Williams College considers ways to water down free speech

As Professor Luana Maroja wrote on this site some time ago, Williams College (where she teaches) is embroiled in a debate about whether to adopt the Chicago Principles of Free Expression, a university policy outlining First Amendment guidelines for free speech on campus, and one that has been adopted by over fifty American colleges.

Unfortunately, Williams College, as I’ve documented several times (e.g., here, here and here), is rapidly become the Evergreen State College of the East, with many students and faculty openly rejecting the Chicago Principles and, indeed, free speech itself.  Along with this comes the usual demands, not for a change in American society, but for improvements in the lives of the students themselves: a change in the curriculum incorporating more “ethnicity” courses, the hiring of more mental-health counselors, free weekend trips to Boston and New York, and housing segregated by race (euphemistically called “affinity housing”).

An article in today’s Insider Higher Ed (“IHE“; click on screenshot below) documents this student pushback (supported by some pusillanimous faculty) and describes the halfhearted attempt of Williams, in the face of aggrieved and offended students, to enact some kind of speech code.

Originally, as the article describes, about half the Williams faculty signed a petition favoring adoption of the Chicago Principles, and then met to discuss the issue. (They weren’t voting on it, just talking about it.) That’s when the student pushback against free speech began:

[Maroja] said a group of about 20 students showed up, some carrying signs proclaiming “free speech harms” and other similar sentiments. Maroja said the students were disruptive and eventually started yelling at white, male professors to sit down and “acknowledge their privilege.” Maroja said she attempted to engage the students — as a Hispanic woman, she said she understood prejudice — and told them that shutting down speech they find offensive would only invigorate bigoted speakers.

The students were unpersuaded.

“Students were just screaming that we were trying to ‘kill them,’” Maroja said.

The students had put together and brought with them a lengthy statement, which has since morphed into a counterpetition, that argued the Chicago principles — and more broadly, unfettered free speech — harms minority students. [JAC: The “counterpetition” seems to be unavailable.]

These claims that free speech is violence, or “kills” people, are ridiculous hyperbole.  What these students want is for everyone to shut up and listen to them, and then enact their demands. This, and their claims that even discussing the idea of speech as violence itself constitute violence, is a form of intimidation. And it’s worked for, the Williams administration, despite having formed a committee to examine free speech, is already saying that the committee should balance freedom of expression with the “harm” that such expression could cause to minority students.

This is part of a larger movement that wants to water down free speech because they consider it inimical to “diversity and inclusion”. As the article notes,

Those who disagree with basing policies on the Chicago principles don’t dispute the importance of free expression, especially in academe. But these critics say that reliance on the principles alone can ignore the role of a college in promoting inclusivity and diversity.

Well, if that’s the case, then the First Amendment is inimical to the equality guaranteed Americans by the Constitution!

Such dilution of the First Amendment, of course, goes against every interpretation that the courts have made of the Constitution. Speech, say the courts unanimously, cannot be censored by the government just because it offends people, even if it offends them deeply. (The only exceptions to freedom of speech are speech that causes imminent harm that cannot be prevented by non-censorious means, slander and libel, personal harassment, false advertisements. And, of course, private institutions can enact their own policy: the First Amendment is about government restrictions.) I won’t go over the arguments again for not censoring “hate speech”, you can read a fuller discussion in Nadine Strossen’s new book Hate: Why We Should Resist it with Free Speech, Not Censorship (Strossen is former head of the American Civil Liberties Union), or listen to Christopher Hitchens’s powerful defense of First-Amendmen-style free speech.

Of course Williams is a private college and so can make what rules it likes, but I see no good argument for a private college carving out exceptions to the kind of free speech mandated at public universities. But that is what many students at Williams want, and so they made their own rebuttal to the free-speech petition. IHE reports further:

In their rebuttal, the students, who called themselves the Coalition Against Racist Education Now, or CARE, wrote that the faculty petition “prioritizes the protection of ideas over the protection of people and fails to recognize that behind every idea is a person with a particular subjectivity. Our beliefs, and the consequences of our actions, are choices we make. Any claim to the ‘protection of ideas’ that is not founded in the insurance of people’s safety poses a real threat — one which targets most pointedly marginalized people. An ideology of free speech absolutism that prioritizes ideas over people, giving ‘deeply offensive’ language a platform at this institution, will inevitably imperil marginalized students.”

