Free Speech Under Attack in Colleges as Publications Call for Censorship

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By Ian Miles Cheong | 5:05 am, April 26, 2017

Freedom of speech affords protections to people whose opinions you disagree with. It’s the foundation of the principle of free expression—and without it, those in power can silence anyone whose views do not align with their own.

Lately, higher education institutions have made their best attempts to stifle speakers whose views conflict with progressive, fainting couch ideology. From Ann Coulter’s disinvitation from UC Berkeley, to Oregon-based Linfield College’s decision to disinvite professor Jordan Peterson for his refusal to use gender neutral pronouns, colleges and universities across North America have a problem with free speech when transgresses the “safe space” of overly sensitive students.

Bernie Sanders

These actions even prompted Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to speak out against the censorship earlier this week. Sanders called UC Berkeley’s refusal to host controversial speakers “a sign of intellectual weakness” for their fear of standing up against her arguments.

Publications like New Republic are calling for the suppression of “hateful” speech—in contradictory defense of free speech. “Rejecting campus speakers is not an assault on free speech,” writes Aaron R. Hanlon for the publication. “Rather, like so many other decisions made every day by college students, teachers, and administrators, it’s a value judgment.”

Hanlon makes a false equivalence, claiming that both the left and the right are perilously allergic of dissenting opinions. And yet most, if not all, the speakers uninvited by colleges in recent years have been academics and pundits who speak out against far-left progressivism.

Christina Hoff Sommers

The author waffles on about “practical limitations” and the complex and difficult process of speaking invitations, downplaying the fact that no-platforming a speaker for their views is simply censorship—after which he spends five paragraphs describing the importance of his job as an assistant professor of English at Colby College.

Elsewhere, in the New York Times, Ulrich Baer argues that campus “snowflakes” raise good points about free speech in their efforts to stifle problematic opinions.

Baer, the vice provost for faculty, arts, humanities and diversity at New York University, argues that unreliable personal anecdotes and “lived experience” is more important than a reasoned argument. The author invokes the suffering of Holocaust survivors, whose experiences have been challenged by Holocaust-denying cranks.

There is of course incontrovertible evidence that the Nazis perpetrated the mass extermination of Jews—not just from survivors, but from the Allied troops who liberated survivors from death camps and forensic evidence of the Nazis’ crimes against humanity.

Baer conflates the substance of these facts with the fragile viewpoints held sacred by campus progressives—and argues that allowing controversial speakers to dispute progressive ideology infringes upon students’ experiences and free speech.

Milo Yiannopoulos

“The recent student demonstrations at Auburn against Spencer’s visit — as well as protests on other campuses against Charles Murray, Milo Yiannopoulos and others — should be understood as an attempt to ensure the conditions of free speech for a greater group of people, rather than censorship,” says the author.

“Liberal free-speech advocates rush to point out that the views of these individuals must be heard first to be rejected,” adds Baer. “But this is not the case. Universities invite speakers not chiefly to present otherwise unavailable discoveries, but to present to the public views they have presented elsewhere. When those views invalidate the humanity of some people, they restrict speech as a public good.”

It’s as if the claims progressives put forth on “microaggressions” and “cultural appropriation” are unable to withstand scrutiny, which gives all the more reason to contest them. After all, what good is an idea if it can’t hold up to rationality?

Baer argues that anyone inclined to seek alternative opinions can do so elsewhere—like on the Internet. If that’s truly the case, what good are colleges as places of learning and developing critical thought?

Ultimately, students who can’t handle a difference of opinion and demand protections from outside views while in college will have trouble coping once they’re out in the real world.

Ian Miles Cheong is a journalist and media critic. You can reach him through social media at @stillgray on Twitter and on Facebook.