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Higher Education Watch
Students Seek to Recover Berkeley Free Speech Tradition

This shouldn’t be news, but it is: A group of college students are making a stand for liberal values, and for the importance of listening to, rather than shouting down, disagreeable ideas. Inside Higher Education reports:

Over the weekend, 25 students from about 20 colleges around the country gathered at the University of Chicago to try to start a movement in which students would become leading defenders of free speech on campus — including speech that they find offensive. The students issued a statement Sunday that they plan to urge other students to sign and to abide by.

“The Free Speech Movement began as an entirely student-led initiative,” says the statement, referring to the University of California, Berkeley, movement of the 1960s. “However, free speech has been increasingly undermined by attempts of students and administrators alike to silence those with whom they disagree. We seek to reclaim that original tradition.”

The statement goes on to say, “A central purpose of education is to teach students to challenge themselves and engage with opposing perspectives. Our ability to listen to, wrestle with and ultimately decide between contending viewpoints fosters mutual understanding as well as personal and societal growth. The active defense of free and open discourse is crucial for our society to continue to thrive as a democracy premised on the open debate of ideas.”

We’ve been complimentary of efforts by faculty, administrators, and outside groups to defend freedom of speech in higher education. But most of today’s threats to open discourse in academia come from the bottom up, rather than the top down: From a vocal group of militantly anti-liberal students who overpower those who are disengaged or indifferent. If the current tide of academic intolerance is to be beaten, it will be because students who believe in a free society persuade a critical mass of their peers. The 25 students who met in Chicago over the weekend have the right idea; hopefully others will join their ranks.

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  • Angel Martin

    No chance !

    After losing the election, the tyrannical left is not going to give up bullying the one group of non-radicals they still have power over.

    • D4x

      Yes, those 25 students who dared, are toast. Their statement is a ‘trigger’. Maybe if they could grow to 25,000…

  • Anthony

    Universities are supposed to be champions of evidence-based reasoning and logical discourse, or at least they ought to be. People who claim they are under some kind of obligation to allow anyone and everyone to say whatever they like simply misconceive the nature of a university.” (The most important free speech question is : who decides?)

    • Tom

      Yes. And the best way to decide is to let the people do so, by countering ideas that one finds offensive. If they are so bad, it should be easy to destroy them.

      • Anthony

        Two things, 1st you probably find no mature (beyond grad school) human who would disagree; 2nd, the right’s interest (here: Universities) is not about ideas or free speech.

        • Tom

          First, there is a severe shortage of mature humans in this world, and second, would you like to actually produce evidence of the latter before making such accusations?

          • Anthony

            Whether the severe shortage is real or imagined is in this instance not an issue; Now, you may miss FG and missives directed to him; but, as you know, I am not as accommodating as FriendlyGoat – respectful yes, appeasing no. “Evidence” you must either find on your own or live beyond your 26 years (as I’ve told you before homeschooling and precocity has its value but neither are enough for what you aspire to frequenting TAI)

          • Tom

            So, in other words, you have no evidence for your assertion. Now, unless you’re making the case that the right, like the left, and most other human beings, only care about such things when it’s their ox being gored, that seems slightly…partisan.

          • Anthony

            Tom, take that half-baked adolescent argument to a site where it sales. I don’t have to provide “you’ anything. Now, engage elsewhere (as you have too much internet time on your hands).

          • Tom

            Anthony, I realize that you’re unaccustomed to people questioning your assertions, but if you think raging condescension and demands that I “respect your authoriteh” is going to get me to leave you are sadly mistaken.
            You made an invidious assertion in order to shield your side of the aisle, and you got called on it.

          • Anthony

            Yeah, O.K., Tom. Life is calling – give internet boards a rest and enjoy what’s beyond. Bless you, my young friend.

          • Fred

            Anthony doesn’t do evidence. He does hand-waving dismissal and silly, usually pseudo-scientific, in some form, ad hominems.

          • ——————————

            Yep, he’s the TAI twit. And no one here, except FG, has anything to do with him.
            He was definitely the wallflower kid that got picked on in school…which explains his Napoleon Complex style of engagement with others…of course it is easy on the net…in a face to face it would get his teeth slapped out….

          • Makaden

            And a terrible over-reliance on parenthetical notations.

