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By Edward Yingling and Stuart Taylor Jr.
[Editor's note: Edward Yingling, who is a Stanford law school graduate, and his fellow Princeton undergraduate alum Stuart Taylor recently published this op-ed at Real Clear Politics urging that colleges and universities should explain their positions on free speech and academic freedom in their recruiting materials and compete on these factors.]
The lists of “top colleges” have varied little in many years. They always include the Ivies, Stanford, MIT, Cal Tech, etc. But that could change. Colleges of all types can differentiate themselves on the core values of free speech and academic freedom, and those that do will increasingly attract more and better students, faculty, and employment opportunities for their graduates.
There are many factors that go into choosing a college or grad school – affordability, location, and strength in specific disciplines – but many parents and students are overly focused on the prestige of the school.
However, most of these “prestige” schools have low ratings in the annual survey of students on free speech issues conducted by the Foundation for Rights and Expression (FIRE). Many have had recent embarrassments that rightfully tarnished their image on free speech. And many have atmospheres that smack of indoctrination and huge bureaucracies to enforce those atmospheres. Certainly that is the case with the university, Princeton, that we both attended and with the law school, Stanford, that one of us attended and at which the other briefly taught. Both schools have received negative publicity on free speech. Would we go to either school today? In a recent survey by Princetonians for Free Speech, only 24% of Princeton students said it is never appropriate to shout down a speaker; only 57% said it is never appropriate to block other students from attending a speech; and 16% said it might, on at least rare occasions, be appropriate to use violence to stop a speaker. At Stanford Law, a large group of students shouted down a federal judge and then tried to intimidate the dean for having apologized to the judge. The deeper problem, students have told us, is not such high-profile events. It is the campus culture. Views not in keeping with the orthodoxy are not valued; they are often viciously attacked. In our Princetonians survey, 70% of students say they would be very or somewhat uncomfortable publicly disagreeing with a professor on a controversial topic. 56% say they would be very or somewhat uncomfortable expressing their views in class on a controversial topic. Another survey shows it is much worse for conservative students. At Princeton, where we talk regularly with students, there is no question there is a negative culture. A student in the ballet club received a memo from the club’s leaders stating that ballet was “white supremacy” and “perfectionism,” and requiring members to do specified community service. Conservative students have received no contact orders from the university for normal political disagreements. This type of thing goes on every day. There are better choices. The University of Chicago and Purdue have a history of promoting free speech. The University of North Carolina and Vanderbilt have recently demonstrated a strong commitment to free speech by adopting institutional neutrality. While some colleges are now focusing more on free speech, they should go further and develop a strong reputation for promoting free speech values. Why wouldn’t students want to attend great colleges that have cultures of free speech and academic freedom rather than Princeton, Stanford, Yale, or Harvard, where the culture stifles the free exchange of ideas? Why wouldn’t parents want their children to choose schools where students are not afraid to say what they think? Why wouldn’t more faculty want to teach at schools where academic freedom flourishes? Why wouldn’t employers want to recruit at schools where students are taught how to think for themselves, rather than to bow to orthodoxy? Why would alumni want to continue to give to schools that no longer support the core values they were created to promote? There are anecdotal signs that a reaction against such orthodoxy has already started. For example, some federal judges have said they will no longer look to the law schools at Yale and Stanford for law clerks. Alumni giving participation rates are down substantially at Princeton. As parents, students, faculty, and employers increasingly look to colleges’ records on free speech and academic freedom, more resources will become available to meet the demand. The annual FIRE free speech report will become more influential, and other measurements and reviews of colleges’ records on free speech and academic freedom will be developed. FIRE and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, among others, already provide resources to help colleges advance a free speech agenda. Maybe the elite colleges will not care about such competition. Their endowments are so large they have little need for contributions. Their acceptance rates are in the single digits. But over time they may lose their elite status. As students, faculty, and employers look to other schools, the elite colleges will become even more narrow in their orthodoxy and even more unattractive for most. Over time the elites could be forced to change. This is not about becoming a conservative oasis. It is about returning to the core mission of a university – advancing knowledge and learning through free speech, academic freedom, and viewpoint diversity. Colleges that state that mission clearly and follow through on it will have a competitive advantage. Edward Yingling is co-founder of Princetonians for Free Speech and chairman emeritus of the Alumni Free Speech Alliance. Stuart Taylor Jr. is a co-founder of Princetonians for Free Speech and a board member of the Alumni Free Speech Alliance.
By Prof. Robert George
[Editor's note: The Atlantic recently published this op-ed by Princeton Prof. Robert George concerning the risks of colleges and universities publicly taking political positions, and even concerns if specific schools and departments were to do so. The full op-ed can be found here. See also compilations of the Chicago Principles/Chicago Trifecta here.]
Excerpts: . . . "As it happens, Princeton, like some other nonsectarian institutions, is currently deliberating about what rules we should adopt regarding statements made by the university’s various departments and offices regarding political questions that are not directly related to the teaching and research mission of the university—questions such as abortion, U.S. policy toward Israel, defunding the police, and reparations for slavery. What should those rules be? What principles are to be considered in devising limitations on institutional pronouncements?
"To my mind, the University of Chicago arrived at the right answer more than 50 years ago, when it adopted, in the midst of the Vietnam War controversy and other matters of contention, the report of a committee chaired by the law professor Harry Kalven. The Kalven Report committed the university and its various units to institutional neutrality on political questions, encapsulating its rationale in the helpful dictum: “The University is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic.” The Kalven Report did not forbid faculty, students, or staff in their individual capacities from stating their opinions publicly, or even from identifying themselves by their academic titles and affiliations when doing so. It did, however, generally forbid anyone from committing the university or its departments and offices to particular points of view on controversial political questions. . .. "[Even when there allegedly is consensus,] where are the dissenting voices? Has groupthink set in—in a unit, or perhaps in an entire field? What message does the lack of representation of dissenting voices send to students? Has there been discrimination or favoritism based on viewpoint? If so, is it continuing? Has this affected hiring and promotion decisions, or created what is broadly known to be a hostile environment for people who dissent from established orthodoxies? . . . "Let me linger a bit on this last point. If academic units are permitted to make statements on political issues, then the following will be the case: When considering a job or tenure candidate, voting faculty members will anticipate that he or she, if appointed, will vote on future political statements. So they will perfectly reasonably want to know, and will take into account, the candidate’s ideological leanings and political views and affiliations in deciding whether to support or oppose the appointment. Of course, this is something that faculty are not supposed to do under existing academic norms for nonsectarian institutions. It is condemned, for example, by the American Association of University Professors. But putting into place a policy that permits departments and other units to take political stands and issue political statements would undermine this prohibition. After all, voting on political statements—if departments were to be authorized to do so and chose to act on that authorization—would be one of the things a faculty member is, as a practical matter, hired to do. . .. "Institutional neutrality protects the university’s fundamental mission of pursuing, preserving, and transmitting knowledge. This mission requires not only academic freedom and viewpoint diversity, but also principles and policies that enable us to avoid contests among people of competing ideological stripes for control of the university and its individual units. The university must belong to everyone in our community, not simply those who are on the allegedly “right” side of contested issues."
Freshman Orientations Emphasize DEI Over Free Speech, Nationwide Survey Finds
By Katelynn Richardson
Almost all — 91 percent — of university freshman orientation programs across the country emphasize diversity, equity and inclusion topics, a recently released investigative report found. By contrast, free speech and viewpoint diversity topics are only mentioned in about 30 percent of orientation programs, and are often “strikingly absent” from the conversation, the Speech First survey found. Speech First, a 4-year-old nonprofit that advances free speech on college campuses through advocacy and litigation, obtained the results by filing Freedom of Information Act requests to over 50 public universities asking for freshman orientation materials. The group found DEI topics are covered in “3.71 times more orientation slide material, 4.9 times more orientation handout material, and 7.37 times more orientation video material” than free speech topics. Speech First Executive Director Cherise Trump told The College Fix that the process of developing the report, which took nearly a year to finish, was “wrought with delays, excuses, additional fees, and redactions.” Many universities were reluctant to comply with the Freedom of Information Act requests. While 51 universities ultimately complied, 3 universities—Arizona State University, Colorado State University-Fort Collins, and University of California-Berkeley—did not respond. Examples of orientation DEI issues highlighted by Speech First include a Northern Kentucky University orientation video that labels the phrases “Where are you from?” and “I don’t see race” as microaggressions and a James Madison University PowerPoint featuring 34 slides on diversity, power and oppression. James Madison University spokesperson Mary-Hope Vass told The College Fix this presentation is “not in use” and that the president “will address free speech and viewpoint diversity during his opening remarks to all new students.” At State University of New York at New Paltz, Speech First found incoming students are required to take an “Implicit Association Test” asking them to match skin colors with various words, objects and weapons. The test is hosted on a Harvard website and facilitated at multiple universities nationwide. At the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, freshman orientation features a presentation that asserts “bias” includes “a tendency to believe that some ideas are better than others” and asks students to analyze their identities using an “identity wheel.” “Freshman orientation programs must be restructured,” Speech First’s report states. “Currently, students have very little understanding of their free speech rights and the value this adds to their education.” To combat the overemphasis on DEI, Speech First opened a tip line for university students to share what is being covered during new student orientation. “We know our findings only scratched the surface of what we are certain is out there,” Trump said via email. “We hope that students and pro-free speech faculty send us materials from their new student orientations (videos, powerpoints, images, pdfs, etc.) that will expose universities that are attempting to impose their dogmatic political agendas onto students while encouraging them to censor and report one another if they diverge.” Speech First did find commendable examples of orientation programs at George Mason University and Louisiana State University, both schools that have made robust statements in support of free speech. “It is not the proper role of the University to shield individuals from speech protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America…including without limitation ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive,” the LSU Permanent Memorandum 79 on Free Speech and Expression states. Several other universities, the report notes, have also taken steps to incorporate material on free speech. The Rochester Institute of Technology announced in February it would include “free speech programming” in its New Student Orientation, as did the Iowa Board of Regents for all students, faculty and staff at the three public Iowa universities. A lack of preparation during orientation can set the tone for greater free speech problems later on. In a study conducted last year by Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, RealClearEducation and College Pulse, 80 percent of students reported that they self-censor on campus. Another 66 percent said it was acceptable to shout down a speaker to prevent them from speaking on campus. “If students are told as soon as they step on campus that they must feel guilty, ashamed, and they must be hyper-sensitive towards their peers, then they will be afraid to express their thoughts, ultimately limiting their knowledge to whatever they are told rather than expanding their minds through discourse, debate, and inquiry,” Speech First states in the survey’s conclusion. Trump said she hopes her organization’s tip line and report will influence universities to do more than “mention free speech subtly amidst a flood of DEI/CRT propaganda.” “I look forward to hearing from universities that have changed their ways and modified their materials to reflect a strong and obvious dedication to students’ First Amendment rights, free speech, open discourse, rigorous debate, and viewpoint diversity in their freshman orientation materials,” she said.