The student group did not respond to requests for comment. But in an opinion piece in the student newspaper, The Record,CARE representatives wrote that they had no interest in the “free speech debate.” They said these issues come down to trust among students, professors and administrators. The students called the free speech argument a “discursive cover.”

“For this reason, we refuse to accept the terms of this debate. Instead, let’s see the faculty petition for what it is: an institutional manifestation of a national anxiety towards a more diverse student and faculty population, not an invitation to a dialogue,” they wrote. “Prejudice cannot be talked away; more ‘dialogue’ is not the answer. Oppression can’t be fixed with rational debate because oppression is not rational.”

Welcome to Stalin’s Russia (or Mao’s Cultural Revolution): a land of doublespeak. Oppression must be fixed with censorship!

These students are benighted, for they fail to realize that the protection of people and minorities has occurred because of free speech, and also that there already exist rules, both university and government ones, that prevent racism and bigotry. What CARE wants is the censorship of “offensive” language that, it’s said, will “inevitably imperil marginalized students.”

It won’t. What it will do is occasionally offend marginalized students, but will also offend non-marginalized students. But as Van Jones said in this powerful video filmed at the University of Chicago (required watching!),

“Learn how to deal with adversity. I’m not going to take all the weights out of the gym. That’s the whole point of the gym. This is the gym. You can’t live on a campus where people say stuff you don’t like? . . . . This is ridiculous b.s., liberals. . . I want you to be offended every single day on this campus. I want you to be deeply aggrieved, and offended, and upset, and then learn to speak back. Because that’s what we need from you in these communities.”

Well, many at Williams are aggrieved, offended and upset, largely about phantoms in their own head, but they want to shut up others instead of speaking back. It’s just takes too much emotional energy for them to speak back.

And so Williams is trying to balance free speech against offended students—a losing proposition, as we learned from the fate of Evergreen State. I predict that the Williams “free speech code”, if there ever is one, won’t even come close to the Chicago Principles. For listen to what the chairperson of the committee has to say. At first it sounds good, but you can see that she is trying to actually chill free speech by warning people that some speech is not recommended and may cause harm:

The committee on free speech that President Mandel formed is due to make its recommendations in about a month, said Jana Sawicki, its chairwoman and a philosophy and rhetoric professor. My emphases in the following:

[President Maud] Mandel charged the committee with developing policies and an overarching philosophy about campus speakers and free expression, but Sawicki said she views the group’s mission more broadly, including to rework the institution’s approach toward inclusivity. Committee members have met with alumni, professors and students and have read students’ answers to an online survey on free speech. Sawicki said about 530 students responded to the survey.

Sawicki said the committee is close to drafting recommendations. The goal is to not restrict who can speak on campus but to prompt the students who invite those guests to consider whether they have academic value and whether individual speakers’ views would offend minority students or make them feel harmed, she said, adding that speakers brought on campus by student groups are generally the most controversial.

One idea the committee floated was involving faculty advisers to student clubs in more of the discussions about which speakers to invite to the campus, Sawicki said. If a student group wanted to host a controversial speaker, the adviser could talk with the club members about whether they’d thought through how the speaker’s views would affect their peers, she said. The advisers, who currently are not involved in club operations, would never stop the students from hosting a speaker they wanted, Sawicki said.

How patronizing! They can’t stop the students from inviting speakers, but they can ask them to “consider the harm it would cause”. No pressure there!

Sawicki said she initially signed the faculty petition to support the Chicago principles — a no-brainer, she thought — but rescinded her name when she saw the students’ reaction.

“What needs to be bolstered here is trust in the institution, and the institution needs to deserve that,” Sawicki said.

What an invertebrate! She withdraws her support of free speech when some aggrieved students oppose such speech. “Trust in the institution”, which apparently means “nobody gets offended”, appears to be a higher priority than freedom of expression. This is the way to destroy a college.

 

61 Comments

  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted April 23, 2019 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    It’s almost as if students are paying customers and the faculty are employees of a service industry, eager to keep the customers.

    • DrBrydon
      Posted April 23, 2019 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      Perhaps. What it isn’t like is education.

    • Posted April 23, 2019 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      Yes and I’m waiting for these schools to just tell these students to either drop the threats or sod off and go elsewhere. This is a hugely corrupting influence in higher education and I’m glad at least some schools are pushing back. The ones that don’t, I hope fail as Evergreen is doing.