    • QET

      Not trying to pick a fight here, but I think your statements are in error. Studying the works of Plato and Aristotle, or Kant and Hegel, and trying to decide which philosopher’s concepts have the greatest merit or power is not a matter of “evidence-based reasoning” or logic. Likewise the reading of the Pentateuch or the Rig Veda to understand the moorings of Jewish or Indian culture. Or comparing Shakespeare to Goethe. Your reduction of higher education to evidence-based reasoning and logic confines the human intellect within very narrow bounds. Chinese culture and philosophy are not grounded in evidence; they are not provable deductively.

      And you assume the evidence, the premises from which reasoning proceeds, are eternal, fixed. What if one disputes the validity of the evidence itself? Is that not permissible in higher learning? Is not the production and evaluation of evidence one of the chief functions of a university? You almost sound like a medieval Doctor, instructing students in the manifold forms of syllogism while rejecting any investigation of the premises. Today a student at a university might want to have a “discourse” on whether this planet is indeed warming and/or whether human-produced carbon dioxide is (i) the cause, (ii) a significant cause, (iii) a cause, or (iv) not a cause. Or he might want to discuss whether affirmative action policies have in fact helped, harmed, or neither helped not harmed its intended beneficiaries? Or what if he wants to argue that in fact it is false than 1 in five women have been sexually assaulted at college? Or what if he wants to discuss whether abortion is or is not murder? What if he wants to offer evidence from scientists that “life begins at conception” as part of his logical discourse?

      You and I both know that on nearly all college campuses today, this kind of “discourse” would be “shut down,” violently, by the leftist students and faculty.

      Even if you believe that only “logical discourse” should be permitted, you can’t answer in advance the question of whether a discourse is or is not “logical” until you allow that discourse to actually occur. The Left today is not merely disagreeing with “discourses” of which it disapproves; it is physically and violently preventing them from even occurring. And your proposition that the matter ultimately reduces to “who decides,” while tautologically correct, is really nothing more than an assertion that will to power and not “evidence-based reasoning” or “logical discourse” is what is at stake. And if that is the case, I see neither evidence, nor reason, nor logic, in simply acceding to the premises the Left holds as Eternal Truths.

      • Anthony

        But, you are and as always over responding to a post (and quote) that addresses the current topic of right-wing media interest. The quote is referencing the University’s right to decide who speaks on their facility- nothing more.

        • QET

          If that were true, Anthony, then you wouldn’t have begun your post with the assertion that Universities are supposed to be champions of evidence-based reasoning and logical discourse, or at least they ought to be. That statement has nothing whatever to do with the “right to decide who speaks.”

          But if you are referring to my volubility, then I can only plead guilty.

          • Anthony

            I’m not referring to anything – I said reply as usual was not to point but discursive. But, qet, thanks for inducing me to reread my quote (I left beginning quotation mark off and that may have contributed to your misunderstanding – my error). But the quote stands alone (and if I wanted to defend in argument, I would but there’s no factual need). The parenthetical “The Most Important Free Speech Question is Who Decides? is not a statement but the title to an article from which quote comes – so, qet, much to do about nothing (to thine own self be true).

    • Angel Martin

      “Universities are supposed to be champions of evidence-based reasoning and logical discourse”

      Since post-modernist “critical theorists” reject both, does that mean they get expelled from the Universities ?

      • Anthony


        • Fred

          Case in point. Inability to construct an argument therefore resorting to a silly, pseudoscientific ad hominem.

        • Fred

          Hit a nerve, did we?

  • Jim__L

    Count me among the hopeful.

    There are voices of reason and sense still in the world. There are people who are willing to support those voices.

    It takes work, courage, and persistence. But, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, we will win, just as we always have.

  • FriendlyGoat

    This is from the students’ statement: “The active defense of free and open discourse is crucial for our society to continue to thrive as a democracy premised on the open debate of ideas. The only way to achieve this is by cultivating a culture where all are free to communicate without fear of censorship or intimidation.”

    This sounds dandy, but these students are expressing a certain naivety by not acknowledging that their speech (or anyone’s) WILL ALWAYS be censored in connection with private property, private events, for-profit activities (such as Fox News), and purchased messaging. Further, their speech (or anyone’s) WILL ALWAYS be subject to intimidation in real life by any customer, supplier, employer they may be associated with.

    These people sound like they think they are defending EVERYONE’s natural right to express a public opinion or to hear one. Guess what. Unless people are as financially independent as hogs on ice, most of us do not have “free speech”. You would have very little of it on a campus like Liberty University. You will not have any at a Trump campaign rally no matter where held. You will not have any on any church property. You will have very little on the property of most workplaces. You probably don’t have any at the average 4th of July celebration in a public park. AND, as young people must be frequently reminded, it you shoot your mouth off in speeches and writings while in college, it is quite possible your potential future employers will discriminate against you as freely as they like for the rest of your life—-depending on how they liked your “free and open discourse.” Soooo- if you don’t expand on that “without fear of intimidation” thing—-the whole statement looks juvenile.