College Student Views on Free Expression and Campus Speech 2022
College campuses have long been places where the limits of free expression are debated and tested. In recent years, this dialogue has grown more fraught as some schools have sought to create a more protective speech environment for students. Moreover, key events shaping the past two years, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the racial justice movement and the 2020 election, have only added deeper dimensions to the dialogue around free speech playing out on campus and in society at large. The “Knight-Ipsos College Student Views on Free Expression and Campus Speech” report is the fourth in a series of Knight Foundation reports measuring college student attitudes toward speech and the First Amendment since 2016. For this report, Knight Foundation commissioned Ipsos to conduct a survey with a nationally representative sample of over 1,000 college students ages 18-24 enrolled in all types of higher education institutions, along with 4,000 American adults, offering insight into how college students’ views on free speech compare with those of the general public. In addition to the past Knight-Gallup campus speech surveys (2016, 2017, 2019), Knight has studied free speech views among high school students since 2004. Trends in college student attitudes are included throughout this report. For findings on how the adult population views free speech and expression, please see “Free Expression in America Post-2020,” published earlier in January 2022. This Knight Foundation-Ipsos report offers nuanced insight into how college students perceive campus speech and First Amendment protections today, including how views are evolving within different factions of the student body. This survey reinforces that students are not a monolithic group when it comes to speech, finding that partisanship, race, and ethnicity drive meaningful differences in how college students view speech. Understanding where different groups stand is vitally important for higher education leaders as they seek to foster free expression on college campuses and create a campus environment that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive. The findings described in this report cover many, but not all, of the rich insights possible from this complex dataset. We invite the public and researchers to explore this publicly available resource in further detail. KEY FINDINGS Students view speech rights as important, yet less secure than in years past: Students continue to believe First Amendment rights and concepts of free speech are important to democracy. However, the percentage of students saying speech rights are secure has fallen every year since this question was first asked in 2016. This includes a 12-point decrease from 2019 as an increasing number of students—particularly Republicans—say they believe speech rights are threatened. Students of color believe their speech is less protected: While a majority of college students express confidence that the First Amendment protects “people like them,” Black students in particular feel much less protected, with a sharp decline from 2019 to 2021. Students believe exposure to a wide spectrum of speech at college is important: Most students continue to say colleges should allow students to be exposed to all types of speech, including political speech that is offensive or biased, rather than prohibiting speech they may find offensive. Students favor college policies that limit racist speech, but support for other speech interventions remains low: Most students favor colleges instituting policies that restrict the use of racial slurs on campus, suggesting that, for them, this particular category of speech does not merit mandated exposure on campus. Just 1 in 4 students favor schools disinviting controversial speakers, down from more than 2 in 5 in 2019. Similarly, the number of students who support colleges providing safe spaces or speech codes has fallen over the past two years. Students say the campus climate stifles free expression, yet speech on campus is making nearly 1 in 5 feel unsafe: More students now say the climate at school prevents some from saying things others might find offensive, and fewer feel comfortable disagreeing in class. Yet slightly more now report feeling unsafe because of comments made on campus than in 2019. This is particularly true for female students and students of color. KEY POPULATIONS Experience with and attitudes toward speech vary widely among different student groups. The greatest differences exist among race and partisanship, and less so by gender or other demographic groupings. The following is a brief summary of the major findings and how opinion has changed over time, including the degree to which students have a formed opinion at all. DEMOCRATIC STUDENTS A majority of Democratic students believe that freedom of speech is secure in America today, a view that has held constant since 2019. When it comes to free expression broadly on campus, just over half of Democratic students favor schools fostering an environment in which all forms of speech are allowed, a view that’s softened since the last time Knight asked these questions two years ago. Democrats are most likely to favor colleges implementing restrictions on certain forms of speech on campus, particularly around speech that is offensive to minority groups, something that was also true in prior Knight-Gallup research. Both now and in 2019, a large majority of Democratic students believe that colleges should be able to restrict the use of racial slurs on campus. When it comes to other speech policies, 3 in 4 support the creation of safe spaces on campus, close to half support the creation of speech codes that could limit offensive or biased speech, and 2 in 5 favor schools disinviting potentially controversial speakers. These views are consistent with previous surveys. A majority of Democrats feel that their campus climate prevents people from saying what they believe for fear of offending others, although they are less likely to feel this way than Republicans and independents. Compared with two years ago, Democratic students now feel less comfortable voicing disagreements in class. INDEPENDENT STUDENTS Independent students express growing concerns about the fundamental security of free speech in America today while indicating their wariness of colleges limiting speech on campus. Just under half of all independents feel that free speech is secure today, down from 3 in 4 who felt this way in 2016. At the same time, a strong majority (8 in 10) believe that they are protected under the First Amendment. This puts them on about equal footing with Democrats, but slightly behind Republicans. A majority believe that colleges should allow students to be exposed to all forms of speech. Opinion is split among the remaining minority with equal numbers (around 1 in 5 each) either believing that colleges should foster a protective environment or having no opinion on the matter. Much like two years ago, few support colleges disinviting controversial speakers or instituting speech codes. A majority feel that their campus climate limits free expression, a view that has remained the same since 2019. Independents were more likely than other groups of students to respond with the newly prompted “No opinion” option this year, indicating that many of them do not have strong views on these issues at all. REPUBLICAN STUDENTS Republican students are increasingly likely to feel that freedom of speech is under threat—just over a quarter believe it is secure today, down from two-thirds in 2016. More now also believe that their school’s climate stifles free expression. A strong majority (7 in 10, down from 90% in 2019) say it is more important for colleges to allow students to be exposed to all types of speech, even if they find it offensive or biased, than to prohibit offensive or biased speech. A majority (56%)—albeit a smaller share than either Democratic or independent students—believe that colleges should be allowed to prohibit the use of racial slurs on campus. Moreover, for Republican students, this represents a more than 20-point drop from 2019 in the percentage who feel that colleges should restrict the use of racial slurs on campus. Republicans are more divided around whether safe spaces should be allowed on campus—half favor this—but come down firmly against schools disinviting controversial speakers, something that was also true two years ago. A slim majority oppose schools instituting speech codes that could restrict offensive or biased speech. Unlike their Democratic counterparts, there has been no change over time in their already low level of comfort voicing disagreements with professors or other students; less than half remain comfortable. WHITE STUDENTS White students tend to favor allowing all types of speech on campus, over protecting students by prohibiting certain speech. They are least likely to report having felt unsafe or uncomfortable on campus because of comments about their identity, as compared with Black and Hispanic students. This has not changed substantially since 2019. Overall, half of white college students believe that freedom of speech is under threat in America today. Yet a large majority feel that the First Amendment protects them, a view that has held steady since 2019. When it comes to free expression on college campuses, white students are more likely than their Black or Hispanic counterparts to agree that schools should favor exposing students to all forms of speech, rather than protecting them from speech they may find offensive or biased. This was also true two years ago. They are slightly more likely than Black or Hispanic students to believe that the campus environment stifles free expression. BLACK STUDENTS Fewer Black students express confidence that the First Amendment protects people like them. At the same time, a growing number of Black students favor a more protective campus environment. The share of Black students who feel the First Amendment protects them a great deal has fallen by 20 percentage points over the past two years. Black students also express less confidence than the broader Black adult population about how effectively the First Amendment protects either them or the average American. When it comes to campus free speech, the number of Black students who favor a campus environment that protects students by prohibiting speech that they might find offensive or biased has grown from 28% in 2019 to 36% in 2021. Both in 2019 and 2021, a majority of Black students feel that colleges should restrict the use of offensive racial slurs on campus. Black students are more likely than white or Hispanic students to say that they have been made to feel uncomfortable due to statements that others have made in their presence about their identity or political beliefs, both in daily life and on campus. This has remained constant since 2019. HISPANIC STUDENTS Hispanic students’ views of campus speech, and personal experiences, fall somewhere between the differing views of Black and white students. A strong majority of Hispanic students believe that the First Amendment protects people like them, something that was also true two years ago. The number of Hispanic students saying this is nearly equal to the number of white students. Similarly, Hispanic students align closely with white students on perceptions that free speech is under threat; half agree. However, with regard to colleges restricting offensive racial slurs, Hispanic students fall closer to Black students, with 7 in 10 supporting such an action. Hispanic students (along with independents) are among the most likely to say they have no opinion about whether colleges should foster a more protective speech environment or allow all types of speech on campus. A plurality oppose disinviting controversial speakers, but they are split around instituting speech codes. Like white students, close to 6 in 10 favor the creation of safe spaces on campus, less than the share of Black students who do. MALE AND FEMALE STUDENTS For the most part, male and female students are aligned in their attitudes and experiences of free speech, with a few key differences. Overall, a majority of both male and female students say that free speech rights are important to American democracy, although fewer feel this way than in 2019. Now, female students are more likely than male students to say that free speech rights are extremely important, a change from 2019 when more men said free speech rights were extremely important. Nearly 1 in 5 male and female students alike report having felt unsafe due to comments on campus, whereas larger gender differences were observed in prior years. A more meaningful difference appears when male and female students are asked if they have felt uncomfortable on campus. Female students remain significantly more likely to have felt uncomfortable due to speech on campus, as they did in 2019.
By Leslie Spencer, April 3, 2023
[Editor's note: Ms. Spencer is a graduate of Princeton University, a former writer and associate editor at Forbes, and currently Vice Chair of Princetonians for Free Speech which, like Stanford Alumni for Free Speech and Critical Thinking , is a member of the nationwide Alumni Free Speech Alliance referenced at our Resources page.]
Hardly a day goes by without national media spotlighting controversies involving free speech and academic freedom at universities across the country. In California, Stanford Law School is scrambling to repair the damage done to its reputation when, on March 9, law students, aided and abetted by Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Tirien Steinbach, heckled invited speaker 5th Circuit Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan with jeers and obscene insults until, finding it impossible to finish his speech, he escaped with the help of federal marshals.