      • Posted April 23, 2019 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

        That’s a very good point. Nobody forces the students to attend the particular college they are in. The school moulds easily take the position “We value free speech, these are our rules. If you don’t like them, you are free to go elsewhere”.

        • Posted April 23, 2019 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

          moulds(?) -> could

          Don’t know how the happened.

          • ThyroidPlanet
            Posted April 23, 2019 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

            It’s amusing how your acknowledgment of an autocorrect error itself contains an autocorrect error.

    • Posted April 23, 2019 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      ISWYDT 😉

  2. DrBrydon
    Posted April 23, 2019 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    The really scary thing is that this is apparently being driven by a very small group within the college.

    These students ideas are a mess:

    . . . the faculty petition “prioritizes the protection of ideas over the protection of people and fails to recognize that behind every idea is a person with a particular subjectivity. . . .”

    What is the harm to a person who has to hear something he doesn’t like vs. that to a person who is not able to express his own ideas?

    Our beliefs, and the consequences of our actions, are choices we make.

    But:

    “Prejudice cannot be talked away; more ‘dialogue’ is not the answer. Oppression can’t be fixed with rational debate because oppression is not rational.”

    If we choose our beliefs, why can’t they be talked away?

    This isn’t about harm, it’s about power. These students want to censor their perceived, political opponents.

    • Ken Phelps
      Posted April 23, 2019 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      “. . . the faculty petition ‘prioritizes the protection of ideas over the protection of people…'”

      Yes, you hare-brained, spoiled little junior-grade assholes, a whole lot of people over the centuries have deprioritized their own lives and well-being in an effort to preserve certain ideas. You are contemptible.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 23, 2019 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

      The students being a minority (20 I think is the number) is what struck me as well. So the other students, faculty, and staff have to put up with these tyrannical few. It makes no sense.

    • Adam M.
      Posted April 24, 2019 at 2:17 am | Permalink

      What is the harm to a person who has to hear something he doesn’t like…

      They don’t even have to hear it. If you don’t like the speaker, don’t attend the speech! It’s all about controlling others.

  3. Historian
    Posted April 23, 2019 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    I suppose it is possible to imagine a democratic system without freedom of speech. Some reputedly democratic countries of Europe would think so since certain speech is outlawed. But, in the United States democracy and freedom of speech have always gone hand in hand. I previously commented that many, if not most, people do not view democracy as some ideal good in and of itself. Democracy is only favored if it provides benefits to a particular person or group. If it doesn’t, then people are willing to jettison it in favor of another system, usually authoritarian in nature. Hence, Trump supporters do not care if the Mueller report shows that Trump tried to obstruct justice. Here we see certain leftist students willing to break the link between freedom of speech and democracy without an iota of introspection. Will they next call for the banning of people with “bad” ideas from running for public office? Even in countries such as the United States, democracy is never secure. It is imperative that this must be recognized by those who believe that democracy is the best system to live under, even with its flaws.

    • DrBrydon
      Posted April 23, 2019 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

      It is possible in a minor way, as you say. The problem is that, to preserve the legal restrictions on speech, you have to make sure that those who are being censored don’t achieve enough legislative power to remove the restrictions. In cases where there is a strong consensus on the prohibition (as was the case in post-war West Germany in regard to Nazism or similarly in post-war Japan with militarism) that seems to work. In a society like the United States, to enact the kind of prohibitions that these students want, the only way to do it would be to jettison democracy. My impression is that they are ok with that. Indeed, as a minority voting block, it would be their only path to power.

    • Richard
      Posted April 24, 2019 at 1:16 am | Permalink

      Well, we no longer have freedom of speech in the UK – that went a long time ago, and now no-one dares say anything politically-incorrect lest they be arrested by the police (*) for hate speech – and it would appear that we no longer have democracy either.

      (*) Recently the Yorkshire police force encouraged people to report non-crime hate speech. Think about that for a moment.

  4. merilee
    Posted April 23, 2019 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Excellent Van Jones clip, and the Obama one which follows it, too.

  5. Ken Kukec
    Posted April 23, 2019 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    … housing segregated by race (euphemistically called “affinity housing”).

    Worst new euphemism since “extraordinary rendition” made torture sound like Van Cliburn playing Tchaikovsky in Moscow.

