My letter in the student paper promoting free speech

I guess I’m on some sort of free-speech-on-campus kick since I heard that many students, alumni, and faculty were protesting an upcoming debate at the University of Chicago featuring Steve Bannon. Given our University’s liberal free speech policy, I was surprised—indeed, sandbagged—by this protest. It’s actually is more than just peaceful protest (I also think Bannon is a bad dude), but a call to deplatform him and rescind his invitation. Peaceful protest is great, and I encourage it, but I abhor censorship, deplatforming, and disruption of speakers. Students might actually learn something from such a debate, but the Censors of Record are trying to prevent that. How dare they? What gives them the right to determine what others on campus can hear?

Anyway, to date the student newspaper, the Chicago Maroon, has said nothing about the free-speech issue on our campus, despite it being a newspaper and despite it being on the free-est speech campus in America. If they are in favor of free speech, and against deplatforming, why haven’t they said anything? Or if they want Bannon banned because he represents “hate speech,” they should say that instead. So far: crickets. I have no idea why the Maroon‘s editorial board hasn’t weighed in yet, but it bothers me.

And so I wrote a letter to the editor pleading for the paper to take a stand. You can read my letter, which came out today, by clicking on the link below. I won’t reproduce it here as I’m sure the Maroon would appreciate the views. But do go read it, if for no other reason than to show the paper that many people are interested in free speech. And, if you wish, leave a comment after the letter.

Note that there’s another letter in the same issue, written by a first-year undergraduate, that characterizes Bannon’s views as “hate speech”, implicitly arguing that they have no place on campus.  This gives even more urgency for the paper to take an editorial stand on this issue! Are the editors afraid of student reaction if they don’t call for banning “hate speech”? Or are the editors divided in their views and thus can’t produce a coherent statement? Who knows? All I know is that it looks mighty bad when the student newspaper keeps its editorial mouth zipped on such a pressing issue.

(Note: I did not choose the title below.)


Another piece on the same page describes a recent appearance here by New York Times Columnist David Brooks, who graduated from the U of C in 1982. At the end of the article, Brooks, though not a fan of Bannon’s views, endorses his visit to the University:

Brooks enthusiastically endorsed Bannon’s upcoming visit to campus as an opportunity to better understand the populist worldview, although he stridently disagrees with Bannon’s views.

“I spent an afternoon a few months ago with Steve Bannon. I highly recommend that he come here,” he said. “It was like being with Trotsky in 1905. This guy knows who his intellectual antecedents are, he’s got a 50-year plan to take over this institution, that institution, he knows who his international allies are…. He’s got a tremendous coherence to his worldview and it was kind of inspiring. I didn’t agree with it at all, but at least there’s a coherence and a conviction.”

Brooks referred to his College experience, which taught him that hearing others’ ideas was the best way to sharpen his own convictions.

“They taught us how to argue by seeing the other points of view as well as we saw our own,” he said. “If you don’t get in the habit of teaching it, people will dismiss what they don’t want to believe.”


  1. GBJames
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 9:08 am | Permalink


  2. BobTerrace
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 9:43 am | Permalink


  3. Posted February 23, 2018 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    A point about the other letter. The author cites a number of articles from Breitbart which she claims are hate speech. I didn’t bother to read them, so I am assuming she is right.

    Steve Bannon was in charge of Breitbart when those articles were published but the author doesn’t know that, when he goes to UC, he is going to repeat them. She is not arguing for the censorship of hate – or offensive – speech, she is arguing for the silencing of Steve Bannon, no matter what he is going to talk about.

    The censoring of individuals as opposed to certain forms of speech strikes me as being extremely dangerous.

    • wendell read
      Posted February 24, 2018 at 9:37 am | Permalink

      You make an extremely important point: stopping a person from speaking because of what he “might” say is about the worst violation of the concept of free speech that I can think of.

  4. glen1davidson
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    From the pro-censorship letter:

    Giving him a platform inherently legitimizes what he has to say.

    No, that’s the point of free speech, people should be able to speak their minds without any sort of endorsement being implied.