In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis’ efforts to overhaul the public university system with aggressive legislative intervention has been the subject of intense disagreement, most notably among advocates of academic freedom. Detractors claim that in his efforts to expunge Critical Race Theory (CRT), diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and other illiberal “woke” dogmas such as gender politics from Florida’s state universities, DeSantis is trampling on academic freedom and tenure protections. Proponents claim it is long overdue pushback against leftist attacks on academic freedom. In “DeSantis’s Terrifying Plot against Higher Education,” Princeton professor Keith Whittington, author of Speak Freelyand Chair of the governing committee of the Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA), asserts that the legislation is a remedy worse than the disease. His colleague, Princeton professor, Sergiu Klainerman, while acknowledging that the legislation contains flaws, counters under the headline “DeSantis’ ‘Plot’: Not So Terrifying After All.” Quillette, which has published many insightful analyses of the perilous state of academic freedom throughout the Anglosphere, was unequivocal in its assessment of Florida’s legislation: “Left or Right, Politicians Should Not be Telling Academics What They Are Allowed to Teach.” And a lawsuit filed against Florida by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), which has become the country’s premier free speech defender, has persuaded a court to put on hold key higher education provisions of DeSantis’s “Stop WOKE Act” by claiming they violate the First Amendment rights of students and faculty. These are just two among a pile-up of recent controversies and scandals that point in one direction: Higher education’s grip on free speech principles has become tenuous at best. Voices confirming that this problem is not simply a political fight between liberals and conservatives are gaining traction. Greg Lukianoff, FIRE’s President and CEO, calls himself a liberal but is a strict non-partisan in his commitment to filing lawsuits against threats from any quarter to free speech and academic freedom. He is giving a talk at Princeton on April 11 titled “The Conformity Gauntlet in Higher Education.” Although quick to oppose sloppy legislation, Lukianoff is hardly against government action as a way to fix the free speech crisis on America’s campuses. In fact, he recommends imaginative, bold, even radical legislative measures, as long as they can pass constitutional muster. Although some of the following proposals are not official FIRE positions, he thinks they all are worth considering. Buckle up. •Craft a National Leonard Law: A California law passed in 1992 and amended in 2002, the Leonard Law prohibits non-sectarian public and private colleges in California from punishing any speech that would be protected off-campus. Under the Leonard Law’s terms, students may file civil lawsuits against their institutions and may recover attorneys’ fees. The 2006 amendment to California’s law adds protections for student journalists and newspapers, prohibiting “prior restraint,” which is the censoring of a specific forthcoming publication. A national Leonard Law would break what Lukianoff says is the “pretense” that private universities are in any meaningful sense “private” anymore. “Federal regulation, including so-called anti-harassment provisions, is utilized routinely to limit what you can teach and say on campus without actually applying First Amendment standards to protect academic freedom.” •Place a cap on administrative spending: As a condition of receiving federal funds, Congress could impose a cap on the percentage of a university’s expenses that go to overhead costs. Overhead, defined as costs of administration plus development, can run as high as an astonishing 80 percent, especially at schools like Princeton. Such a cap would have the ancillary benefit of reducing overall costs generally, and in particular, those costs associated with runaway administrative bloat. It’s important to focus the public’s attention on the fact that in the last several decades, massive amounts of public money have been spent on federally backed student loans, grants and other support. Lukianoff points out that tuition should have been going down. But instead, the cost of attending a four-year college has risen at twice the rate of inflation. And it’s not going towards teaching and scholarship. It is being spent on highly paid administrators. Administrative overreach is constraining the lives of faculty and students and is a primary cause of free speech and academic freedom violations. “FIRE would support aggressive efforts to lower the bureaucratization of universities because we know full well that that’s why they’re so activist and illiberal. A university with fewer administrators couldn’t enforce ideological homogeneity to the degree that they currently do.” •Curtail the protection of qualified immunity for public university administrators: A doctrine originally designed to protect law enforcement officials from frivolous law suits and financial liability in cases where they acted in good faith or in legally murky circumstances, “qualified immunity” has come to be widely criticized for allowing public officials to avoid consequences for bad behavior. Since 1982, it shields from liability all public officials performing discretionary functions (those acts requiring individual judgement) when their conduct does not violate statutory or constitutional rights known by a “reasonable person.” Is it reasonable for public university administrators to know when their conduct violates clearly established free speech rights? “It is ludicrous to suggest that administrators bound by 1st Amendment don’t know they can’t censor people on the basis of viewpoint,” Lukianoff says. To give such legislation teeth, all public university officials need to be put on notice that they risk personal liability if they deny speech rights to students, fellow administrators or faculty. To make sure the risk is felt personally, insurance should not cover the costs of those who flout the law. On this point Lukianoff doesn’t hold back: He says universities and insurers “should no more be required to cover these costs than to cover the costs of someone accused of murder.” •Ban political litmus tests: These are clearly unconstitutional, yet widely used at universities throughout the country. A recent FIRE survey reveals that over 80 percent of large universities either include or are considering DEI litmus tests as criteria in hiring and tenure standards. Requiring allegiance to a politicized understanding of “diversity” constitutes “forced speech” and therefore violates First Amendment protections. But with universities routinely requiring such DEI loyalty statements, an explicit ban is necessary. FIRE has published model state legislation designed to ban all loyalty oaths from public universities’ admissions, hiring and promotion policies, taking particular care to avoid replacing one orthodoxy with another. •Designate one flagship state school in each state. State legislatures could create premiere state universities which would admit only top students based purely on academic merit – test scores and grades. These schools would compete for students directly with the “fancies” – Lukianoff’s shorthand for the likes of Princeton, Harvard and Stanford. Wise employers would prefer to draw from these flagship state schools as alternatives to Ivy league and other elite schools whose graduates increasingly bring with them the ideological baggage of intolerance for diverse viewpoints. •Ban Legacy Admissions: Under such legislation, which has been attempted in New York, Connecticut and Colorado in the last few years, colleges and universities receiving federal funds would be barred from giving preference to legacies in admission. While it’s obvious that legacy admissions disfavor promising students from less affluent families, the link between legacy admissions and threats to academic freedom and free speech is more subtle. But Lukianoff’s reasoning is intriguing. The “fancies” are way too powerful, perpetuating a kind of intolerant monoculture across the land. A primary reason for their excessive power is the “self-perpetuating cycle” in which the wealthy elite, generation after generation, continue sending their children to the same few schools. Historically, these elite schools have had an unhealthy alliance with this demographic. They have reaped enormous gifts from these families, who in turn secure admission for their children, grandchildren, and often the children of people in their extended networks. Lukianoff fully acknowledges that schools like Harvard, Princeton and Yale also admit some of the brightest and most hard-working students who do not come from great wealth, and that many of those students become successful and wealthy on their own merit. “But the research shows that the social network you’re plugged into plays a much larger role in determining outcomes than intellect or work ethic alone,” he says. Elite institutions will, he admits, always find ways to favor children of their major donors, but he thinks that banning legacy admissions, combined with his idea of designating flagship state schools that admit solely on the basis of grades and SAT scores, could, he says, “put a serious dent in the stranglehold that the elite colleges continue to have on the culture.” •Increase Competition. Whole new institutions committed to academic freedom, like the University of Austin in Texas, Ralston College in Savannah Georgia, and Minerva University in San Francisco, constitute one form of competition, as do new centers at existing institutions, like University of North Carolina’s School of Civic Life and Leadership and Arizona State’s Center for American Institutions. But promoting competition can go much further, and could be accomplished through state legislation: •Create an extremely difficult test: This test might be called a BA GED which would allow those highest performing high school seniors who pass it to bypass college altogether and go directly to graduate school or to employment. Lukianoff anticipates that this would “scare the living hell” out of the Ivy League and other top schools, because they know that many of the best and brightest would pass this test and then choose to avoid both the costs of an undergraduate degree and the orthodoxy that has come to saturate so much of university life and contribute to the decline in quality. •Create an independent institution for academic study replication. The concept would require a group of politically balanced and esteemed scholars who, through repetition of experiments and observations in studies and reports, would evaluate the quality of research produced in higher education. Lukianoff thinks it is likely that much university-sanctioned scholarship, particularly in ethnic and gender studies departments, does not replicate. Ideally, all the scholars involved would be known to the public, but the authorship of individual reports would be anonymous so that the research remains untainted by social pressures. “People are absolutely desperate for a neutral authority that they can trust. I’m confident that a realignment around new institutions that people can trust is inevitable, it may be a role that Ralston or UATX could play, but that remains to be seen,” he says. •Conduct massive state-funded studies to test the value of a college degree. A 2012 study called “Academically Adrift” revealed that about half of students studied showed no improvement in critical thinking skills after college compared to before. Lukianoff is willing to bet that a control group of 18-22 year-olds working regular jobs rather than attending college would show the same, or perhaps even greater, improvement in their critical thinking faculties. Updating the Academically Adrift study and communicating the results to the public “could expose the scandal that we are paying billions of dollars to universities with little to no improvement in the fundamental thing they are supposed to offer....If people are fed up, skeptical, feel like they are getting ripped off or that the product is lacking, it will be easier to push for change.” What about campus-based administrative reform? Here’s some structural changes that could shift incentives of administrators, faculty and students in favor of adherence to free speech principles. •Presidents lead from the front: Adopt some variant of the University of Chicago’s trifecta: The “Chicago Statement” that guarantees free speech on campus, with clear sanctions to deter those who disrupt others’ speech; the Kalven Report principle of institutional neutrality, which forbids the university and its units from taking official positions on issues of the day; and the Shils Report, which mandates that faculty hiring and promotion be based solely on academic merit and excellence in research and teaching. Presidents should endorse and promote institutional adoption of these principles publicly and conspicuously, and explain their roles and rationale. Once adopted, college Presidents should find opportunities to reiterate them loudly and often. •Faculty, get organized: Although data shows that faculty do not necessarily want to protect speech they don’t like, it also shows that the ubiquitous administrative meddling in how faculty conduct classes and even how they conduct research makes them fear speaking freely and is very unpopular. To recenter the core mission around faculty, academic freedom proponents, with the protection tenure provides, have started to organize. “University of Chicago Free” and Harvard’s “Council on Academic Freedom,” to name just two, each have about 50 faculty who have agreed to be publicly named. They share ideas via Listserv, organize plans to enforce existing academic freedom principles, promote candidates for faculty committee positions, and advocate for hiring reforms, like the requirement that academic job listings contain a statement welcoming all viewpoints. A goal should be to make sure that alumni can designate their gifts to these groups. •Teach free speech from day one: Freshman orientation should introduce students to the principles underlying academic freedom, constitutionally protected free speech, viewpoint diversity, and truth-seeking, how these principles work in practice, and why a university cannot educate well without them. To institutionalize this orientation requirement, some suggest that faculty deans committed to academic freedom principles should take over orientation planning from administrators, who currently favor using it to mold morals and attitudes towards race, gender, sexuality, and other “identities” in ways that favor some groups’ rights over others, and encourage self-censorship. To help change course, FIRE offers a curriculum of orientation lessons and materials about free speech rights. •Require free speech and academic freedom ombudsmen. Students and faculty need immediate recourse when their free speech rights are violated. Most campuses contain armies of DEI administrators eager to generate and encourage complaints alleging discrimination or other subjectively determined “harms” committed by fellow students or faculty members. In contrast, when a student or faculty member’s free speech rights have been violated, to whom can the victim turn? Is there a single campus administrator anywhere whose job centers on the protection of student and faculty free speech rights? Let’s have some. “Turning administrators against administrators may not be a bad thing,” says Lukianoff. •Conduct annual campus climate surveys. Such surveys would address attitudes towards free expression and reveal how free students, faculty and staff feel to state their views and engage in debate. They would preferably be done in a way that would allow comparison across time and institutions. The questions in the surveys should be crafted to get to the bottom of the campus culture for debate and dissent, as well as the tolerance for faculty to pursue lines of scholarship and inquiry wherever they may lead. FIRE’s survey results show that 63 percent of students nationwide think that the climate on their campuses prevents them from speaking freely. A majority of faculty report pressure to self-censor for fear of losing their jobs or undermining their reputations. If this data is accurate, then the campus climate is hostile to education. •Take away power from those who can punish. Currently, from a student’s or professor’s perspective, the process is the punishment. This should end. When an accusation of discrimination or emotional “harm” is made against a faculty member, student or other employee, a summary judgement process should be in place, led by people who know the difference between protected speech and unprotected conduct. If the accusation is against speech that is protected, then the case is summarily dismissed. To bolster this reform, universities should be required to give out a Miranda-type warning, so the accused knows that there is no obligation to comply with any investigation into protected speech. Commitment to this process should be written into a university’s speech and expression policy and in the faculty and student handbooks, which in many states are legally binding. Presidents and Provosts should assert boldly and often that punishment for unpopular or controversial speech will not occur at their institutions. Greg Lukianoff might be seen as an unstoppable force of nature – just when we need that. He will appear on Tuesday, April 11 at 4:30pm in Robertson Hall on Princeton’s campus. Don’t miss it. Leslie Spencer, a former journalist, is Vice Chair of Princetonians for Free Speech
By Steven Pinker and Bertha Madras
[Editor's note: Steven Pinker is Johnstone Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard and Bertha Madras is Professor of Psychobiology at Harvard Medical School and director of the Laboratory of Addiction Neurobiology at McLean Hospital. The following was published on April 12 in the Boston Globe
Confidence in American higher education is sinking faster than for any other institution, with barely half of Americans believing it has a positive effect on the country.
