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Free Speech At Universities

  1. Aug 16, 2017 #21


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  2. Aug 16, 2017 #22
    Very informative article on the topic of "free speech at universities." Thanks for the link.

    I think we should all be challenged with how much we agree with this quote, and we should be ashamed at our dishonest pretense of academic freedom or free speech at universities if we disagree:

    Spiked’s criteria for a red ranking is: “A students’ union, university or institution that is hostile to free speech and free expression, mandating explicit restrictions on speech, including, but not limited to, bans on specific ideologies, political affiliations, beliefs, books, speakers or words.”

    The magazine emphasised that: “being compelled to express something is as corrosive to free speech as being prohibited from expressing something.”

    So even if the restrictions on free speech apply more broadly to society and not _only_ to universities, faculty who value academic freedom and freedom of expression should be leading the resistance to protect the free expression of our colleagues and students.
  3. Aug 17, 2017 #23


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    Nobody with anything more to say ?
  4. Aug 17, 2017 #24
    Perhaps they are hoping another topic will eclipse this one.
  5. Aug 17, 2017 #25


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    I think all that can be said really has been said.

    Its a free speech issue all right, but as pointed out, correctly, not peculiar to universities although it did affect university students.

    Australia is a bit of a 'nanny' state compared to many other free democratic countries so its the type of legislation more likely to appear here than elsewhere and this kind of thing occur here rather than say in the USA. But it does illustrate we all must be on our toes so to speak to ensure free speech is maintained. I am sure the framers of this legislation didn't mean for it to to turn out this way - hence we must be eternally vigilant.

    The other thing it highlights is even though you are entirely innocent the process itself can be a huge punishment as it was for these students - one even switching from studying teaching to law - again that sort of thing must be taken into account in any legislation that has free speech implications.

    Nobody likes to be made to feel uncomfortable by others but its something you really can't legislate against. It's really part of living in a free society.

    Last edited: Aug 18, 2017
  6. Aug 18, 2017 #26
    I disagree. With the increasing number of examples of free expression violations on college campuses, there are a lot more examples that can be discussed. Those who would quash free speech always pretend that their proposed restrictions are reasonable - akin to banning attempts to incite violence or yelling "fire" in a crowded theater. But they try and avoid the strict scrutiny that is due restrictions on 1st amendment rights.

    Here's a nice example of a situation that is very much on the borderline of the university free speech issue:


    How can focus be sharpened without discussing the hard cases that challenge our perceptions of what the rules should be in the first place AND how due process should be administered in the path of ensuring liberty and justice for all?

    Here's another hard case:


    And one near and dear to my heart (as a resident of Baton Rouge and LSU graduate):


    Everyone is a fan of free speech and expression when they agree with the ideas being expressed. The test of our character and our true commitment to liberty comes when we strongly disagree with the ideas being expressed. Do we still side with liberty, or do we begin to side with the censors?
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2017
  7. Aug 18, 2017 #27


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    Here in Australia we do not have your constitution, but of course we have laws guaranteeing free speech. Our constitution does not explicitly protect freedom of expression. However, the High Court has held that an implied freedom of expression exists as an indispensable part of the system of representative and responsible government created by the Constitution.

    I think in practical terms its tied up with something I discussed with a lawyer many moons ago. We have all sorts of contradictory laws that have never been put to the test in a court of law and precedent set. I believe your constitution pretty much trumps other legislation so you don't run into the same issue as much. When they are commonsense usually wins out - but the legal costs - well that's the kicker isn't it. Here is another example. In my working life someone I worked with got rather ill from a car accident. Her treating psychiatrist (she was under the care of a number of specialists) thought it would be important for her to attend her high school reunion and wrote a sick leave certificate to that effect. Now this organisation had an agency agreement giving the power to managers to overrule doctors on medical issues. Any ninny can see that's outrageous - they have no qualifications to do that - the correct procedure was to send her to the CMO (Commonwealth Medical Officer - it was a government department) but they rarely overrule other doctors especially specialists. So the manager overrules it - it was utterly silly. All it did was make her sicker, delayed her return to work etc etc. But this was not the first time managers got the idea they run things and outsiders like doctors can go you know where. Well this time the person concerned was so upset she took legal action - it cost upfront of course - but the court more or less said - you must be joking - what kind of qualifications do managers have to do that and it was overruled immediately and costs awarded so she got her money back. But agency agreements with this sort of rubbish had been around for years - yet it took this one case for something to be done. Just as an aside agency agreements are full of all sorts of rubbish like that but that is way way off topic.