    • eric
      Posted April 23, 2019 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

      I think there was something like ‘affinity housing’ at both my undergrad and grad institution, back in the pleistocene. There was the international house, for instance (both undergrad and grad had that). And the all-girl’s dorm. Nobody thought it was a horrible thing.

      Obviously no university is going to have the resources to create such living arrangements for every student group that asks. But I don’t really have a problem with a few limited types of that. And if a student wants an ‘affinity house’ that the university doesn’t offer, there’s always the oldest fashion of that – aka off-campus housing. Why back in my days [waves cane around], many students wanted to get their own apartments with their friends rather than stay in the dorms.

      • max blancke
        Posted April 23, 2019 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

        I attended a school with a large military cadet program. We had our own areas of housing, because we lived under different rules than the regular students. But that was a reasonable situation. Normal students would not want to endure reveille or constant inspections.

        Any housing situation that is designed for one group can only work if it has rules designed to exclude those not in the group. I suspect that those advocating for their own areas would not be so enthusiastic when they found themselves excluded from a different group’s area.

  6. Randall Schenck
    Posted April 23, 2019 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    I would hold up this example of college in America today to appose Elizabeth Warren and her money for education she just put out. She want to relieve more than a billion of debt or 50K per student and make future education free for all. Suppose to get the money from taxes on the rich but the fact is, we will all pay for this. Why I would want to pay for this Williams form of higher education is the question and the answer is no. If the rich folks want to spend it to send their kids to this school fine. I don’t want to pay for it. Paying for higher education should probably be limited to maybe the first two years at public colleges. Let’s do that and see how it goes.

    • merilee
      Posted April 23, 2019 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      I thought it was free only for public colleges, or does Warren want to make every college free? I like your 2-years of college idea.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted April 23, 2019 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

        I did not hear anything about the relief of debt being for only public college or that future free college would only be at public schools. If it does not apply to those going to private institutions then that would be different.

        • merilee
          Posted April 23, 2019 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

          Guess we’ll have to wait and see.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted April 23, 2019 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I went back and looked, she does say public colleges and the same for debt. So private institutions do not apply.

        • merilee
          Posted April 23, 2019 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

          ✔️

      • eric
        Posted April 23, 2019 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

        You are correct; it’s only for public colleges. The free ride/debt relief is also limited to families earning under $100k; the amount you are reimbursed goes slowly down between $100k-$250k, at which point her plan provides no more support.

        Still, even if it doesn’t support private schools, it’s likely that many of them would feel the need to lower their tuition to compete with comparative public schools for the many great students whose parents are thinking “$50k a year for USC when UCLA is free? Hey kid, your mother and I have a car for you…”

    • Posted April 23, 2019 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      Don’t want to wander too far off the intended thread. But I have yet to see how free tuition at all public universities would be anything but a disaster.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted April 23, 2019 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

        It would certainly take a lot of management and details that Bernie & Warren do not cover, even if the money is there. Probably half the people who graduate from high school do not go to college and 50 percent who do go, do not make it though to graduate. Maybe you have to work it like the GI bill. You only get coverage via the GI bill by taking a full load, at least 15 credits per or whatever it is. You don’t get it for part time. If you do not maintain that you are cut off.

  7. Christopher
    Posted April 23, 2019 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    If “free speech harms” then perhaps the college should do away with the students’ free speech. They can start by expelling anyone who protests against free speech or maybe a Stanford Prison Experiment but a totalitarian dictatorship scenario so these morons can find out how harmful the LACK of free speech is. Maybe open up a Williams College of Pyongyang and require a semester abroad?

    • Deodand
      Posted April 23, 2019 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

      The University of Delaware tried North Korean style re-education via the guidance councilors back in 2007. Full blown struggle sessions, getting students to confess their ‘Ideological sins’ etc…

      The Foundation for Individual Rights covered the story.

      https://www.thefire.org/please-report-to-your-resident-assistant-to-discuss-your-sexual-identityits-mandatory-thought-reform-at-the-university-of-delaware/

      • Christopher
        Posted April 23, 2019 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

        First, I hope you recognized my hyperbole as such. Second, the link you shared is a portent of the future if we allow these twits to get their way, what I was jokingly suggesting was the opposite, that they get their rights taken away, not that they get to be in charge of taking everyone else’s away. Thanks for sharing it though. It will haunt my dreams. Perhaps my son was right in dropping out and I was wrong for thinking higher education is worthwhile. Or maybe my hyperbolic comment has some merit; kids at Evergreen, Williams, or Delaware must spend their last semester at the Pyongyang campus, and if they survive or can escape the prison camp their loud mouths will inevitably land them in and cross the DMZ to a “racist oppressive capitalist Western democracy” then they can graduate. Then they have to do grad school in Iran.