No small part in this disenchantment is the impression that universities are repressing differences of opinion, like the inquisitions and purges of centuries past. It has been stoked by viral videos of professors being mobbed, cursed, heckled into silence, and sometimes assaulted, and it is vindicated by some alarming numbers. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, between 2014 and 2022 there were 877 attempts to punish scholars for expression that is, or in public contexts would be, protected by the First Amendment. Sixty percent resulted in actual sanctions, including 114 incidents of censorship and 156 firings (44 of them tenured professors) — more than during the McCarthy era. Worse, for every scholar who is punished, many more self-censor, knowing they could be next. It’s no better for the students, a majority of whom say that the campus climate prevents them from saying things they believe. The embattled ideal of academic freedom is not just a matter of the individual rights of professors and students. It’s baked into the mission of a university, which is to seek and share the truth — veritas, as our university, Harvard, boasts on its seal. The reason that a truth-seeking institution must sanctify free expression is straightforward. No one is infallible or omniscient. Mortal humans begin in ignorance of everything and are saddled with cognitive biases that make the search for knowledge arduous. These include overconfidence in their own rectitude, a preference for confirmatory over disconfirmatory evidence, and a drive to prove that their own alliance is smarter and nobler than their rivals. The only way that our species has managed to learn and progress is by a process of conjecture and refutation: Some people venture ideas, others probe whether they are sound, and in the long run the better ideas prevail. Any community that disables this cycle by repressing disagreement is doomed to chain itself to error, as we are reminded by the many historical episodes in which authorities enforced dogmas that turned out to be flat wrong. An academic establishment that stifles debate betrays the privileges that the nation grants it and is bound to provide erroneous guidance on vital issues like pandemics, violence, gender, and inequality. Even when the academic consensus is almost certainly correct, as with vaccines and climate change, skeptics can understandably ask, “Why should we trust the consensus, if it comes out of a clique that brooks no dissent?” There are many reasons to think that repression of academic freedom is systemic and must be actively resisted. To start with, the very concept of freedom of expression is anything but intuitively obvious. What is intuitively obvious is that the people who disagree with us are spreading dangerous falsehoods and must be silenced for the greater good. (Of course the other guys believe the same thing, with the sides switched.) The counter-intuitiveness of academic freedom is easily reinforced by several campus dynamics. The intellectual commons is vulnerable to the collective action problem of concentrated benefits and diffuse costs: A cadre of activists may find meaning and purpose in their cause and be willing to stop at nothing to prosecute it, while a larger number may disagree but feel they have other things to do with their time than push back. The activists command an expanding arsenal of asymmetric warfare, including the ability to disrupt events, the power to muster physical or electronic mobs on social media, and a willingness to smear their targets with crippling accusations of racism, sexism, or transphobia in a society that rightly abhors them. An exploding bureaucracy for policing harassment and discrimination has professional interests that are not necessarily aligned with the production and transmission of knowledge. Department chairs, deans, and presidents strive to minimize bad publicity and may proffer whatever statement they hope will make the trouble go away. Meanwhile, the shrinking political diversity of faculty threatens to lock in the regime for generations to come. One kind of resistance will surely make things worse: attempts by politicians to counter left-wing muscle with right-wing muscle by stipulating the content of education through legislation or by installing cronies in hostile takeovers of boards of trustees. The coin of the realm in academia ought to be persuasion and debate, and the natural protagonists ought to be the faculty. They can hold universities accountable to the commitments to academic freedom that are already enshrined in faculty policies, handbooks, and in the case of public universities, the First Amendment. In this spirit, we have joined with 50 colleagues to create a new Council on Academic Freedom at Harvard. It’s not about us. For many years we have each expressed strong and often unorthodox opinions with complete freedom and with the support, indeed warm encouragement, of our colleagues, deans, and presidents. Yet we know that not all is well for more vulnerable colleagues and students. Harvard ranks 170th out of 203 colleges in FIRE’s Free Speech Rankings, and we know of cases of disinvitation, sanctioning, harassment, public shaming, and threats of firing and boycotts for the expression of disfavored opinions. More than half of our students say they are uncomfortable expressing views on controversial issues in class. The Council is a faculty-led organization that is devoted to free inquiry, intellectual diversity, and civil discourse. We are diverse in politics, demographics, disciplines, and opinions but united in our concern that academic freedom needs a defense team. Our touchstone is the “Free Speech Guidelines” adopted by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in 1990, which declares, “Free speech is uniquely important to the University because we are a community committed to reason and rational discourse. Free interchange of ideas is vital for our primary function of discovering and disseminating ideas through research, teaching, and learning.” Naturally, since we are professors, we plan to sponsor workshops, lectures, and courses on the topic of academic freedom. We also intend to inform new faculty about Harvard’s commitments to free speech and the resources available to them when it is threatened. We will encourage the adoption and enforcement of policies that protect academic freedom. When an individual is threatened or slandered for a scholarly opinion, which can be emotionally devastating, we will lend our personal and professional support. When activists are shouting into an administrator’s ear, we will speak calmly but vigorously into the other one, which will require them to take the reasoned rather than the easy way out. And we will support parallel efforts led by undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral students. Harvard is just one university, but it is the nation’s oldest and most famous, and for better or worse, the outside world takes note of what happens here. We hope the effects will spread outside our formerly ivy-covered walls and encourage faculty and students elsewhere to rise up. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, and if we don’t defend academic freedom, we should not be surprised when politicians try to do it for us or a disgusted citizenry writes us off.
By Tabia Lee, EdD
[Editor's note: Several months after this article was first posted, Dr. Lee with support from the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism has brought a legal action against De Anza Community College. A copy of the complaint is here along with a six-minute video. See also Dr. Lee's 90-minute video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRgnIs543Hs.]
This month, I was fired from my position as faculty director for the Office of Equity, Social Justice, and Multicultural Education at De Anza Community College in Cupertino, Calif.—a position I had held for two years. This wasn’t an unexpected development. From the beginning, my colleagues and supervisors had made clear their opposition to the approach I brought to the job. Although I was able to advance some positive initiatives, I did so in the face of constant obstruction. What made me persona non grata? On paper, I was a good fit for the job. I am a black woman with decades of experience teaching in public schools and leading workshops on diversity, equity, inclusion, and antiracism. At the Los Angeles Unified School District, I established a network to help minority teachers attain National Board Certification. I designed and facilitated numerous teacher trainings and developed a civic-education program that garnered accolades from the LAUSD Board of Education. My crime at De Anza was running afoul of the tenets of critical social justice, a worldview that understands knowledge as relative and tied to unequal identity-based power dynamics that must be exposed and dismantled. This, I came to recognize, was the unofficial but strictly enforced ideological orthodoxy of De Anza—as it is at many other educational institutions. When I interviewed for the job in August 2021, there was no indication that I would be required to adhere to this particular vision of social justice. On the contrary, I was informed during the interview process that the office I would be working in had been alienating some faculty with a “too-woke” approach that involved “calling people out.” (After I was hired, this sentiment was echoed by many faculty, staff, and administrators I spoke to.) I told the hiring committee that I valued open dialogue and viewpoint diversity. Given their decision to hire me, I imagined I would find broad support for the vision I had promised to bring to my new role. I was wrong. Even before any substantive conflicts came to a head, warning lights started flashing. Within my first two weeks on the job, a staff member in my office revealed he had also been a finalist for my position and objected to the fact that I had been chosen over someone who had been there for years “doing the work.” I would have a rough ride ahead, this person told me—and, indeed, I would. It also soon became clear that my supervising dean and her aligned colleagues were attempting to prevent me from performing my duties. From the beginning, efforts to obstruct my work were framed in terms that might seem bizarre to those outside certain academic spaces. For instance, simply attempting to set an agenda for meetings caused my colleagues to accuse me of “whitespeaking,” “whitesplaining,” and reinforcing “white supremacy”—accusations I had never faced before. I was initially baffled, but as I attended workshops led by my officemates and promoted by my supervising dean, I repeatedly encountered a presentation slide titled “Characteristics of White-Supremacy Culture” that denounced qualities like “sense of urgency” and “worship of the written word.” Written meeting agendas apparently checked both boxes. You may have encountered this graphic or similar ones before. Derived from Kenneth Jones’s and Tema Okun’s 2001 book, Dismantling Racism, it has appeared in different forms on many institutional websites, sometimes provoking controversy. After all, doesn’t the statement that “objectivity” and “perfectionism” are “white” qualities seem kind of, well, racist? On these grounds, the National Museum of African American History eventually saw fit to remove a “White-Supremacy Culture” page from its site in 2020. But if you are wondering whether this document is still circulating and being cited inside publicly funded educational institutions, the unfortunate answer is yes. As I attended more events and spoke with more people, I realized that the institutional redefinition of familiar terms wasn’t limited to “white supremacy.” Race, racism, equality, and equity, I discovered, meant different things to my coworkers and supervising dean than they did to me. One of my officemates displayed a graphic of apples dropping to the ground from a tree, with the explanation that “equity means everybody gets some of the apples”; my officemates and supervising dean praised him for this “accurate definition.” When I pointed out that this definition seemed to focus solely on equality of outcomes, without any attention to equality of opportunity or power, it was made clear this perspective wasn’t welcome. “Equity” and “equality,” for my colleagues, were separate and even opposed concepts, and as one of them told me, the aspiration to equality was “a thing of the past.” Having recognized these differences, I attempted to use them as starting points for dialogue. In the workshops I led, I sought to make space for people to share their own definitions of various concepts and then to identify common points of reference that we could rally around, even as we acknowledged and accepted differences of perspective. In one workshop, for instance, I presented a chart summarizing two different racial-justice outlooks. The first was what I have called the neo-reconstructionist perspective popularized by Ibram X. Kendi’s bestseller How to Be an Antiracist, which presents an individual’s destiny as determined by social identity and holds that present racial discrimination can be an appropriate remedy for past racial discrimination and that ultimate emancipation from racism isn’t possible. I juxtaposed these views with those promoted by the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism, which takes a more open-ended view of oppression and privilege, wherein human destiny is determined by human choices, racial discrimination in all forms is rejected, and emancipation from racism is seen as possible and desirable. Without editorializing, I gave participants time to notice the differences between the perspectives. We then came together and shared things that these two seemingly divergent philosophies had in common. The aim was to enable a conversation between two perspectives that I already saw at play in divisions on campus about how to approach issues of race. When I was evaluated as part of the tenure process, some of my evaluators objected to such efforts to identify points of commonality between divergent viewpoints. They also objected to such views being presented at all. One evaluator, who described herself as a “third-wave antiracist,” aligning her with Kendi’s philosophy, made clear that the way I had presented her worldview was deeply offensive. Another evaluator objected to my presentation of “dangerous ideas” drawn from the scholarship of Sheena Mason, whose theory of “racelessness” presents race as something that can be overcome. This evaluator told me that it was disrespectful of me to set Kendi’s and Mason’s views side-by-side or to treat them as at all comparable. A dogmatic understanding of social justice shaped organizational and hiring practices. One of the faculty seated on my tenure-review committee invited me to join a socialist network she was a member of. I declined, confessing that I don’t identify with that (or any other) political label. She later observed one of my workshops and wrote up an evaluation before meeting with me to have a conversation about the workshop. I had been told that the post-observation conversation was an important part of the evaluation process. When we finally spoke, after she had already drafted her evaluation, she was dismissive and quickly terminated the conversation, stating we had nothing more to talk about. She proceeded to file her evaluation as it was written prior to our meeting. This evaluator later gave me a “needs-improvement” rating on the rubric for the “accepts-criticism” criterion. Her aligned colleagues repeatedly assigned me the same rating. It was clear that this rating was rooted in ideological concerns, rather than any substantive objections to my performance. Anything short of lockstep adherence to critical social justice was impermissible. “Criticism” was only supposed to go in one direction. Contextualizing my colleagues’ views and comparing them to other approaches to the same issues, much less criticizing them, was “dangerous”; my supposed failure to “accept criticism” was, simply put, a refusal to accept without question the dogmas these colleagues saw as beyond criticism. The conflicts were not limited to my tenure-review process. At every turn, I experienced strident opposition when I deviated from the accepted line. When I