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"Dangerous" free speech
Posted by: McQ on Saturday, December 02, 2006

Why is it institutions which should be the greatest protectors of free speech as well as diverse and unpopular ideas have become centers where only certain speech and ideas are tolerated while others are suppressed?
Violence erupted at a Michigan law school Thursday when protestors tried to block a speech by Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo.

Police were called after protestors pulled a fire alarm prior to the speech on immigration policies. There were at least three violent incidents with protestors targeting student backers of the event, Tancredo, R-Littleton, said today.

"One was spit on, one was kicked, and one was punched," Tancredo said in an e-mail. "Tires were also slashed."

Michigan State University College Republicans and Young Americans for Freedom sponsored the event.

Tancredo went to Michigan State University College of Law as part of a visit to the state to talk about immigration. He leads the group that opposes legal status for illegal immigrants.

Protestors interrupted the speech with loud shouting.

College newspaper The State News reported that protesters carried signs reading "Ignorant Racist" outside the room where the speech was held. They were not allowed in with the signs, the paper said. It also reported that about 40 people attended the speech.
If this was only an isolated case you could write it off to over-zealous protesters. But it isn't. Just recently there was the Columbia University protest of the Minutemen.



And there have been numerous other incidents as well (many of the pie-throwing or shout-down-the-speaker variety).

What should be bastions of free speech and tolerance are becoming the most intolerant of forums where only "acceptable" forms of speech and ideas are welcome. If ideas don't conform to that code, then almost any form of disruption seems acceptable (and if not overtly supported at least implicitly tolerated by the institution).

One of the foundations of our country is the belief that even unpopular ideas can be spoken without fear of censure or suppression (but not without consequences, which is an entirely different point). And while we all understand that technically the freedom of speech guaranteed in the Bill of Rights refers to a prohibition against government censure of political speech, it has become a tradition in the rest of our lives as well.

However, over the last few decades, guided by speech codes and political correctness, unpopular ideas are often classified as "hate speech". This allows those who oppose such ideas the rational to reject them out of hand and almost free reign in stopping or oppressing such speech as we can vividly see in the Columbia video.

We are told that our leaders of tomorrow come from such institutions of higher learning. What sort of lesson are they learning when many of those institutions tacitly condone or at least studiously ignore attacks on those who hold unpopular ideas? How can they claim to be teaching critical thinking when they only allow one side of some arguments to be made?

You can't be for academic freedom when you limit the field to approved ideas which conform to the institutional bias. You can't be for free speech when you take no steps to protect it. And you can't be engaged in the market place of ideas when you purposely don't allow unpopular ideas to be aired.

Both the Michigan State University College of Law and Columbia University should be abjectly ashamed of what has occurred under their auspices. It is intolerance writ large and the antithesis of both academic freedom and free speech. Of course they're not the only institutions with these problems, just the most recent.

Higher education should be a safe place to debate all ideas, no matter how unpopular. Debate doesn't require acceptance of those ideas, and, in fact, provides the perfect forum for their refutation. But in a free land, it also provides a forum for other ideas which may be unpopular but inherently moral and deserve a hearing and the debate which follows.

Limiting exposure too or suppressing unpopular ideas is a disservice to all liberty loving people who believe that free men must have such forums for all speech if they are to remain free.
 
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Absolutely. Universities should of a policy of no tolerance for disruptions of speeches like this; students caught disrupting or attempting to silence speakers they don’t like should be punished; three times, they should be expelled. Faculty condoning such action should be reprimanded (and, if untenured, have their tenure in jeopardy). Protests can be peaceful; people can carry signs, wear t-shirts, or even make statements in a manner that isn’t disruptive (e.g., counter meeting or speech before, after, or parallel to the main event in another location).

And if I were to ever be teaching at a place where such a thing happened, students would have an entire class the next day — whether they were involved or not — discussing the nature of academia, the importance of listening. Not just toleration of speech one doesn’t like, but if one doesn’t listen to, engage, and in fact take seriously those views against which one is opposed, then the very purpose of free speech and academic debate is lost.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Universities should of a policy of no tolerance for disruptions of speeches like this; students caught disrupting or attempting to silence speakers they don’t like should be punished; three times, they should be expelled.
Doesn’t "no tolerance" mean expellation on the first offense?
 