  8. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted April 23, 2019 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    If musicians play notes I don’t like, I find musicians who play notes that sound better – the musicians who play the notes I don’t like can still play the notes. Yet, there are certain laws which protect citizens from musicians who like to play their notes in my doorway at 2 AM, or run a leaf blower.

    That’s my analogy for speech. I just made it up now, so obviously it’s rough.

  9. Ken Kukec
    Posted April 23, 2019 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    What these students want is for everyone to shut up and listen to them, and then enact their demands. This, and their claims that even discussing the idea of speech as violence itself constitute violence, is a form of intimidation.

    It’s Lord of the Flies, man, with no sign that the Royal Navy is coming to the rescue.

    • DrBrydon
      Posted April 23, 2019 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      Poor Piggy. . . .

  10. Jon Gallant
    Posted April 23, 2019 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    “Will they next call for the banning of people with “bad” ideas from running for public office?” This has been precisely the policy of the Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela—not to mention earlier manifestations of that culture on the Left that invariably describes itself as “revolutionary”.

    Teapot-tempests at Williams and Evergreen resemble Monty Python skits of more serious historical episodes. A small group of student/faculty exhibitionists portray the Politburo (Политбюро) of the Bolshevik Party in October 1917, and invertebrate “liberal” faculty and administrators play Kerensky, etc. etc. What is striking is the way the latter group always does its act in exactly the same way. Maybe specific, common personality patterns are involved in both the historical archetypes and the Monty Python skit versions.

  11. Posted April 23, 2019 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    This feels like Rosa Park’s bus just pulled up and everyone is afraid to get on let alone take a seat because someone put a swastika stick on the bumper.

    Courage and wisdom are being sucked from the mind’s of American children.

  12. LM
    Posted April 23, 2019 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    The student counter petition can be found here:
    https://thefeministwire.com/2018/11/a-collective-student-response-to-the-chicago-statement/

  13. Ken Kukec
    Posted April 23, 2019 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Bravo for Van Jones. The brother knows whereof he speaks: Jones was driven from public service in the Obama administration by vicious Far Right attacks — the usual suspects: Glenn Beck and Fox News, WorldNetDaily, a reactionary Indiana congressman name o’ Mike Pence — for free speech he’d exercised in his own youth.

  14. Posted April 23, 2019 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    I understand, but still chafe about describing cowardly officials as ‘invertebrates’. The spineless animals have been my life. I love them unconditionally.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted April 23, 2019 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      We’ll make an exception for animals that were “born that way.” It’s the ones whose spines deliquesce at the first sign of adversity that pose the problem.

  15. Posted April 23, 2019 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    It is my understanding that the easy availability of student loans is one of the factors resulting in the great increase in college tuition. The colleges saw that they could raise tuition and the kids would borrow as much as needed to pay for it.

    Cutting back the assess to what appears to eighteen year olds as free money coupled with lack of tuition in public schools may help with the student loan debt problem.

    As for freedom of speech, the final decision on that belongs with the administration who has the obligation to protect the students and guests from violence. If they don’t feel they can protect everyone then cancel the event.

    • Posted April 23, 2019 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      Sorry for the typos. My keyboard has a mind of its own.

    • Posted April 23, 2019 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

      In my country, during socialism and the first several years after 1989 university education was free. Later, tuition was introduced. Compared to the US tuition, it is symbolic, but it exists. And I think it should. I feel a bit guilty to think so, because I have paid no tuition myself. However, I know people who “studied” just to enjoy the student life or to live in a large city in subsidized housing.

      I think you are right about the student loans.

      • Michael Waterhouse
        Posted April 23, 2019 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

        We had it in Australia for a while too.
        There was no disaster and many did do it to enjoy student life.

        Why not?

        • Posted April 24, 2019 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

          Because it is at the expense of taxpayers, including young people at the same age as these university students but already at the workforce.
          It was – and still is – a universal opinion in the society that university students are subsidized to become experts in what they major, and their work later will repay the investment.
          Several years after 1989, another class of university students was introduced, called “paid study”. These students have lower grades than the others (called “government order”) and their tuition is an order of magnitude higher. University enroll them for revenue. Many of them cannot cope and drop out. As a teacher, I see first-hand that they just do not belong. If any of my sons is in the “paid study” group, I’d think twice before paying the tuition.