brought Jewish speakers to campus to address anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, some of my critics branded me a “dirty Zionist” and a “right-wing extremist.” When I formed the Heritage Month Workgroup, bringing together community members to create a multifaith holiday and heritage month calendar, the De Anza student government voted to support this effort. However, my officemates and dean explained to me that such a project was unacceptable, because it didn’t focus on “decentering whiteness.” When I later sought the support of our academic senate for the Heritage Month project, one opponent asked me if it was “about all the Jewish-inclusion stuff you have been pushing here,” and argued that the senate shouldn’t support the Heritage Month Workgroup efforts, because I was attempting to “turn our school into a religious school.” The senate president deferred to this claim, and the workgroup was denied support. Just hours after this senate meeting, a group of colleagues attended the Foothill-De Anza Board of Trustees meeting and called for my immediate termination. (A public video of this meeting is available.) These individuals claimed to represent campus racial-affinity groups, but they hadn’t polled their group members or gotten consensus on the statements they issued. This sort of dynamic, where single individuals present themselves as speaking for entire groups, is part and parcel of the critical-social-justice approach. It allows individuals to present their ideological viewpoints as unassailable, since they supposedly represent the experience of the entire identity group to which they belong. Hence, any criticism can be framed as an attack on the group. The majority of the people employed at De Anza College aren’t ideological extremists. During my time there, people who had previously opted not to engage with my office started to attend my workshops and told me how refreshing my approach was. When under review, I presented letters from collaborators who worked with me on each workshop I facilitated, participant evaluations, and a great deal of other material attesting to the positive impact of my work. None of these things mattered to the board of trustees, the chancellor, or the president. Only the narratives that were put forth by the ideologically biased evaluators mattered. I was fired, in other words, for delivering exactly what I had promised to in my job interview. For those who sought my termination, the same approach that appealed to faculty previously alienated by my office’s divisive callout culture was a threat to the college’s “equity progress.” For those within the critical-social-justice-ideological complex, asking questions, encouraging other people to ask questions, and considering multiple perspectives—all of these things, which should be central to academic work, are an existential danger. The advocates of critical social justice emphasize oppression and tribalistic identity, and believe that a just society must ensure equality of outcomes; this is in contrast to a classical social-justice approach, which focuses on freedom and individuality, understands knowledge as objective and tied to agency and free will, and believes that a just society emphasizes equality of opportunity. The monoculture of critical social justice needs to suppress this alternative worldview and insulate itself from criticism so its advocates can maintain their dominant position. Protection of orthodoxy supersedes all else: collegiality, professionalism, the truth. My case, sadly, isn’t unique. At colleges across the country, critical-social-justice adherents are inserting their ideological stances as the supreme determinants of whether candidates advance in the tenure-review process. Faculty are under pressure to profess their allegiance to this particular set of dogmas and to embed a certain way of talking and thinking about race into their course curriculum. They are being encouraged to categorize every student as a victim or an oppressor, and to devote their classes to indoctrination. If certain ideologues have their way, compelled speech will become an even more common aspect of university life. Faculty and staff will be obligated to declare their gender pronouns and to use gender-neutral terms like “Latinx” and “Filipinx,” even as many members of the groups in question view these terms as expressions of cultural and linguistic imperialism. Soon enough, we may also be formally required to start all classes and meetings with land acknowledgments, regardless of how empty a gesture this may seem to living members of tribal nations. All of these things are on the horizon, because faculty members are afraid to resist. They know that anyone who questions these practices will be accused of racism and other grave sins. Because critical-social-justice advocates often present themselves as representatives of their identity groups, any criticisms of them can be treated as an attack on the groups they claim to stand for. By this and other means, they ensure their worldview is unassailable. Although I knew I had colleagues who supported my approach, most had been pressured into silence. As my experience shows, questioning the reigning orthodoxies does carry many risks. But the alternative is worse. Authoritarian ideologies advance through a reliance on intimidation and the compliance of the majority, which cowers in silence—instead of speaking up. Engaging in civil discourse and ensuring that multiple perspectives are presented are crucial, if we want to preserve the components of education that ideologues are seeking to destroy. There is some reason to hope. Since my firing, I have been contacted by scores of people who have said that they are attempting to resist similar pressures. As bleak as things may seem, there are many who still believe in academia as a space where divergent viewpoints can and must be explored. Tabia Lee is a lifelong educator.
By Amna Khalid and Jeffrey Aaron Snyder
[Editor's note: In response to ongoing discussions about academic freedom and concepts of inclusion, two Carlton College faculty members recently wrote, "In our view there will inevitably be tensions between these two values. And when those tensions arise, academic freedom must prevail — at least, if we want to ensure a college education worthy of its name." https://banished.substack.com/p/lets-face-it-academic-freedom-and. A full copy of their essay is below. In a subsequent essay, Professors Khalid and Snyder have similarly questioned recent attempts in Florida to restrict other types of campus speech and activities: https://banished.substack.com/p/dark-times-for-academic-freedom-in.]
“We affirm both academic freedom and our responsibility to foster an inclusive learning community. Importantly, these values neither contradict nor supersede each other.” So declared a Hamline University faculty resolution asking President Fayneese S. Miller to resign given her handling of a now-infamous controversy over the display of the Prophet Muhammad in an art-history class. While we applaud the faculty for taking a stand against administrative overreach, we think its position on the relationship between academic freedom and inclusion is mistaken. In our view there will inevitably be tensions between these two values. And when those tensions arise, academic freedom must prevail — at least, if we want to ensure a college education worthy of its name. The assertion that inclusion and academic freedom are not in tension is an article of faith for many of those dedicated to promoting campus inclusion. In 2018, the Harvard University Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging released an 82-page report stating that the “values of academic freedom and inclusion and belonging provide each other with synergistic and mutual reinforcement.” According to this report, the two should not be conceived of as “distinct values that must be accommodated to each other” or, worse still, as “antagonistic goals.” This view is central to the frameworks advanced in books such as Ulrich Baer’s What Snowflakes Get Right: Free Speech, Truth, and Equality on Campus, John Palfrey’s Safe Spaces, Brave Spaces: Diversity and Free Expression in Education and Sigal Ben-Porath’s Cancel Wars: How Universities Can Foster Free Speech, Promote Inclusion, and Renew Democracy. When campuses are facing a controversy like Hamline’s, it’s important to recognize that students, faculty, and administrators don’t have the time for careful, philosophical deliberations about the meaning and value of inclusion. Rather, they find themselves in the grip of a system we call DEI Inc. DEI Inc. is a logic, a lingo, and a set of administrative policies and practices. The logic is as follows: Education is a product, students are consumers, and campus diversity is a customer-service issue that needs to be administered from the top down. (“Chief diversity officers,” according to an article in Diversity Officer Magazine, “are best defined as ‘change-management specialists.’”) DEI Inc. purveys a safety-and-security model of learning that is highly attuned to harm and that conflates respect for minority students with unwavering affirmation and validation. Lived experience, the intent-impact gap, microaggressions, trigger warnings, inclusive excellence. You know the language of DEI Inc. when you hear it. It’s a combination of management-consultant buzzwords, social justice slogans, and “therapy speak.” The standard package of DEI Inc. administrative “initiatives” should be familiar too, from antiracism trainings to bias-response teams and mandatory diversity statements for hiring and promotion. In many ways the Hamline debacle is the ideal case study for laying bare the unavoidable tensions between academic freedom and the DEI Inc. approach to inclusion. The incident has received considerable attention, but allow us to rehearse some of the key events and the language used by the various people involved. This past fall semester, the syllabus for Erika López Prater’s global-art-history online course contained an advisory alerting students that the class would feature depictions of holy figures, including the Prophet Muhammad; if students had any concerns about the visual content they were invited to contact her. During the class session on Islamic art, Prater offered students an optional exercise: Analyze a 14th-century Islamic painting of Muhammad receiving his first Quranic revelation. Before presenting the painting, she reiterated the content warning and asked students who would prefer not to see the image to turn off their screens. Despite Prater’s precautions, a Muslim student complained that pictorial depictions of the prophet offended her Muslim sensibilities: “As a Muslim, and a Black person, I don’t feel like I belong, and I don’t think I’ll ever belong in a community where they don’t value me as a member, and they don’t show the same respect that I show them.” The student complaint set the campus DEI bureaucracy into motion. David Everett, associate vice president for inclusive excellence, made a public statement calling the classroom exercise “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful, and Islamophobic.” Because of the incident, Everett said, “it was decided it was best that this faculty member was no longer part of the Hamline community.” Prater was not given any opportunity to explain the rationale behind the class exercise. In December, President Miller and David Everett sent an open letter to the campus asserting that “appreciation of religious and other differences should supersede when we know that what we teach will cause harm,” and in particular “respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom.” After the news made national and international headlines, Miller doubled down, explaining that her decisions were guided by “prioritizing the well-being of our students,” especially by “minimizing harm.” Miller’s comments at least had the virtue of offering an honest diagnosis of the tension between academic freedom and inclusion. This tension has only ratcheted up in recent years, as colleges make grand promises to create “environments in which any individual or group feels welcomed, respected, supported, and valued.” With institutions promoting such an expansive definition of “inclusion,” we shouldn’t be surprised when they become ensnared in their own rhetoric and policies. How will DEI administrators respond when a Chinese national complains that a political-science discussion about the persecution of Uyghurs is “harmful anti-Chinese propaganda”? Or when a Christian evangelical says her faith was insulted in a contemporary art class after seeing a Robert Mapplethorpe photograph of two men kissing? The permutations are endless and, for professors who teach sensitive or controversial material, alarming. The American Association of University Professors clearly states that students do not have the right to shield even their “most cherished beliefs” from challenge or scrutiny: Ideas that are germane to a subject under discussion in a classroom cannot be censored because a student with particular religious or political beliefs might be offended. Instruction cannot proceed in the atmosphere of fear that would be produced were a teacher to become subject to administrative sanction based upon the idiosyncratic reaction of one or more students. This would create a classroom environment inimical to the free and vigorous exchange of ideas necessary for teaching and learning in higher education. The censorship of ideas because students with particular political beliefs might take offense is precisely what’s happening across the country with anti-critical-race-theory legislation. The notion of harm is central to these “divisive concepts” laws, which have used Trump’s now-revoked 2020 Executive Order 13950 as a template. Among the things prohibited in this EO was that “any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.” That white students could shut down discussions of “white privilege” and “structural inequality” because they make them uncomfortable is a most egregious affront to academic freedom. Laws like Florida’s “Stop WOKE Act” underscore that policies oriented around harm-avoidance in the classroom are educational dead ends. To safeguard high-quality teaching that powerfully and accurately communicates our disciplines and fields, academic freedom must be vigorously defended. Students, DEI administrators and other campus stakeholders should understand that professors have the right to decide what and how to teach based on their academic expertise and their pedagogical goals. They should also know that there is no academic freedom without academic responsibility. Academic freedom is not a license to mouth off or teach whatever material suits our fancy. Moreover, when thorny issues arise pertaining to classroom instruction, we have a responsibility to listen to students’ concerns and take them seriously. This does not mean, however, that students should be able to dictate the curriculum. The Hamline case should serve as a wake-up call for anyone who cares about classroom teaching, critical thinking, and the future of higher education. Some may see this controversy as an exception or an outlier. It’s not. It’s a bellwether of how DEI Inc. is eroding academic freedom. Let’s not forget it took an outpouring of sustained, high-publicity resistance, not to mention a lawsuit, for Hamline to soften its charge of “Islamophobia” against Prater and affirm its commitment to academic freedom. When institutions proclaim that academic freedom and inclusion coexist in a kind of synergistic harmony, they are trafficking in PR-driven wishful thinking. In the hardest cases, there is no way of upholding an “all are welcome here” brand of inclusion while simultaneously defending academic freedom. Instead, we should turn to the wise words of Hanna Holborn Gray, former president of the University of Chicago: “Education should not be intended to make people comfortable, it is meant to make them think.” A version of this piece was originally published on February 6, 2023 by The Chronicle of Higher Education
My ‘Free Speech’ College Is Silencing Me
By Christopher Nadon