Written By: OrneryWP
URL: http://
"We are told that our leaders of tomorrow come from such institutions of higher learning."

All in all, I think the old Mickey Mouse Club; "..dedicated to you, the leaders of the 21st century!" did a much better job. I think some educational institutions realize this also, given some of the Mickey Mouse classes I have attended. Some of my professors have even been awarded, I am sure, the coveted "Mouse Ears", and been inducted into the honored ranks of the Mouseketeers. Even now I can hear the uplifting and inspirational strains of the Anthem....
*sniff*
*ahem*

(Stand,please, for the recessional.)
M
I
C
"C you real soon!"
K
E
Y
"Y? Because we Love you!"
M
O
U
S
E




 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
One thing that it clearly breeds is stupider leaders. How can you learn to find the flaws in another’s argument (or, heaven forbid, your own) if you never even hear the other side’s argument?
 
Written By: jinnmabe
URL: http://
Wait a minute —

It’s not like these schools organized the protests or sanctioned the behavior. It’s not even clear that all the protesters were students at the school. I haven’t been at a campus event recently, but over the years, I’ve never been asked to show a student I.D. to attend speeches or concerts. Maybe things have changed?

Seeing protesters with banners outside probably should have signaled to the administration that trouble was brewing, but as long as the crowd was peaceable, what was there to do? On what grounds could they make them leave the campus?

The important thing is, how will these schools react? What will they do to address the problem?

That’s totally different than inferring that there is some sort of official cabal among schools to suppress advocates of particular ideas.

It’s important to identify the organizers (on-campus/off-campus) and determine what responsiblility they bear for the behavior. Of course, individuals involved can be dealt with separately.

 
Written By: Laime
URL: http://
It’s not like these schools organized the protests or sanctioned the behavior.
It is all about an atmosphere ... one that tolerates and even condones such behavior.
It’s not even clear that all the protesters were students at the school. I haven’t been at a campus event recently, but over the years, I’ve never been asked to show a student I.D. to attend speeches or concerts. Maybe things have changed?
It is either the school’s facility or it isn’t. If it is and it is a school sponsored or approved function, then they have some responsibility for it.
It’s important to identify the organizers (on-campus/off-campus) and determine what responsiblility they bear for the behavior. Of course, individuals involved can be dealt with separately.
Who bears responsiblity for control of behavior that attempts to deny others their ability to speak on the school’s campus at a sponsored or approved function?
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
"And you can’t be engaged in the market place of ideas when you purposely don’t allow unpopular ideas to be aired."

Much of this post and the comments have focused on the discussion of "unpopular" ideas. Let us stress that, in the examples given, the unpopularity lies within the institution and amongst the students. Many of the ideas they oppose are in fact quite popular amongst Americans at large.

It’s one thing to defend free speech and the discussion of unpopular ideas when those ideas are truly objectionable to the population at large (e.g., honor killings). In this example, we are truly supporting the highest ideals of free speech when we allow Muslims to defend the practice in public speech, even though American society will never condone the ideas presented. We may even pass laws prohibiting objectionable practices or wage war to fight objectionable ideologies. Open discussion is essential in understanding these issues and reaching the decision to outlaw them. (Granted, my example, honor killings, is an Islamic practice that is already prohibited by law in America and most of the West. But I trust you do understand my point.)

It’s quite another thing when protesters seek to suppress the discussion of POPULAR ideas that are in fact supported by large numbers, if not majorities, of the American people.

For example, Tancredo leads the group that opposes legal status for illegal immigrants. Many millions of Americans support this policy, and it cannot be considered an "unpopular idea" outside of academia and the liberal mindset. Other speakers (e.g., the Minuteman founder) at other universities were also shouted down or forced to leave because they support secure borders, another idea that is quite popular with a large majority of Americans.

jinnmabe commented: "How can you learn to find the flaws in another’s argument (or, heaven forbid, your own) if you never even hear the other side’s argument?" It is even more important for these future leaders to listen to and understand the ideas and ideals that are popular amongst Americans in general. They should not use only their own cloistered standards for determining what is a popular idea for which discussion is allowed or an unpopular idea that must be suppressed by any means. Unfortunately, professors apparently do not understand this concept any better than students do.