    These people would be well advised to stop worrying about Ann Coulter, Charles Murray and Milo or any other opportunist (from any side) who might speak in a campus hall——and wonder when they might be lucky enough to get a fairness doctrine in commercial media to counter their off-campus countrymen’s present descent into brainwashed mindlessness.

    • QET

      FG, you do your argument no favor by referring to a Christian denominational college as though anything it did or did not do offsets in equal measure what occurs at Harvard, Yale or the University of California system (over at the Volokh Conspiracy at the WaPo there is one commenter in particular whose “refutation” of every objection to Left excess in US colleges today is “Liberty University”). Seeking refuge in a more-or-less Marxist “material relations of production” notion to “disprove” the actual freedom of “free speech” is an obsolete method. The last 2,000 years of the Western intellectual tradition has been one long debate on whether any of us is “free.” You can’t just assert an answer in the negative as though it were a fact of the same order as the circumference of the Earth: proven, beyond inquiry.

      The very reason that nearly the entire US university system is under the sway of increasingly absolutist Leftism is precisely that the Right, whose “bourgeois” ideology controlled universities for the last zillion years, actually practiced what it preached and invited and even encouraged (grudgingly, to be sure) Leftist voices and ideas to enter in the last 50+ years, in order to meet them on the fields of discourse, debate and scholarship. The Left has repaid that bourgeois toleration as it always repays it–by liquidating it. The Left has taken words like “fear,” “intimidation” and “violence” and simply associated them with all viewpoints, arguments and, yes, evidence, to which it objects. No one is asking any student to (a) attend a Charles Murray lecture, or (b) agree with Charles Murray. But physically assaulting Murray, his Middlebury faculty host, and the students who do want to at least hear what he has to say–is this what you are really defending FG?

      • FriendlyGoat

        When the ownership of Liberty University openly shills for Trumpism, it is fair game for any kind of criticism or attack on its existence in the current form. Why? Because they own the place and collect private tuition? No. BECAUSE they are seeking to ruin the society the rest of us have to live in. BECAUSE they turn graduates loose to pollute intellectual discourse in the post-college public square. So, no, I don’t see Liberty excused from truth in ways different from Harvard, Yale or UC.
        This is why I am making this comment at all. PRIVATE this or that is over-taking our country with bullsh*t and is MUCH more of a problem than these students are addressing. It’s fine to make speaking invitations open to all comers.

        To the students:

        “But do you think you’re going to make that platitude stick in anything that is privatized? No, you are not. Soooo——address the whole spectrum of the issue as it affects our country—–or don’t pretend sanctimony when you’re mostly missing the big boat.”

        • nervous122

          The same Liberty University that required students attend a Sanders speech? The same Liberty where Falwell invited Ted Kennedy to speak?

          Oh, the horrors unleashed by Liberty! Where’s my pearls to clutch and my fainting couch?

          • FriendlyGoat

            Yes, that Liberty, whose president endorsed Trump.

          • Tom Scharf

            FG, sometimes you say things that are simply beyond the pale. This is one of those times. Are you not aware that almost the entirety of academia “shilled” for Clinton? Did you not read endless open letters from academia prior to this election, many of them appearing on this very site? Is your sanity gauge so bent that you believe every single person at all universities must “shill” for your side? This is a terrible, terrible argument.

            Go ahead, criticize Liberty, but this viewpoint is so unbalanced as to defy gravity itself. Academia is becoming a monoculture that is self destructive, especially certain disciplines. The more it sanitizes itself of incorrect thinking, the less influence it has. Academia went all-in on this election. And.They.Lost. Some of that so called critical thinking may be in order here.

          • FriendlyGoat

            The only problem with what you’re saying is that most of religious politics is questionable at best and totally disingenuous at worst. Yes, they won. That does not make everything known in a secular university suddenly WRONG. It just means your country is now miring down in bog which it will eventually have to crawl out of. That should-have-been-unnecessary effort will consume a generation or two when they might have been progressing and prospering on better things than reinventing the philosophy wheel

            Meanwhile, please remember that Liberty (and those like it) were only a part of my comment. The point is, most of us don’t have much freedom of speech in practice and THAT should be our concern—–not which huckster (from either side) can speak in a campus hall.