    Giving a platform to various speakers at various times legitimizes an airing of a diversity of viewpoints. That’s how it should be, and it’s the censors who want to give a platform only to “legitimate” speakers.

    Glen Davidson

  5. Randall Schenck
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Possibly David Brooks finds some things in Bannon that help him find his way in a republican world that deserted him after the invasion of Iraq, which he favored very much. The destruction of modern civilization or the creation of a past that never really existed maybe. As long as it is backed in the conservative thinking it cannot be all bad for Brooks.

    • eric
      Posted February 23, 2018 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

      Brooks actually says the same thing Jerry does (only much more briefly). I.e. ‘I don’t agree with any of it, but it helps me understand the other side.’

  6. mikeyc
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Excellent letter, Dr PCC(e). I hope they respond.

    • Posted February 23, 2018 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      The only response I want is an editorial promoting free speech. They won’t answer me personally.

  7. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    (I also think Bannon is a bad dude)

    A bad hombre, boss. Keep up with your Trump-era memes. 🙂

  8. Posted February 23, 2018 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    The deplatformers are essentially telling potential audience members that they don’t have the capacity to remain unswayed by the speaker’s ideas and that they are, therefore, doing them a big favor in not letting them hear what the speaker has to say.

  9. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Some of the fault here goes to Bannon for having a name that goes so well will “ban” — “Ban Bannon” has a Bowie-like “Jean Genie” rhythm and alliteration to it.

    • Posted February 23, 2018 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      And there’s the “loose cannon” aspect to consider.

  10. Cate Plys
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    The student editors are, I’m sure, afraid to come right out and endorse the university’s position of free speech. Every time I pick up a Maroon it’s full of student opinion columns that are completely regressive left, and anti-free speech. (And I’ve seen more copies than I care to recall that seemed to be more opinion than actual journalism.) I don’t know what percentage of the students agree, but the regressives are clearly organized and active.

    I read the Zimmer article from WSJ you posted about yesterday, and I was surprised that both Zimmer and Zingales talked only about the student and faculty response to Bannon that involved the desire to peacefully protest his appearance and formulate arguments against him. They both pretended that there isn’t an active movement to try to de-platform, too. But it’s been clear from looking at the Maroon just sporadically that there is a lot of pushback against the university’s free speech position. I’m sure I read a piece recently advocating for getting the university to change its stance.

    It was good to see Zimmer felt confident about the university’s stance, but it also made me worry they will be as unprepared as Berkeley was.

  11. Posted February 23, 2018 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    I’d guess that the editorial board is conflicted and hence is not taking action.

    • eric
      Posted February 23, 2018 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

      “We’re conflicted, and here’s why” would also be a reasonable Editorial Board essay.

      • Posted February 26, 2018 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

        True, or just publish two of them, a “for and against” some aspect. But even coordinating that can be difficult.

  12. eric
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    Well PCC, only a few online comments on your essay but they’re all positive (well, one tries to take the discussion off-topic, but even that one doesn’t disagree with you).

  13. Tim Harris
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    I must confess it never occurred to me that David Brooks had any convictions, but rather a desire to retain a lucrative position by not taking any genuine position, by writing what amounts to nothing in a style that he, and his editors, I suppose, think sounds ‘responsible’ and ‘serious’. His recent pathetic piece on guns is a case in point.

  14. Tim Harris
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 7:19 pm | Permalink


  15. Diane G.
    Posted February 24, 2018 at 12:15 am | Permalink


  16. Dale Franzwa
    Posted February 24, 2018 at 12:36 am | Permalink

    Excellent letter, Jerry. I am also glad to see David Brooks’ letter as well. Every Friday, I like to watch Shields and Brooks discuss politics on the PBS Newshour (Shields is liberal, Brooks conservative but responsibly so). I enjoy their differing slants on the issues of the day, always thoughtfully delivered and respectful of each others’ points of view. The Ctrl Left could learn a lot from these two.

  17. wendell read
    Posted February 24, 2018 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    I am truly delighted to see all the positive comments following your letter. Perhaps more University of Chicago professors might follow your example.

  18. Posted February 24, 2018 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    No matter how much I might despise what a person has to say, I will always defend their right to say it, barring defamation or slander, of course.

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