So yes, let us defend the free speech rights of those who express unpopular ideas. Let us also even more vigorously defend the free speech rights of those who express popular ideas, an issue that is becoming increasingly important in our country today. It is not only university student protesters, but also the mainstream media and the liberal elites who seek to suppress popular speech. We stand to lose a great deal more than free speech if they succeed in this effort.
 
Written By: PhoenixPat
URL: http://
Doesn’t "no tolerance" mean expellation on the first offense?
No, it just means punishment of some sort on the first offense. If a city has a no tolerance policy of people violating the speed limit, then those caught get fined, they don’t get the electric chair.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
"Who bears responsiblity... on the school’s campus"

Right. The schools bear responsibility.
So, let’s see how they react and what they do to prevent it in the future.

The organizers bear responsibility.
The individuals bear responsibiliy.
Everybody bears responsibility.

Now that we see that this is happening repeatedly, the schools should go into a prevention mode.

But the first time it happens on a particular campus could well have caught everyone off-guard.
We can’t blame the police for not preventing a riot that no one knew was going to take place.
Should this school have been aware of potential trouble? Probably yes. That’s a lapse in judgment, not a planned attack on the speaker’s rights.


 
Written By: Laime
URL: http://
Doesn’t "no tolerance" mean expellation on the first offense?

We’ll find out what "no tolerance" means the first time a left-wing speaker is silenced.
 
Written By: Aldo
URL: http://
No, it just means punishment of some sort on the first offense. If a city has a no tolerance policy of people violating the speed limit, then those caught get fined, they don’t get the electric chair.
It would certainly cut down on speeding....

 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://
I also think we have to remember the "ignorance of the non-occurrence" bias. There are literally thousands of universities and college, all of whom attract a variety of speakers. Where I work we had the head of the Christian Civic League on campus — an ultra conservative — on campus to support a provision to rescind Maine’s strong gay rights statute (the initiative failed, so the gay rights protections remain on the books). I’d say most of the "lefties" on campus, including gays, attended. They said later they were at times boiling with rage at what he was saying, but they remained polite. I suspect that happens far far more often than what was reported. Moreover, it seems that the most trouble comes at larger campuses, or, ironically campuses of high prestige. But if this happens only a few times a year nation wide, then it’s really an anomaly rather than the rule. I also think that one reason why the Iraq war is more unpopular with the public than was the Vietnam war is that most youth have focused on positive activism (productive/useful activisim) rather than just making noise and attacking the government. Yeah, you have your usual suspects who protest everything, but it’s not at all like the sixties — it’s less visible, but far more effective.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
What should be bastions of free speech and tolerance are becoming the most intolerant of forums where only "acceptable" forms of speech and ideas are welcome. If ideas don’t conform to that code, then almost any form of disruption seems acceptable (and if not overtly supported at least implicitly tolerated by the institution).
It seems to me that this sort of thing is only really a problem with those on the left. The left has a propensity for violence and suppression of speech they don’t agree with.

Can someone show me comprable examples of "right" groups or institutions doing this sort of thing?
 
Written By: shark
URL: http://
"It’s not like these schools organized the protests or sanctioned the behavior."

If the students are not thrown out or severely punished, their behavior is sanctioned. The school also took no steps to prevent or stop it, particularly if, as you suggest, there were obvious signs that such behaviour was likely.Given the history nationwide of non-punishment of this type of offense, it is perfectly logical to say this behaviour is condoned.

" It’s not even clear that all the protesters were students at the school."

Maybe not, but it is clear that some of them were, and there were cameras present, so it should not be too difficult to identify those that were students, and the ones that weren’t are probably known by some of the students.


"It is all about an atmosphere ..."

