited speakers were deplatformed, and it is fairly likely that you will find plenty of examples of shouting, screaming mobs blocking an invited speaker who you would not have personally chosen to shut down.

      • Hemidactylus
        Posted October 28, 2017 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

        Good points. I am feeling very conflicted on this one. I guess a public university such as Berkeley or University of Florida is obligated by the First Amendment to provide venues to all, which was salient when Coulter was to speak at the former. Private universities have more leeway.

        • Mark Sturtevant
          Posted October 28, 2017 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

          Progress! To commiserate, it is indeed highly irksome that far right wankers like Coulter and the like are repeatedly (and deliberately) invited to speak within the very heart of liberalism, like Berkeley, with the obvious intention to stir people up. Their goal, I think, is not so much to exercise free speech but instead to get shut down by activists on the left. They then are handed some nice fat talking points for their ranks on the far right. I think that is precisely what they want.
          Crazy situation, but the best way to handle it, in my opinion, is to ignore those particular clowns when they come to town. Let them speak to their small crowd and go home feeling disappointed.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted October 28, 2017 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

      None of that Voltairian “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” stuff for you, huh?

      Hope you never misrepresent yourself as a free-speech proponent, ’cause you’re not.

    • BJ
      Posted October 28, 2017 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

      I see, the law should be based on your personal sympathies. An interesting notion.

    • Carey Haug
      Posted October 28, 2017 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

      The definition of Nazi has been greatly expanded-it now includes Liberal Jews such as Alan Dershowitz. The word Nazi is now almost meaningless. But even traditional Nazis have 1st amendment rights, provided they are not inciting violence (another word which has changed meaning). I agree 100% with the Skokie decision.

      There are no highly circumscribed cases where the 1st Amendment can be ignored. It applies to everyone equally no matter how loathsome their views.

      • Hemidactylus
        Posted October 28, 2017 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

        The flip side of freedom should entail some responsibility to not entertain ideas that are socially destructive. There is an irony in upholding the speech rights of those who given actual power would trample on the very same rights as part of their racially totalitarian agenda. There is no appreciation of any social contract to afford others the same rights one uses to push hatred or moral impetus to treat others as bona fide humans. I suppose there is the need for legal impartiality even toward the rabid peddlers of hatred, but it seems to potentially sow the seeds of freedom’s destruction itself.

        • Carey Haug
          Posted October 28, 2017 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

          Your comments show you are not an unconditional supporter of the first amendment. Many would like to ignore it or even replace it so that Congress could make laws restricting speech. I personally don’t think anyone should have the authority to decide which ideas are socially destructive and need to be suppressed.

          • Hemidactylus
            Posted October 28, 2017 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

            I did accede (begrudgingly) to a need for legal impartiality, BUT my chosen emphasis is to highlight the need to put groups such as Nazis into social pariah status and not pat myself for upholding their rights to be morally repugnant twits who should be condemned every step of the way. And if a public university just says NO I am not about to defend to the death their rights. Seriously? I gotta die to protect the ability of Nazis to condemn me for serial interracial relationships? I would rather die for the right to the latter! And that will be the case given their warped standards. So who do I die for? I am all for so-called “Miscegenation”. YMMV. Loving v. Virginia!

            • Carey Haug
              Posted October 28, 2017 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

              Nazis, in the traditional sense of the word are already social pariahs on the fringe of society. Very few people would be persuaded to join them no matter how often they speak. Where I live,nobody bats an eyelash at interracial couples, though it may be different elsewhere.

              • Hemidactylus
                Posted October 28, 2017 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

                Where I live I vividly recall feeling the not so subtle threat from Klan types of being beaten to a pulp or worse for the temerity of listening to hiphop while pumping gas into my car albeit in the late 80s. Not quite the same as driving while black but increases my level of sympathy for *that*. So I am not about to underestimate the current prevalence of toxic or dangerous racist sentiments.

  10. ladyatheist
    Posted October 28, 2017 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    Kids really need to be educated on the sacrifices that protesters endured in the 1960s.

    • Carey Haug
      Posted October 29, 2017 at 8:08 am | Permalink

      Yes MLK wrote his famous letter from the Birmingham jail.

  11. Steven E
    Posted October 28, 2017 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    Simplest test for is it reasonable or not – would it be ok for people that oppose you to do the same?
    If conservatives started showing up and preventing left wing speakers would these same people that don’t want to be punished demand punishment. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind they would.
    The demands are terrible and hypocritical, and will hopefully be entirely ignored.

  12. Diane G.
    Posted October 29, 2017 at 5:20 am | Permalink

    sub

  13. Robert Bray
    Posted October 29, 2017 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    What follows is not strictly germane to the ‘free speech’ aspect of this thread, but as I read the document from the UofC student I couldn’t help thinking of a dramatic sequence of events that happened at the university in late-1968 and early-1969, while I was a graduate student there.

    In January of 1969 approximately 400 students occupied the administration building for a sit-in that would last two weeks. They were protesting, among other things, the firing of a Marxist sociology professor who had openly sided with radical students opposing the leadership of President Levi. While the decision not to renew Marlene Dixon’s contract (second three years toward tenure) came under the guise of poor scholarly reviews, the student protesters, led by sociology graduate student Howie Machtinger (SDS), believed it was purely political. After several weeks of protests in Nov.-Dec. ’68, which got them nowhere, they decided and acted upon the sit-in.

    That was nearly half a century ago! Now we read almost daily that student activism still lives, at the UofC as elsewhere! But, alas: the difference is that Machtinger and several others in his cohort were willing to pay the price: suspension, expulsion, serious risk of ending their careers before they even began.

    How different from the whingeing of this college generation’s ‘leftist’ protestors.

  14. Posted October 30, 2017 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    One part of civil disobedience is the willingness to pay the penalties involved …


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