In 1993, I began my first teaching job at the University of Kyiv-Mohyla in newly independent Ukraine. I had been hired to teach Hobbes, Locke, and the Federalist to the sons and daughters of communist apparatchiks who had come to recognise the corrupt character of the Soviet regime and university system, and to introduce institutional reforms that would support the kind of liberal arts approach to education then typical on American campuses. Thirty years later, the tables have turned. I am now a tenured professor at Claremont McKenna College, an elite institution that aggressively markets itself as the number-one ranked college for promoting freedom of speech by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression. I don’t blame FIRE. But the administration here has built a Potemkin village. My real job today is to re-introduce something of the spirit of Ukraine into American education. How did this come to happen on my own and other campuses in the United States? The responsibility of a Dean of Students office used to be to handle student discipline. Today it seems to maintain student comfort by disciplining faculty who threaten their repose. Gadflies, out; massage chairs and comfort puppies, in. There are also institutional structures for climate control. On my campus there is a programme called CMCListens, the tip of an enormous bureaucracy to eliminate any student unease. It encourages them to submit anonymous reports “to senior staff” about anything “they find troubling at CMC in just a few easy steps”. The programme sets a tone that conditions students to think of themselves as minders and informants, not students. The effect in the classroom is to destroy the possibility of education. On October, 4, 2021, discussion in my “Introduction to Political Philosophy” class was devoted to Book III of Plato’s Republic and his views about the necessity for censorship in political communities. A very intelligent student objected that Plato was mistaken, a point proven by the fact that in the United States there is no censorship. Someone brought up the example of Huckleberry Finn. She replied, quite correctly, that removing a book from curriculums doesn’t constitute censorship. I suggested that the case of Huckleberry Finn was perhaps more complicated. The book had also been removed from libraries and published in expurgated editions. At this point, an international student who had never even heard of Huckleberry Finn asked me why the book had been banned. I told her, in plain English, using the precise term written by the author. This caused the first student, somewhat grudgingly but honestly, to acknowledge that censorship did exist in America. Far from being harmed by the discussion, she was benefitted. It shocked her into seeing something about her own society that she had missed. She also understood that Plato’s views were not simply outdated or wrong, but perhaps merited more serious consideration. This liberation from her initial prejudice bore fruit. Later in the semester she raised a very thoughtful question about Socrates’ criticisms of the poets and the strange role they play in the Allegory of the Cave: “But isn’t Plato himself a poet?” Her world was no longer flat. This is what good books can do. A rare success. Another student, well-trained as an informant, reported me to the Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion. An associate dean then requested a meeting to discuss “serious concerns raised about one of your courses”. I requested to be informed of the concerns in writing. The associate dean refused. I insisted. This went on for a couple of weeks. Finally, the dean of faculty emailed a summary of the informant’s (inaccurate) account and demanded to know “why it was important to use the n* expressly as contrasted with simply saying the ‘n-word?’” What could possibly be the “pedagogic rationale” that justified my approach? This was my reply: “I do think that when a student asks me a direct question that I am able to answer, good “pedagogy” requires that I tell him the truth. Do you disagree? Similarly, when a student makes a false statement, I think my job requires me to confront that student with facts that contradict him. Do you think I am wrong to do so? I also hold the view that before criticizing or praising an author, one should first attempt to understand that author as he understood himself, something that requires reading and discussing exactly what he wrote. Do you think I am mistaken in this approach?” The dean never responded, at least not with an argument. Sometime after I failed to toe the line by later reading aloud in a different class from Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass — its most powerful passage contains the n-word — she undertook to ban me from teaching future introductory classes. She did this without any investigation into the accuracy of student complaints, without following formal procedures, and even without the courtesy of informing me what she had done. By chance, I discovered my case was not unique. This spring, an untenured adjunct, Eva Revesz, read aloud and asked students to discuss a passage from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple that contained the n-word. They complained. The dean’s office summoned the adjunct. She apologised and agreed to undergo the recommended counseling. She met the dean. She submitted to re-education and on-line training in critical race theory. Despite all this — and a glowing recommendation by the faculty member who observed and evaluated her teaching — Ms Revesz’s contract was not renewed. The college knows the stigma attached to these kinds of complaints and the near impossibility of an academic finding a job with a scarlet “N” branded on their forehead. But if they counted on this to ensure Ms Revesz’s quiet departure, they misjudged her character. She went public, turning the tables on Claremont McKenna’s puritans. Perhaps some other college will enrich their institution and its students by hiring her. But I’m not holding my breath. Ms Revesz’s courage makes her my hero. She deserves to be yours. A third case exists. Professor Robert Faggen, friendly with the CMC’s president and well-connected to its Board of Trustees, assigned Robert Lowell’s “For the Union Dead”, a poem that contains the n-word. When he played a recording in class of Lowell himself reading the poem, a student exploded, excoriating both author and teacher as “old white dudes”. Now there’s a good “argument” for you. The Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion informed the professor by telephone, not in writing, that he was in the clear because he had not himself read the forbidden word aloud in class. A narrow escape based on an arbitrary distinction that the administration could and likely will deny ever having made. Ms Revesz was not so lucky. I discussed my situation with several colleagues. This was disheartening. Almost all counseled submission. I’m just a guy sitting in a stuffy backroom of his house with a few sheets of paper and a pen, up against an institution with an endowment of $1.2 billion dollars (market value in June of 2020), lawyers by the bushel, and the ability to comb through all my emails for the past 15 years. One colleague warned me, “If you go public with this, the administration will smear you head to foot.” Another, who thought my actions just but likely imprudent, asked, “Is this really the hill you want to die on?” They had a point. They were correct. After I published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal detailing the College’s attempts to suppress speech in my and other classrooms, the president, Hiram Chodosh, replied by circulating a statement to the media and publishing a lengthy reply in the same newspaper. Rather than take the opportunity of a national audience to discuss an important issue on his and many other campuses, he leveled an ad hominem attack on me for being the bearer of bad news. President Chodosh claimed that my op-ed contained damning and relevant omissions that explained my plight. “Low enrollment in his electives had a detrimental effect on his department. His upper-level elective fall course resulted in no students enrolled, and there is only one student enrolled in his major-required course this fall.” In fact, the cancelled course was listed by the administration without consulting me at 8:10 am. No other elective course in political philosophy has ever been assigned this hour, and with good reason. It’s not good for enrollment. As for the required course with just one student, President Chodosh omitted the fact that it had been listed only at the end of this July, three months after registration had closed and before students were back on campus. Once students were actually in a position to sign up, enrollment was just fine. And discussion lively. A fish rots from the head. In November of 2015, Mary Spellman, then Dean of Students at Claremont McKenna, was forced to resign over protests by minority students over her alleged lack of sensitivity for having emailed a Hispanic student that she would work hard to help those “who don’t fit the CMC mold”. Ms Spellman’s sincere and decent offer to help a struggling student was met with this response, “How dare you say we don’t fit the mold?” That was her crime. She resigned. While this immediately affected the way Faculty dealt with the president, I failed to realise the effect this incident would have on students. I received a text this week from an intelligent, self-possessed and assertive woman, a CMC student here at the time of the Spellman fiasco. She feared I might now be next for the undercarriage and confessed, “I remember feeling quite scared to come out then as someone who even questioned what happened there.” Afraid to come out. Afraid. Even to question. I had no idea. The situation of students today is bad. As many others have noted, they live in a world without much depth, dominated by digital communication and social media consumed on a flat screen that makes sustained reading difficult. They fear, and not without good cause, that any misstep will be engraved on the internet forever. They live under conditions of mob-rule. No one should blame them for being cautious. Yet it is less the internet than the over-valuing of the genuine democratic virtues of kindness and sensitivity that poses the greater threat to education today. The lively exchange of view-points is discouraged in elementary and high schools as likely to injure someone’s feelings. The habit of arguing falls into disuse. Students are miserable at it, not for want of intelligence, but from lack of practice. This inability to argue makes them distrustful of reason. This distrust turns into a belief that reason gives no guidance at all on any important question. The principle of equality assures them that everyone else is in the same boat. Contentious issues can therefore be determined only by authority. Upset by something spoken in a classroom? Don’t make an argument. Run to the dean to make it stop. Someone, not themselves, needs to make and enforce the rules. The dean listens. It is stopped. This confirms in their minds that this is the way to get results, but without them even noticing the full extent and deepening of their dependence and the growth in the dean’s power. This is a school for politics, not, however, of a healthy democratic kind. Fear and timidity, especially by those with university positions, are also a large part of the problem. Conformity is in all times and places a special danger to intellectuals. What is the point of assigning Frederick Douglass when those with tenure lack the courage even to read in class what is on the page? The liberating power of books, particularly those written in times and places distant from our own, is destroyed when they are bowdlerised and filtered through the sieve of contemporary sensibilities. Foot soldiers rarely get to choose the hill on which they are stationed. They must deal with the concrete circumstances in which they find themselves. Frederick Douglass defended free speech over the course of his long career as a freeman. He had no choice. He understood that the cause of liberty for millions of blacks required unfettered discussion and criticism of slave power, the US Constitution, and even his fellow abolitionists. “Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants.” He risked his life and liberty to write his Narrative. I stand for the original genius of his book, exactly as he published it. Frederick Douglass deserves that, and much, much more. Huck Finn wavered between winning praise as an informant or suffering social opprobrium and eternal damnation for helping to liberate a fellow man from slavery. Lacking the benefit of Claremont McKenna College training, he chose to tear up his letter to Miss Watson informing her of Jim’s whereabouts. “All right, then,” he concluded, “I’ll go to hell.” No wonder the reading and discussion of Mark Twain’s book is discouraged by authorities. I owe a debt to Frederick Douglass and to Mark Twain for taking the trouble to educate me, or, at least, for having tried. So I lodged a formal grievance against the dean and went public. The grievance has yet to run its course. I can, however, report that two weeks after filing it, when it also became apparent to the administration that my, and other similar cases at Claremont McKenna, would be made public, the dean decided to allow me to teach Introduction to Political Philosophy this fall, a course I have offered 19 times in the past 15 years, and one that had originally been on my department’s master schedule. To date, my success has been partial. The editor of a campus paper recently interviewed students from my courses. He found critics, but many more who profited from and appreciated my approach. Yet not one of the latter would go on the record. I’d like to think they are mistaken. But I’m not sure. When I left Ukraine in 1994, I was pessimistic about the future of political liberty there. The people as a whole were so atomised and enervated by the Soviet system that it was hard to imagine them engaging in any collective action to defend their rights and liberties. But the young people I taught at Kyiv-Mohyla had not yet had their spirits crushed. Somehow, despite the horrific economic and political corruption of the Nineties, Ukraine avoided the descent into one-party, one-man rule. In the moment of greatest peril, my former students’ university became an important point of resistance to the puppet regime in 2014. Their generation went to the streets and overthrew a corrupt government during the Maidan Revolution. Their courage then and now leaves me shamefaced both for myself and my fellow academics who can no longer even stand up for reading historical texts as written. I am much more pessimistic about the fate of liberal education in America than I ever was about political liberty in Ukraine. Many, perhaps most, professors and students oppose free speech and free inquiry as an obstacle to the creation of a more equitable world. Ukrainians know how that ends. Others favour free speech and free inquiry, but give increased devotion to conformity, too cowed and cowardly to secure their blessings. I hope I am as much mistaken about America as I was about Ukraine. A classroom is not a public space, it does not have the same purposes and responsibilities as a political community. It therefore requires different rules to govern and preserve it, among the most important is civility. I am not a free speech absolutist. In the course that first got me in trouble, I tried to help a student see the power of Plato’s case for censorship. How then could I have come to utter the forbidden “n-word” in a class knowing full well the distress it might cause in some, or even most, of my students? Civility in the classroom is not the end but a means that makes the discovery of truth more likely. Liberation from falsehoods and the discovery of truth is the most important purpose of any classroom, indeed, the highest end of liberal education — not comfort and safety. College is not a resort hotel. When the means obstruct the end, reason allows their modification. If liberal education, that is, an education that makes us worthy of being free, is to have a future, it can only be secured by a movement from below, not by corrupt administrators who profit from and manipulate the current situation. As teachers, we need to take back our classrooms. We need to fight on whatever hill we find ourselves.