Where have I heard that before?

"It is even more important for these future leaders to listen to and understand the ideas and ideals that are popular amongst Americans in general."

Why? It doesn’t seem to be important for our present leaders, given their record on the very subject Tancredo was there to speak on.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
But let’s all worry about Newt Gingrich’s speculations on the future of free speech instead of this sort of real crushing of dissent.

a side anecdote for shark’s benefit.

In 1988 there was a Dukakis-Bentsen rally at UC San Diego. They had set up bleachers and signs in the upper decks so that the media could only see Dukakis-Bentsen supporters...ooooh, such solidarity among the students apparently...heh heh.

A few republican buddies of mine decided to do some protesting. We had a hand made "Criminals for Do-Tax-Us" sign and my buddy boosted me up on his shoulders...I rose majestically above their Bentsen signs and the entire media swiveled their cameras at me...what a cool feeling. I made front page of the school paper.
 
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
See http://www.thefire.org/ for many more examples of campus speech codes and reactions to "unpopular" guest speakers.

Yet another good site, although one whose focus in not necessarily on campush guest speakers : http://www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org/
But the first time it happens on a particular campus could well have caught everyone off-guard.
This is a routine occurence on certain campuses. Columbia U. comes to mind.
Should this school have been aware of potential trouble? Probably yes. That’s a lapse in judgment, not a planned attack on the speaker’s rights.
But what happens when the same "lapses in judgment" routinely occur? Are the University Presidents fired or held to any kind of standard of discipline? Hmmm...
The important thing is, how will these schools react? What will they do to address the problem?

That’s totally different than inferring that there is some sort of official cabal among schools to suppress advocates of particular ideas.
If recent history offers any lessons, university administrators will do nothing to stop the problems occuring. They may offer some nice little photo-op conferences with the local press and, perhaps, meetings of the faculty senate discussing "tolerance," but that’s about all. Any further criticism by interested parties will be met with stonewalling. Also several professors (mostly tenured) have been actively, publicly involved with organizing campus protests against speakers. To date, none have been given anything more than unofficial reprimand.
 
Written By: The Poet Omar
URL: www.asecondhandconjecture.com
...they were at times boiling with rage at what he was saying, but they remained polite. I suspect that happens far far more often than what was reported. Moreover, it seems that the most trouble comes at larger campuses, or, ironically campuses of high prestige. But if this happens only a few times a year nation wide, then it’s really an anomaly rather than the rule.
An accurate but convienent sidestepping of the issue. When was the last time right leaning groups rushed a stage, or threw fake blood, or pies, or drowned out an invited left leaning guest.

Seems just recently, a black fella was calling for the extermination of all whites... crickets from the side of the perpetually outraged.

What isnt an anomoly is that those partaking in such behavior almost exclusively come from the left.
 
Written By: bains
URL: http://
I’m sticking to what we know about what happened.

There was a speech scheduled on a currently controversial subject: immigration
Did the school cancel the speech? NO

Protesters arrived with banners.
Did the school evict them from the campus? NO

So far, everyone’s free speech rights are safe.

The problem was caused by those protesters who veered away from peaceful protest into violence and attacked the free speech rights of the speaker and his sponsors.
This should have been a simple matter of removing the offenders. The school can legitimately be criticized about why no security personnel were in place to keep order, given earlier prollems elseqhere.

Trying to discern dark motives for the school’s actions/non-actions, however, veers the discussion into areas of perceived vast left/right conspiracies that are as much to do with the observer as the observed. And, while possibly interesting and satisfying, they are not necessary.
Hecklers are a common phenomenon at public events, for example, and are usually removed, allowing the precedings to continue.

This kind of infringement of othrs’ rights by overt actions is by far the easiest to handle. There are subtler, more sophisticated methods, however, that are more difficult to discern and address. The latter are by far more worrisome.
 
Written By: Laime
URL: http://
An accurate but convienent sidestepping of the issue. When was the last time right leaning groups rushed a stage, or threw fake blood, or pies, or drowned out an invited left leaning guest.