        • QET

          FG, it is not a question of what one Christian university does but of its significance. Liberty University’s doings are simply insignificant when compared to the doings of the vast majority of US universities.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Liberty is one name among many, many names. It is an example. It is not the only one. AND, this whole “free speech” debate is not at all germane only to colleges. If what you are saying is true, why is Donald Trump president? The hoodoo is big and it is wide.

    • Anthony

      FG, permit the the interruption but the commentary appears driven by something else. That is, the contretemps may be about the right to manipulate public opinion (not free speech of student or anybody else frankly) to compel Universities to comply with demands of right-wing political action groups (in this case [Berkley], the Young American Foundation). Red herring, befogging the issue, diversion, etcetera, etcetera (thanks for giving me a space to vent).

      • FriendlyGoat

        You’re welcome. Vent away. And, indeed, of course I would agree that all of this is about a right-wing invasion of the people’s institutions of knowledge. No one else but the fringe of “them” gives a hoot whether Ann Coulter ever utters another word anywhere. She has made millions slapping people and slapping sense. She deserves a slap back from any and every quarter.

        • Anthony

          Ann Coulter is irrelevant – she could have spoke on Berkeley (and this schtick enables her to not only make money but also make the media rounds on both so-called left and right media [who’s the fool]). More importantly, I see harm in the right dictating to public Universities (bullying and intimidating) who uses their facilities. This unctuous group think can become both disquieting and revealing – though societally distressing.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Yep. I mention Ann basically as an example of an entire assault. She and others are “sent”. There are a lot of “senders” with a host of agendas——guns, religion, the C of C stealing the country, you name it.

          • Anthony

            Yes, you’re right its top-down propaganda – and it’s about power and influence.

            Something shared and in line with your inferred proposition: “It’s the salami system. Make inroads into intellectual integrity one slice at a time. The right relies on the fact that no one slice is enough to cause people to rise up and resist, even if they would be horrified to see the whole sausage.”

          • Boritz

            Who sent you?

          • Tom

            He sent himself, because he sees himself as the arbiter of the true and beautiful and the good.

          • FriendlyGoat

            No one. Would that they would pay me, but alas, no one does. How about you?

          • Tom Scharf

            “I see harm in the right dictating to public Universities (bullying and intimidating) who uses their facilities.”

            The Onion has spoken.

            Maybe it isn’t obvious, but do you think you could entertain an argument that it was the left dictating who can use facilities at public universities using bullying and intimidation?

          • Anthony

            The point I am making is that Universities have the right to invite whom they choose. If you want a left/right attribution of your issue, then the Onion or some other publication may be where to look. I am against externals dictating to Universities who uses their facilities period (bullying and intimidation is not limited to any specific advocate but here my point remains sans argument that appears to fall in realm of a “verbal dispute”)

      • QET

        The two of you are really something. The Left assaults students and physically blocks them from attending speaking events and you still manage to discern a vast right-wing conspiracy at work! Of course people like Coulter and Heather Mac Donald and Yiannopoulos have an agenda. Every one who speaks publicly has an agenda. You don’t approve of that agenda, fine. But “having an agenda” is not some quality that somehow distinguishes a Right-leaning speaker from a Left. And the only thing these “right wing political action groups” are trying to “compel” is the same right to host speakers of their choice that every other student group enjoys, the same right to put up flyers and distribute literature in the university square as every other student group enjoys. Without being physically assaulted or physically prevented from doing so by campus mobs.

        What is a red herring is your inversion of present reality. You are a general fighting the last war. I don’t know how old you are; I believe FG is middle-aged at least. I strongly suspect the both of you are prisoners of your own past, re-running the same movie in your heads over and over where Good and Evil, Hero and Villain, never change, and taking that for eternal reality even though it is 2017 and no longer 1968. You just can’t believe that your side (and yes, I know Anthony; you disclaim membership on any “side” of anything; yet your political leanings are clear just the same) has prevailed, and is now the de facto power that is doing the bullying and intimidating. It’s like how the Soviets continued to blame “reactionary and counter-revolutionary elements” for all of the failures of the USSR. And the fear you both seem to have of Ann Coulter (Ann Coulter!!!!) is really telling. I am not trying to insult either of you; you’re both intelligent people. I just see no other explanation for the views you both express in this thread. And I’m rather dumbfounded.

  • Eurydice

    OK, wait a minute – 25 students? Not 2,500, or even 250? One and one quarter students per university flew to Chicago to make a statement. Ok.

  • ljgude


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