      • Richard
        Posted April 24, 2019 at 1:02 am | Permalink

        I knew “students” at university who spent two years just playing Dungeons & Dragons before they got kicked out. Would they have done that if they were paying for it themselves? I doubt it.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted April 23, 2019 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

      Your first sentence on easy access to loans is the reason for increased tuition is mostly wrong. I could say the access is due to the very high tuition. You think people go into debt by 50 or 100 thousand bucks with no job because they want to? That would be similar to saying the price of housing is very high because people can get loans easily. In fact, the access to money has very little to do with the price of housing. Why does a house in Kansas cost $400,000 and in California cost 1.4 million. Is money easier to get in California?

      • Posted April 24, 2019 at 10:03 am | Permalink

        It is not hard to see where easy access to student loans drives up tuition. You can find some studies on that very thing with a little effort. Plus I wouldn’t use housing as much of an example. You may recall that it really was the easy accessibility of loans that drove, in part, housing through the roof before the last crash. Your statement is factually wrong based on real world experience leading up to 2008.

  16. Ken Kukec
    Posted April 23, 2019 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    The committee on free speech … is due to make its recommendations in about a month, said Jana Sawicki, its chairwoman and a philosophy and rhetoric professor.

    Don’t see how a professor of rhetoric can ever be anything but a free-speech absolutist. I mean, what’s the point of a well-turned ellipsis or tmesis you can’t use it any-damn-time you want?

  17. KD
    Posted April 23, 2019 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Come now, doesn’t everyone know that the right verbal incantations can not only repel people, but actively cause harm? Unless Universities exorcise the evil speech and the evil witches and sorcerers of hate, the witches will win.

    Only Eurocentric racists reject a believe in witchcraft. In Asia and Africa, witchcraft is everywhere.

    • Filippo
      Posted April 23, 2019 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

      sub

  18. Roo
    Posted April 23, 2019 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    I am kind of a softie when it comes to the students in these cases – I think people under the age of 25 are meant to be mild egomaniacs with underdeveloped frontal lobes and poor judgement who reflexively rebel against everything the older generation values. I think the evolutionary theory is that this allowed them to make their own way in the world without fully digesting the odds of being eaten by a bear in the Paleolithic era, which would have dampened their enthusiasm considerably and caused them to camp out in mom and dad’s cave forever. So they have an excuse, I think. It’s their older enabler counterparts who should know better, to my mind.

    I will say there have been cases, in the ‘misinformation age’, where I’ve doubted the wisdom of totally free free speech. I was reading an article the other day saying that measles cases will likely be at a record high this year due to anti-vaxxers. 90% of the commenters were concerned / angry / disgusted / etc. at this state of affairs, but the couple of anti-vaxxers commenting were insane. Apparently commenting is their full-time job, any one comment from a reasonable commenter was met with an long string of vitriol and links to pages ‘proving’ that vaccinations cause autism, deaths, don’t work, etc., etc. And they would return over the course of hours to keep this up, making the ratio of information to misinformation incredibly skewed. I have to admit situations like that do make me a bit panicky, when you see the damage that just a tiny minority of people who abuse the system can do. “Bad speech needs more speech” is difficult when the field becomes overwhelmingly flooded with misinformation and there’s too much speech for anyone to really take in.

    That said, I think anyone who is seriously worried about issues like that has to be willing to have their own rights curtailed to prevent a larger possible harm. I like my ‘vague spiritual woo’ kinda stuff, for example. Would I be unhappy if something I thought was an ‘intriguing, who knows’ area of inquiry was labeled ‘dangerous woo, should be banned’ by someone else. Absolutely! However, I understand one can’t have their cake and eat it too, and in some cases the benefits of outright banning potential misinformation may be worth it overall, even if I would be chagrined by some decisions. What bothers me is that the students in this case seem to have no inkling that they may be on the other side of this equation, that it is possible that they could be censored in a way that they think is unfair or even tyrannical. Again, that lack of perspective is typical for their age I think, but their teachers need to work on getting that point across to them. Rules are not a one-way street.