Seems just recently, a black fella was calling for the extermination of all whites... crickets from the side of the perpetually outraged.

What isnt an anomoly is that those partaking in such behavior almost exclusively come from the left.
Extremes from both sides engage in behavior that harms political discourse. College campus misdeeds are mostly from the left, since for centuries universities are the hotbeds of different ways of thinking and challenges to authority — true here, but also in places where totalitarian governments see universities as a threat to their authority. That said, the "PC" movement on college campuses these days is contrary to academic value, and the bias against "The West" and its Christian roots is absurd. But that’s another issue.

Consider anti-abortion extremists, the "God hates fags" group that protests military funerals, and pro-war protesters who heckle anti-war voices from the stage, most famously Chris Hedges (whose book War is a Force that Gives us Meaning should be read by everyone) who was booed from the stage at a graduation. And the propaganda of talk radio is almost exclusively a right wing kind of attack on political discourse (with classic propagandistic styles involving direct lies, mischaracterization, and argument by insult).

I see my main "enemies" as those who instead of confronting honestly and with vigor different opinions, end up insulting, deriding, trying to silence, lying about, or misrepresenting political opponents. All sides have extremists that do this.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Consider anti-abortion extremists,

OK, seems they, the violent ones, are regularly denounced by the right.
the "God hates fags" group that protests military funerals...
Not only denounced, but counter protested by the right.,
...and pro-war protesters who heckle anti-war voices from the stage
I’ve been to two graduations since we went to war. David Broder was respectfully anti-Bush and was not booed, The other guy was disrespectful of not just Bush but of folks who supported him, and there were some boos. By and large, folks of the left are booed by folks of the right not because of the notes, but because of the timbre. I’ve yet to see a group of righties aggressively stifling their opponents voices.
...And the propaganda of talk radio is almost exclusively a right wing kind of attack on political discourse (with classic propagandistic styles involving direct lies, mischaracterization, and argument by insult).

Well yes, the twenty plus million that tune into talk radio weekly do get the right wing tilt to news and events, obviously drowning out the 28 million who get their news and views daily from the networks and newspapers. /sarcasm
I see my main "enemies" as those who instead of confronting honestly and with vigor different opinions, end up insulting, deriding, trying to silence, lying about, or misrepresenting political opponents.
What about those who manufacture/elevate outrages from the other side so they can diminish far more prevalent outrages emanating from their own side.
 
Written By: bains
URL: http://
What about those who manufacture/elevate outrages from the other side so they can diminish far more prevalent outrages emanating from their own side.
I think the idea of "sides" is part of the problem. Political issues are multi-dimensional, and there are far more than two "sides" to any issue. When it gets pushed into "left vs. right" or "Republican vs. Democrat," the tendency is to focus on the personal and emotional, rather than the complexity of any political dilemma. Choosing sides is like choosing teams — the Vikings vs. the Packers, or the Yankees vs. the Red Sox. Politics shouldn’t be like that.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm

What about those who manufacture/elevate outrages from the other side so they can diminish far more prevalent outrages emanating from their own side.
Sounds like the Christian Right.
 
Written By: Elrod
URL: http://
I have some perspective on this as a professor of history at a small college and recent Ph.D. at Northwestern University. These kinds of disruptions are quite rare. And when they occur, they are a violation of freedom of speech. I was a graduate of Hamilton College, which has the distinction of allowing both George Lincoln Rockwell (head of the American Nazi Party) and Ward Churchill (who called 9/11 victims in the WTC "little Eichmanns") speak. I remember when Phyllis Schlafly spoke, and while many students vehemently objected to her views, nobody heckled her or bum-rushed the stage. This was in 1995, when PC was still very much in vogue.

What happened at MSU and Columbia is utterly unacceptable. Who is to blame? The people who did it. The College Republicans organized it, but they have no money for extra security. I’m sure there was security present considering Tancredo is a US Congressman. I’m still not sure what else happened. Who was spit on or had their tires slashed? He speaks in the plural; was it his entourage? And what can the college do? They can suspend - or even expel - the students who interrupted it. I’d support disciplinary action for disruptive behavior like that.

