The demise of aca­demic free­dom

When po­lit­i­cally cor­rect ‘speech po­lice’ are given the up­per hand

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Ger­ald Walpin

Last week, I was at­tacked by so-called “di­ver­sity” groups at Yale Law School be­cause I had ac­cepted an in­vi­ta­tion from a stu­dent group (pro­vid­ing a fo­rum for di­ver­sity of ideas), to speak on the mean­ing of the Birthright pro­vi­sion of the 14th Amend­ment. With­out hav­ing heard what I would say, this speech-sup­pres­sion coali­tion sought to pre­vent me from speak­ing by charg­ing that I would ut­ter “anti-im­mi­grant rhetoric,” rest on “racist as­sump­tions,” and ex­press “racist and xeno­pho­bic ideas,” and “hate­ful ide­olo­gies.”

As a 1955 graduate of Yale Law School, it was dif­fi­cult to be­lieve that stu­dents who came to this ex­cel­lent school would seek to pre­vent a di­verse view from be­ing ex­pressed. Af­ter all, lawyers in the real world must be trained to hear their ad­ver­sary’s dif­fer­ing views and be will­ing to an­swer them. Yale Law School it­self proudly an­nounces on its web site that it is “renowned as a cen­ter of con­sti­tu­tional law” — at­tained cer­tainly by con­stant dis­course, in­clud­ing dif­fer­ing views on the mean­ing of Con­sti­tu­tional pro­vi­sions.

This was not sim­ply an at­tack on my free speech right. It was an at­tack on all stu­dents’ right to ob­tain the ben­e­fit of free speech by hear­ing dif­fer­ent views. Most dis­con­cert­ing, it was not a sin­gle in­ci­dent, but one of many in the na­tion­wide move­ment at schools to sup­press any think­ing that the self-ap­pointed stu­dent and fac­ulty thought-po­lice find un­ac­cept­able.

Al­most si­mul­ta­ne­ously, the mas­ter of one Yale un­der­grad­u­ate res­i­den­tial group­ing was vi­ciously vo­cally at­tacked, and then re­quired to grovel and apol­o­gize, for hav­ing the temer­ity to ex­tol stu­dents’ free ex­er­cise of imag­i­na­tion in Hal­loween cos­tumes over “in­sti­tu­tional bu­reau­cratic ex­er­cise of im­plied con­trol over col­lege stu­dents.” At the Univer­sity of Mis­souri, a fac­ulty mem­ber pub­licly shouted for “mus­cle” — phys­i­cal en­forcers, years ago known in Ger­many as Storm Troop­ers — to eject a re­porter to pre­vent re­port­ing what stu­dent demon­stra­tors were do­ing and de­mand­ing. At the Univer­sity of Texas, where pro-Pales­tinian demon­stra­tors in­vaded a room re­served for an Is­raeli study event, the ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced that it was in­ves­ti­gat­ing if the dis­rupters were treated prop­erly, not ad­dress­ing dis­ci­pline of the dis­rupters

Yale’s pres­i­dent’s multi-page re­sponse to the an­tifree speech bul­lies was de­void of even a ver­bal rep­ri­mand of those bul­lies. In­stead, he kow­towed to their cru­sade for “di­ver­sity” en­hance­ment, with­out a men­tion of pro­tect­ing the right to ex­press di­ver­sity in ideas. He thus pro­vides a green light to the po­lit­i­cally cor­rect speech po­lice to con­tinue their de­struc­tion of aca­demic free­dom.

Many sim­i­lar re­cent ex­am­ples have occurred show­ing academia’s lead­ers and teach­ers’ treat­ment of free

speech as un­de­sir­able, or, at least, not im­por­tant enough to de­fend.

The Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of Univer­sity Pro­fes­sors, in the past, re­peat­edly de­clared that academia’s “com­mon good de­pends upon the free search for truth and its free ex­po­si­tion,” and that it “is fun­da­men­tal for the pro­tec­tion of the rights of the teacher in teach­ing and of the stu­dent to free­dom in learn­ing.” Now, this ax­iom of free­dom for teach­ing and learn­ing is be­ing bul­lied out of the vo­cab­u­lary, with no op­po­si­tion to those who pre­vent ex­pres­sions of opin­ion they find “un­ac­cept­able.”

When faced with this de­mand that I be dis­in­vited to speak, I could have stood on prin­ci­ple, in­sist­ing that I speak at a pro­gram where only my view would be ex­pressed, con­sis­tent with the in­vi­ta­tion. Lead­ers of the group that in­vited me pro­posed that I change the for­mat to a de­bate with some­one tak­ing the op­pos­ing po­si­tion that cit­i­zen­ship was granted on the sole con­di­tion of be­ing phys­i­cally in this coun­try when born, with­out re­gard to the par­ents’ cit­i­zen­ship and whether or not the child re­mained domi­ciled in this coun­try. I was frankly trou­bled by the ap­pear­ance of re­ward­ing in­tol­er­ant bul­lies with ac­ced­ing to their de­mand that I not speak un­less “equal time” were given to their con­trary po­si­tion. Yale Law School has a long history of host­ing speak­ers es­pous­ing one side of an is­sue, with­out con­di­tion­ing the ap­pear­ance on shar­ing the podium with a con­trary view. I was be­ing sin­gled out only be­cause th­ese cen­sors didn’t agree with me. Con­sis­tent with the pro­claimed pro-free speech pol­icy of univer­sity pro­fes­sors, I would have ex­pected an out­cry from Yale ad­min­is­tra­tion and fac­ulty against this vi­o­la­tion of aca­demic free­dom. But no, the thought-po­lice bul­lies had scared them into si­lence.

I de­cided that speak­ing — the ex­er­cise of free speech — was more im­por­tant than the prin­ci­ple that bul­lies not con­trol who speaks with­out an op­pos­ing speaker. I there­fore agreed to and did de­bate the is­sue. While I be­lieve that I won the de­bate on the facts and the law, I leave that de­ci­sion to the stu­dents and fac­ulty who were there. What I know I won was es­tab­lish­ing to stu­dents that free speech — the right of stu­dents to hear any opin­ion that an in­vited speaker wishes to ex­press — must be pro­tected against all ad­ver­sity as es­sen­tial to a free so­ci­ety. Pres­i­dent Obama has spo­ken force­fully in sup­port of that prin­ci­ple: “any­body who comes to speak to you and you dis­agree with, you should have an ar­gu­ment with them, but you shouldn’t si­lence them by say­ing you can’t come be­cause I’m too sen­si­tive to hear what you have to say.” Would that academia’s ad­min­is­tra­tors and fac­ulty demon­strate that they too rec­og­nize their re­spon­si­bil­ity to de­fend open and free speech. Ger­ald Walpin served as a U.S. in­spec­tor gen­eral from 2007 to 2009. He is the au­thor of “The Supreme Court vs. The Con­sti­tu­tion” (Sig­nif­i­cance Press, 2013).


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