    • Posted April 23, 2019 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

      I think that, in the case of measles, actions rather than speech should be suppressed. Parents refusing to vaccinate should be fined, their children should not be accepted in day care / school etc.

      A decade ago, a child in my son’s kindergarten group got measles. All children from this group were sent home with a notice to get an extra measles vaccine from their doctors. Some know-all in the family started to ask me am I sure that I should vaccinate, have I not read what harm vaccines can cause. I replied, “The teacher said that without a document certifying this vaccine, no child would be allowed back in kindergarten.” The know-all shut up, because it was exactly she who would be saddled with my son’s care if he left kindergarten. Case closed.

      • Roo
        Posted April 24, 2019 at 10:54 am | Permalink

        I think this works with specific sub-groups of people… those who are primarily motivated by parental virtue signaling or even just the subjective appeal of having their child raised in an ‘all natural’ world (I can understand that to an extent, it creates an image of happy times frolicking on the beach in sunshine eating fresh fruit. Until the polio part, at least.) will not be happy to find out the term ‘anti-vaxxer’ is met with instant social opprobrium and accusations of “What are you trying to do, you psycho, give my kid measles?!”. It kind of ruins the subjective buzz. That said, anti-vaxxers have also gone on evangelical missions into migrant communities, which I think is a totally different dynamic. If you are new to a country and don’t know the who’s-who of who to trust, English is your second language, much of the system is new to you, etc., then misinformation plays a very different role… and yet I don’t think there’s any way to ‘ban’ such a thing without infringing on people’s free speech, at least in this specific area.

    • max blancke
      Posted April 23, 2019 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

      I believe you are correct in asserting that it is normal for kids to act that way. But the proper response is for responsible adults to define for them the acceptable limits of their rebellious urges.
      When I first hear the term “woke” being used, I assumed it was being used in a derogatory manner. Like “sophomoric”. To me, it is a phase that people go through at a certain age, where they are first starting to think about big concepts, but still lack the mental filter capacity of an adult. And of course, they think their experience and insights are unique.

      When toddlers are experimenting with pushing their boundaries, we find that they are happier when the rules are specified and consistently enforced. It works with teenagers as well. If the rules prohibiting the censoring of other’s speech are explained and enforced, there will be a little tantrum, then everyone can go back to the real purpose of the university.

      • Roo
        Posted April 24, 2019 at 11:07 am | Permalink

        I think it depends. The younger generation does generally change social norms at least somewhat, at least in our culture, and we tend to see that as a right of passage. Back in the day it was those crazy kids dancing in bobby socks and whatnot. But every generation has decent ideas as well as ideas that don’t pan out (living in nature communes and getting hepatitis comes to mind) – I think it’s definitely on the adults to maintain a reasonable outlook while that is working itself out. They’re the adults, after all.

  19. Ray Little
    Posted April 23, 2019 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
    But we’ve proved it again and again,
    That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
    You never get rid of the Dane.

    My prediction: Chicago and those universities that adopt their position on free speech will have very much less disruption and controversy than those who don’t. Williams especially, which admits only a little over 10% of applicants, can easily afford to tell the disaffected students to find another school.

  20. eric
    Posted April 23, 2019 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    An ideology of free speech absolutism that prioritizes ideas over people, giving ‘deeply offensive’ language a platform at this institution, will inevitably imperil marginalized students.”

    Personally I think it’s free speech that prioritizes people over ideas, and these authoritarian students who are prioritizing ideas over people. After all, free speech allows every person to speak their mind, regardless of the quality of what they might say. These folks OTOH have this idea of acceptable speech, which they prioritize over the rights of actual people to speak their mind.

    Or, put another way, free speech ‘prioritizes’ every person’s ideas equally. These folks oppose that equality, believing instead that some people’s ideas should not be spoken at all.

  21. Posted April 24, 2019 at 3:56 am | Permalink

    But as Van Jones said in this powerful video filmed at the University of Chicago (required watching!)

    The comments on which, ironically, are disabled.

    -Ryan

  22. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    and housing segregated by race (euphemistically called “affinity housing”).

    What happens to uppity students who want un-affine housing?

  23. Leslie Croland
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    I’m an alum of Williams College. If the school adopts a policy that restricts free speech in any way, I will not make another donation to the college.

    • Posted April 24, 2019 at 10:23 am | Permalink

      Good for you. I suggest you communicate that to the Trustees and President Mandel!


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