At risk of sounding like I’m blaming the victim, I have to say that College Republicans know damn well what’s going to happen when they bring Tom Tancredo or the Minuteman to a very liberal campus. In fact, they bring incendiary people like Tancredo or Ann Coulter precisely because they create controversy. College Republicans feel besieged by the liberal campus environment around them and they like to shock the establishment. And you know what? I think it’s great. I think Tancredo is a neanderthal. But I think it’s great that the College Republicans want to bring in a firebrand like that in order to stir things up. I’d love to see what would happen if Hillsdale College (a right-wing college 30 miles away from me) invited Cindy Sheehan or Michael Moore. Of course, they would just never allow it. Anyway, you have to consider the campus politics here. The College Republicans are not responsible for the actions of idiotic protestors. But the College Republicans counted on idiotic protestors to prove their larger point about left wing fools. This is more about theater than it is free speech, mostly because the protestors are too stupid to figure out the act.
 
Written By: Elrod
URL: http://
At risk of sounding like I’m blaming the victim
You are.
 
Written By: bains
URL: http://
Let’s keep this in perspective.

#1.
Frankly, whether you’re talking about two incidents or whether you’re talking about twenty-five, conservative speakers must give a number of speeches in universities that reaches into the tens or hundreds of thousands, annually. So we’re talking about an extreme anomaly, even if you can put one incident a week in the paper.

#2. A subtle point that no one here has put together yet is that it’s a commendable act that Tom Tancredo was allowed to speak at all. From what I’ve seen of right-leaning academic institutions, especially Christian-oriented ones, secular liberal points of view will never, not one out of one thousand times, be invited to speak in the first place. I’m sure that a lot of secular liberal speakers don’t even try - which is a very quiet way of achieving a much more total suppression of ideological divergence than are loud protests, which are, of course, as we’re seeing, counterproductive. It’s a testament to these liberal institutions that they - at the institutional level, at least - allow conservative speakers to make their case. I can’t think of a conservative institution that would do the same.

#3.
Having said the above, I’m in favor of letting invited speakers be allowed to speak. The behavior described in the column is wrong, and disciplinary action is appropriate. Having said that, if I was an enterprising liberal student group, I would be putting pressure on the admin not to invite him back, or anyone else like him. The quiet censorship of noninvitation is something libertarians everywhere, I imagine, would defend the right of the institutions in question to practice. Right?
 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
A subtle point that no one here has put together yet is that it’s a commendable act that Tom Tancredo was allowed to speak at all.
...
Having said that, if I was an enterprising liberal student group, I would be putting pressure on the admin not to invite him back, or anyone else like him.
You just can’t parody this kind of cognitive dissonance.
 
Written By: Jordan
URL: http://
"talk radio is almost exclusively a right wing kind of attack on political discourse"

It IS political discourse.

"And the propaganda of talk radio is almost exclusively a right wing kind of attack on political discourse (with classic propagandistic styles involving direct lies, mischaracterization, and argument by insult)."

Insofar as talk radio is almost exclusively rightish, you may be technically accurate in a way, but to ascribe such behaviour as a monopoly of the right is pure nonsense. One might say it is a classic left wing style of attack on political discourse....
Sort of like a political campaign, and it is done by both sides, not just the right.

***********************
"but they have no money for extra security."
"And what can the college do"

Isn’t there a group called the "police" or something? You know, 911 and all that. Oh, right, I forgot; "No Pigs On Campus". Silly me, not to remember that the laws that apply to the rest of us do not apply on the sacred soil of academia.

"I have to say that College Republicans know damn well what’s going to happen when they bring Tom Tancredo or the Minuteman to a very liberal campus"

Now that is a very interesting remark.
You really should keep up with the party line. Such behaviour is completely spontaneous, hence unpredictable. I would hate for your colleagues to find out that you think College Republicans are smarter than the college administration.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Hi

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Rosé
 
Written By: Rose Spencer
URL: http://

 
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Vicious Capitalism

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Buy Dale's Book!
Slackernomics by Dale Franks

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