Professor Blocked for Tweeting 'All Men Are Created Equal' Files First
By Jennifer Kabbany
A professor who was blocked on Twitter by a University of Oregon account after he tweeted “all men are created equal” at the account has filed a First Amendment lawsuit. Portland State University Professor Bruce Gilley’s lawsuit names the campus administrator who blocked him as the defendant in the federal lawsuit, filed Aug. 11. “Clearly it’s not that I need to read the University of Oregon’s Twitter account, but what is important is I need to make use of my role as a defender of academic freedom in higher education … to make sure government-funded universities comply with our Constitution,” Gilley said Friday in a telephone interview with The College Fix. On June 14, UO’s Equity and Inclusion Twitter account tweeted “You can interrupt racism” with a wording prompt on how to start such a conversation: “It sounded like you just said [blank]. Is that what you really meant?” In response, Gilley retweeted it with the statement “all men are created equal,” tagging both the University of Oregon and its Equity and Inclusion Twitter accounts. The lawsuit alleges Tova Stabin, communication manager for the university’s Division of Equity and Inclusion, blocked Gilley as a result. Stabin and University of Oregon media affairs did not respond to an emailed request for comment Friday from The College Fix. “Blocking also removed Bruce Gilley’s ‘all men are created equal’ reply from @UOEquity’s timeline and prevented other users from viewing it or interacting with it, and with Gilley, including followers of the @UOEquity account,” the lawsuit states. The suit claims the reason Stabin blocked Gilley is because “she and her employer disagree with the viewpoint … that ‘all men are created equal.'” It also alleges Stabin “believes that Prof. Gilley’s opinion is critical of her employer’s DEI ideology and she wishes to suppress his viewpoint.” “On July 5, 2022, after Bruce Gilley filed a public records request for the policy utilized by [the Office of the Vice President for Equity and Inclusion] to block Twitter users, the University of Oregon informed him that there was no written policy and that the ‘staff member that administers the VPEI Twitter account and social media has the autonomy to manage the accounts and uses professional judgment when deciding to block users,” the lawsuit states. Two other Twitter users expressing conservative viewpoints at the @UOEquity account have also been blocked, the lawsuit alleges. Gilley is represented by the Institute for Free Speech, a nonpartisan First Amendment advocacy group, and the Angus Lee Law Firm. “The First Amendment does not allow the government or its actors to ban individuals from public forums just because they disagree with the views those individuals express,” a news release from the institute states. “The lawsuit asks the judge to order @UOEquity to unblock Professor Gilley and to issue a permanent injunction preventing the account’s manager and agents from discriminating on the basis of viewpoint when blocking users in the future.” Gilley told The College Fix on Friday that the request for a temporary restraining order has already been denied, but the effort for a permanent injunction is the long game. He described his case as “emerging jurisprudence.” “I knew immediately that this was a clear-cut, made-in-heaven case, all the more so because I was blocked for quoting the Declaration of Independence,” he said. “This is the perfect case to establish a precedent that says if you are a public agency you can’t pick and choose who is a member of the public.” He said the university cannot simply unblock him to make the lawsuit moot. “The case goes forward even if they unblock me tomorrow,” he told The Fix, “because they could reblock me anytime and because … simply to unblock me would not show they had engaged in a change of their practices.” Gilley is no stranger to controversy. In 2018 he was investigated, but eventually cleared, by his employers at Portland State after authoring a controversial article in defense of colonialism. His course on conservative political thought was also canceled by Portland State. Earlier this month, Gilley’s latest book “In Defense of German Colonialism: And How Its Critics Empowered Nazis, Communists, and the Enemies of the West” was published.
Censorship Demands Behind Deep Fake Hype
By Michael Shellenberger
[Editor's note: For several months, we have periodically posted information from third parties about the alleged censorship activities tied to Stanford-based entities including the Stanford Internet Observatory and its affiliates the Election Integrity Partnership (EIP) which then was converted to function as the Virality Project. For example, see "Stanford's Alleged Roles in Censoring the Web" and "The Government Censored Me and Other Scientists, and We Won." In that light, we are posting the following essay by Michael Shellenberger. Whether or not one agrees with these activities, we again raise the questions: why are these activities being housed at Stanford, being allowed to use the Stanford name in their names, and having their tax-deductible contributions being run through Stanford?]
Republished with permission:
Defense Department funded the AI that government-linked NGO, "Deep Trust Alliance," says is a grave disinformation threat. The ability to create deep fakes and fake news through the use of AI is a major threat to democracy, say many experts. “AI-generated images and videos have triggered a panic among researchers, politicians and even some tech workers who warn that fabricated photos and videos could mislead voters, in what a U.N. AI adviser called in one interview the ‘deepfake election,’” reported the Washington Post late last month. “The concerns have pushed regulators into action. Leading tech companies recently promised the White House they would develop tools to allow users to detect whether media is made by AI." But the threat of AI to elections today is as overblown as the threat of Russian disinformation to elections in 2020. Never before has the U.S. been better prepared to detect deep fakes and fake news than we are today. In truth, the U.S. Department of Defense has been developing such tools for decades. In 1999, Defense Advanced Research Applications (DARPA) described its funding for R&D as having the goal of “total situational awareness” through “data mining,” “face recognition,” and computer networks to evaluate “semantic content.” in a proposal that anticipates the direction of the technology over the following 25 years. The ability to create deep fakes and fake news through the use of AI is a major threat to democracy, say many experts. “AI-generated images and videos have triggered a panic among researchers, politicians and even some tech workers who warn that fabricated photos and videos could mislead voters, in what a U.N. AI adviser called in one interview the ‘deepfake election,’” reported the Washington Post late last month. “The concerns have pushed regulators into action. Leading tech companies recently promised the White House they would develop tools to allow users to detect whether media is made by AI." But the threat of AI to elections today is as overblown as the threat of Russian disinformation to elections in 2020. Never before has the U.S. been better prepared to detect deep fakes and fake news than we are today. In truth, the U.S. Department of Defense has been developing such tools for decades. In 1999, Defense Advanced Research Applications (DARPA) described its funding for R&D as having the goal of “total situational awareness” through “data mining,” “face recognition,” and computer networks to evaluate “semantic content.” in a proposal that anticipates the direction of the technology over the following 25 years. Before elaborating on this point, I want to emphasize that I view AI as a human, not a machine, problem, as well as dual-use technology with the potential for good and bad. My attitude toward AI is the same, fundamentally, as it is toward other powerful tools we have developed, from nuclear energy to biomedical research. With such powerful tools, democratic civilian control and transparent use of these technologies allow for their safe use, while secret, undemocratic, and military control increases the danger. The problem, in a nutshell, is not with the technology of computers attempting to emulate human thinking through algorithms, but rather how and who will control it. There is a widespread belief that users already choose their own content on social media platforms. We choose who to follow, and see their posts on the Facebook, X, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube feeds. In truth, social media platforms decide a significant portion of what users see. YouTube’s recommendation algorithm, for example, determines 70 percent of what people watch on the platform, a share that did not change between 2018 and 2022. The amount of recommended content is lower on other platforms. Meta said last year that just 15 percent of total Facebook feed content is recommended content from non-followed accounts, while 40 percent of Instagram’s feed content is. But Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said last year that he expects Facebook will double the percentage of recommended content by the end of 2023. And users have little to no control over what is recommended to them. In fact, research published in late 2022 found that users have little control over the videos that YouTube feeds them. On every other platform, the algorithms are hidden from users. The heavy lifting of censorship or “content moderation” was by 2021 done overwhelmingly by AI. Zuckerberg said, “more than 95 percent of the hate speech that [Facebook] take[s] down is done by an AI [artificial intelligence] and not by a person. . . . And I think it’s 98 or 99 percent of the terrorist content that we take down is identified by an AI and not a person.” Similarly, 99 percent of Twitter’s content takedowns started with machine learning. The problem with AI technology today funded by the US government, whether DARPA or National Science Foundation (NSF), is fundamentally around the control of these technologies by small groups of individuals and institutions remarkably unaccountable to the citizens of the United States. While there is always a diversity of agendas and motivations behind what decision-makers in the AI space are doing, many U.S. government-funded individuals and institutions behind deep fake alarmism are, not coincidentally, demanding greater governmental or nongovernmental control over social media platforms and Internet companies. Why is that? Why have elements within the US government promoted AI for online censorship? And can AI be used to advance free speech and free expression instead? AI and the Censorship Industrial Complex This Censorship Industrial Complex of government agencies and government contractors has its roots in the war on terrorism and the expansion of surveillance after 9/11. President George W. Bush that year authorized the National Security Agency to monitor Americans who were suspected of having a ‘nexus to terrorism,’ resulting in the Agency’s now-infamous and illegal interception of information.” In 2003 DARPA told Congress that NSA was its “experimental partner” using [Total Information Awareness (TIA)] and AI to detect false information. Ten years later, in 2013, a US military contractor named Edward Snowden revealed to reporters that the NSA was collecting telephone records of millions of Verizon customers, and accessing Google and Facebook to secretly collect data. During the same period, the U.S. intelligence community (IC) and DOD alike recognized how essential AI would become to their operations overall. In 2013, a New York Times report on the NSA’s use of AI foreshadowed how “counter-disinformation” experts would, nearly a decade later, describe fighting misinformation online. “Computers could instantly sift through the mass of Internet communications data,” reported the Times, “see patterns of suspicious online behavior and thus narrow the hunt for terrorists.” In 2014, the DOD unveiled its “Third Offset Strategy,” which emphasized that AI would change how the US prepared for cyberwar with China and Russia. In 2015, DARPA launched the funding track that directly resulted in the AI tools that leading Internet and social media companies use today. That fall, DARPA invited proposals for its MediFor program. The goal? Develop a science and practice for “determining the authenticity and establishing the integrity of visual media.” DARPA funded universities to create the MediFor platform to automatically detect manipulations. DARPA’s warning eight years ago is identical to the Washington Post’s warning about deep fake last month. “Mirroring this rise in digital imagery is the associated ability for even relatively unskilled users to manipulate and distort the message of the visual media,” warned DARPA. “While many manipulations are benign, performed for fun or for artistic value, others are for adversarial purposes, such as propaganda or misinformation campaigns.” The adoption of AI grew alongside alarmism about deep fakes and “misinformation,” and “disinformation” more broadly. In 2016, Facebook reported it had developed AI to automatically censor offensive live videos. On January 6, 2017, outgoing Obama Administration DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson designated “election infrastructure” as “critical infrastructure,” which would become the mandate of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), which Congress created the following year to protect. In 2018, journalists revealed that Facebook was using AI to predict users’ future actions for advertisers. In 2019, DARPA launched “Semantic Forensics,” the successor to Medifor. SemaFor funded think-tanks, academic institutions, software companies, social media, and search engine organizations as part