    Well, while true, that one is straight out of Ayn Rand's writings - its hardly new. But few have taken on its central lesson.

    Last edited: Aug 18, 2017
  8. Aug 18, 2017 #28
    I suspect Rand got it from The Federalist Papers (or possibly other 18th century thinkers). That's certainly where I got it.

    “If men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences that can invite the consideration of mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of speech may be taken away, and dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter.”

    — George Washington, first U.S. president

    “Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government: When this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins.”

    — Benjamin Franklin, U.S. Founding Father

    “If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought — not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.”

    — Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., U.S. Supreme Court justice

    Freedom of speech is the great bulwark of liberty; they prosper and die together: And it is the terror of traitors and oppressors, and a barrier against them. It produces excellent writers, and encourages men of fine genius. - Cato's Letters
  9. Aug 19, 2017 #29
    One problem is that free speech of the sort you advocate (which I would advocate also) - and especially as envisioned by the U.S. Founding Fathers - presumes not only good intentions, but at least some understanding of the purpose of such speech in a democratic republic. The Founders themselves were the elite of their time - they were all educated (in some cases highly educated) property owners; and they had experienced what they considered unjust rule; so this was not an idle topic for them.

    To take one of the examples you gave - freshman athletes calling out insults at actors in a theater class - they are not consciously exercising free speech of the sort necessary for a democracy; they are simply following a widespread subcultural meme that does them and their adult mentors (coaches etc.) no credit. My own experience at university with athletes is that they were coddled and protected for far worse behavior, including violent assaults on other students & townspeople; this was decades ago, but from the news stories that appear regularly, the various sorts of damage done by much of college athletics to actual education obviously persist. So not much sympathy from me for the athletes in that particular news story.

    Now, granted some universities and some students seem to have lost their minds with "safe spaces" and "triggers" etc.; that would be an entire subject of itself. The writer and security expert Tom Nicols, in his book The Death of Expertise (essay excerpt here), points out that these new conventions not only infringe on free speech & cause harm to professors, other students, & the institution, but in addition make a joke of teaching and learning. In this respect, he says, today's "student activism" differs greatly from that in, say, the 1960s. From p. 190:

    Today, by contrast, students explode over imagined slights that are not even remotely in the same category as fighting for civil rights or being sent to war. Students now build majestic Everests from the smallest molehills, and they descend into hysteria over pranks and hoaxes. In the midst of it all, students are learning that emotion and volume can always defeat reason and substance, thus building about themselves fortresses that no future teacher, expert, or intellectual will be able to breach.​

    So in a sense, the free or protected speech problem is related to problems of degradation in skills for reasoning & research & debate; and in this sense too it afflicts our entire society, not just higher ed.

    We might also see the problem as even broader than that. As a society governed by law we seem to be losing a consensus for how to behave as citizens; and our leaders seem to be losing a consensus for how to be leaders. The columnists I am starting to pay attention to these days aren't the ones writing furiously one way or another about He Who Shall Not Be Named, but rather, about the need to renew our political and social bonds & our joint culture in ways that will bring us together, even when we disagree; of course this should include protected speech; such speech is directly related to the quality of our society & our republic.

    Nicols would agree, I suspect; he isn't so much concerned w/ free speech as an isolated issue as he is with our related incapacities; this is from the end of his book:

    . . . laypeople forget all too easily that the republican form of government under which they live was not designed for mass decisions about complicated issues. Neither, of course, was it designed for rule by a tiny group of technocrats or experts. Rather, it was meant to be the vehicle by which an informed electorate - informed being the key word here - could choose other people to represent them and to make decisions on their behalf . . . This relationship becomes impossible to sustain, however, when laypeople have no idea what they're talking about or what they want.
    In a quick search I wasn't able to find links to how the Founders envisioned the binding ties of citizenship; I did however find an essay on free speech as it relates to the Bill of Rights; see links below. They represent the same material in different format: The first is to a PDF of a series of essays on the Bill of Rights and its subsequent interpretation that I found posted on a State Department site; the writer was a prof. at Virginia Commonwealth University and the free speech section is Chapter 3. The second link is just a web site quoting from that chapter; the format may be a bit easier to read. Some interesting history there.




    P.S. And for reference:
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2017
  10. Aug 20, 2017 #30

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    Washington and Franklin were slaveowners and Holmes was an imperialist. What have we to learn from such wicked men?
  11. Aug 29, 2017 #31
  12. Aug 31, 2017 #32
    This thread has been bordering on politics from the beginning. We let it run for a bit and now is a good time to close up. Thanks for the interesting discussion all!
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