of a four-year project to develop AI meant to detect deep fakes, or synthetic or manipulated media. It gave contracts to five primary organizations: Kitware, PAR Government, STR, Lockheed Martin, and SRI International, with this financing further divided amongst other universities and research institutes. Commercial interests in both policing deep fake and advocating policies to censor synthetic media popped up during this period. Also in 2019, a new nongovernmental organization called The “DeepTrust Alliance” launched a series of events called the “Fix Fake Symposia.” The DeepTrust Alliance described itself as “the ecosystem to tackle disinformation,” and its website invited audiences to “Join the global network actively driving policy and technology to confront the threat of malicious deep fakes and disinformation.” The goal of Deep Trust appeared to be to advocate for policies aimed at criminalizing “digital harms,” including forms of speech that hurt people. “If the behavior is malicious,” said the group’s CEO, Kathryn Harrison, in 2020, “that’s a problem. Laws need to be extended to digital harms… There needs to be a standard set of practices” across social media platforms. “I want to see society put more safeguards in place,” she said. “This is like cars, right? When you first had cars, you didn’t have seat belts…. We’re in a very similar situation in the media ecosystem and can save information at light speed but no safety net. That’s what we need to build.” It was also in 2020 that DHS’ CISA created an “Election Integrity Partnership” to censor election skepticism. It partnered with four groups: Graphika, the University of Washington, the Atlantic Council’s DFR Lab, and the Stanford Internet Observatory. Graphika and UW are DARPA’s Semafor grantees. In Deep Trust’s report, it names those four groups and progressive philanthropic donors, and other NGOs and government agencies. EIP claims it classified 21,897,364 individual posts comprising unique “misinformation incidents” from August 15, 2020, to December 12, 2020, from a larger 859 million set of tweets connected to“misinformation narratives.” By January of 2021, CISA unilaterally broadened its scope “to promote more flexibility to focus on general” misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation. Where misinformation can be unintentional, disinformation is defined as deliberate, while malinformation can include accurate information that is “misleading.” Two months later, DARPA announced that it had funded Accenture Federal Services (AFS), Google/Carahsoft, New York University (NYU), NVIDIA, and Systems & Technology Research (STR) to “develop automated tools that aid analysts as they tackle the looming rise of automated multimodal media manipulation,” otherwise known as deep fakes or fake news. While social media platforms use AI to identify and censor content, the decisions of what to censor, and how remain in the hands of humans, specifically executives at social media platforms. And so those individuals and groups that wished to see greater censorship by social media platforms rolled out a major initiative in the spring of 2022 to establish a US government agency to do precisely that. In April, DHS announced that it had created a “Disinformation Governance Board,” ostensibly to protect national security by fighting disinformation, misinformation, and malinformation on social media. One week earlier, former U.S. President Barack Obama gave a speech at Stanford calling for government regulation of online speech with the same justification as Deep Trust’s Kathryn Harrison: preventing harm and protecting democracy. One month later, in May of 2022, DARPA launched its “Model Influence Pathways,” or MIP, program to automate the process of discovering the origins and “pathways” of “misinformation, disinformation, and manipulated information.” The goal of the program appears to be to develop tools so social media companies can reduce the virality or spread of disfavored social media posts. In that sense, it is within the vision of Stanford Internet Observatory’s leader, Renee Diresta, who has long championed simply reducing the spread of disfavored views, rather than removing them from platforms outright. Preventing virality delivers most of the benefits of outright censorship with the benefit of not being noticed and thus not triggering the Streisand effect. The Federal Trade Commission in June of last year warned Congress about the dangers of using AI for censorship and urged “great caution.” Good intentions weren’t enough, said FTC, because “it turns out that even such well-intended AI uses can have some of the same problems — like bias, discrimination, and censorship — often discussed in connection with other uses of AI.” The FTC specifically pushed back against the idea, widely promoted by individuals and institutions within the Censorship Industrial Complex, that AI should be used to reduce harm. Noted the report authors, “while some harms refer to content that is plainly illegal, others involve speech protected by the First Amendment.” The FTC’s warning was well-timed. Six months later, the Twitter Files would reveal Twitter executives overruling the determination by their own Trust and Safety team that President Donald J. Trump’s tweets had not incited violence, and deplatforming him anyway, under both external societal pressure and internal employee pressure. Shortly after, emails revealed White House staff demanding that Facebook executives censor “often-true” information about COVID-19 vaccine side effects under explicit or implicit financial threats, behaviors which the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals last week ruled were unconstitutional. Both the Twitter and Facebook Files exposed the large involvement, influence over, and infiltration by former government intelligence and security officials. “Facebook currently employs at least 115 people, in high-ranking positions, that formerly worked at FBI/CIA/NSA/DHS,” noted an analyst. “17 CIA, 37 FBI, 23 NSA, 38 DHS.” This influence may carry over to the people warning of deep fakes. Harrison, for example, worked in the French Ministry of Defense, received a graduate degree from Georgetown, and was a term member at the Council on Foreign Relations before working with IBM on AI and then founding Deep Trust. Why have elements within the US government promoted AI for online censorship? Part of the reason is a well-intentioned concern over real-world harm, and undermining of liberal democracy. But another part of it appears to stem from an inappropriate and exaggerated sense of entitlement by DARPA contractors to work with social media platforms to censor disfavored voices. User-Based Content Moderation EIP, the Election Integrity Project, was the precursor to the Vitality Project, which successfully pressured social media platforms to censor “often true” information about vaccines. The Fifth Circuit Court ruling showed the limits of the First Amendment to protect free speech online. The judges ruled that the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) of the Department of Homeland Security had likely not violated the First Amendment in creating an elaborate system for “flagging” content for Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms to censor. The court suggested that such mass flagging operations may be constitutionally protected free speech, at least if done right. I believe that the way CISA used AI to mass-flag so-called “Covid misinformation” in 2021, through its partnership with “The Virality Project,” created by Stanford Internet Observatory (SIO) and others, was a government infringement on freedom of speech. Through such mass flagging, CISA indirectly demanded that Twitter and Facebook censor “often true” information about vaccine side effects. We believe that, with Biden simultaneously threatening the Section 230 legal status of the social media platforms, having CISA’s partners make their demands constituted coercion. But I also recognize that the Fifth Circuit court is saying that such AI-supported mass flagging by “government partners” like SIO could be constitutionally protected if it did not involve coercion or, on the flip side, any incentive to cooperate. The First Amendment prevents the government from “abridging” or limiting speech. It doesn’t prevent government officials from telling publishers, whether of books, news articles, or social media posts, that, in their opinion, they shouldn’t be publishing those books, articles, or social media posts. The line the Circuit Court wants to draw is on relatively direct and obvious coercion, not jawboning. Whether or not the Supreme Court decides to hear the case and draw the line somewhere else, the ruling points to the need for Congress to take action to protect freedom of speech by defunding government contractors that advocate widened censorship by social media platforms, and exercising greater oversight over contractors developing AI tools. The threat to our civil liberties comes not from AI but from the people who want to control it and use it to censor, rather than let users control information. The obvious solution is for Congress to require that social media companies allow users to moderate their own content in exchange for Section 230’s sweeping liability protections, which allow them to exist. This specific suggestion is something another committee will need to consider. What this committee can consider is a related FTC recommendation, which is using the power of procurement to put AI tools in the hands of users, not the hands of big tech companies. “Filters that enable people, at their discretion, to block certain kinds of sensitive or harmful content are one example of such user tools,” FTC notes. The way these tools work should be transparent; users should have a right to know how these tools work. Giving users control over what content they see and don’t see is the solution most consistent with the American tradition of freedom of speech. Users should be able to decide for themselves whether or not to use these filters and other tools, not Internet companies, the government, a nongovernmental organization, or anyone else. Some tools are already becoming available. Microsoft launched Video Authenticator in 2020, while Adobe’s Content Credentials allow users to detect whether the content is likely to be authentic and unaltered. Requiring people to affirmatively choose their filters will require more reflective and slow thinking about their content choices. FTC errs in suggesting that Congress give government-certified researchers, rather than users, access to the algorithms and content moderating filters. A longstanding goal of censorship advocates leaders is to allow US government-certified researchers to gain access to the data of social media platforms so they can then demand censorship of disfavored views behind closed doors. This is what the “Platform Accountability and Transparency Act,” which Obama endorsed, would do. It would allow “researchers” to act as de facto censors. Such activities may be constitutional, but they are antithetical to the values of transparency, privacy, and free speech. Finally, this committee should seek to encourage or even mandate that DARPA contractors be required to share their research in a more visible way, and stand for questions from the general public. Of the roughly 60 organizations, many if not most of which have been funded by the US government to fight “mis- and dis-information,” that my colleagues and I emailed in the spring, none agreed to stand for an interview. The refusal to speak to the public is an odd behavior from those whose livelihoods depend on the goodwill of the public. Congress should consider some provision whereby contractor recipients of taxpayer money must expose themselves to scrutiny. At the same time that deep fakes and other forms of synthetic media are new, deception, disinformation, and misinformation are not. One of the oft-repeated claims of those advocating expanded online censorship is that, by allowing falsehoods to go viral and undetected, the Internet poses a heretofore unanticipated threat. But the same thing was said about the Gutenberg printing press, the radio, and television. The solution today, as then, is for users to correct misinformation with good information, for themselves, not other people. None of the above information is likely to put an end to the alarmism about the threat to democracy from deep fakes and AI. But it may help expose much of it as coming from individuals and institutions with an interest in exploiting the alarmism for personal or political gain. End Notes  Cat Zakrzewski, “ChatGPT breaks its own rules on political messages,” Washington Post, August 28, 2023.  J. Brian Sharkey, “Charging Into the Next Millenium: Total Information Awareness,” Accessed via Internet Archive, June 7-10, 1999.  Ashley Rodriguez, “YouTube’s algorithms drive 70 percent of what we watch,” QZ, July 13, 2018.  Hana Kiros, “Hated that video? YouTube's algorithm might push you another just like it,” MIT Tech Review, September 20, 2022.  Meta, Q2 2022 Earnings, July 27, 2022.  Rachael Davies, “Nearly half of the posts you see on Instagram are from accounts you don’t follow,” Evening Standard, April 28, 2023.  Hana Kiros, “Hated that video? YouTube's algorithm might push you another just like it,” MIT Tech Review, September 20, 2022  Feerst, Alex. “The Use of AI in Online Content Moderation” Digital Governance Working Group, Sept. 2022. (p. 2.) Kristen Ruby, “Twitter Artificial Intelligence,” Ruby Media Group, December 26, 2022.  Scott Shane, “Giving In to the Surveillance State,” New York Times, August 22, 2012.  DARPA, “Report to Congress Regarding the Terrorism Information Awareness Program,” DARPA Information Awareness Office, May 20, 2003.  Glenn Greenwald, “NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily,” The Guardian, June 6, 2013.  Barton Gellman &Laura Poitras, “U.S., British intelligence mining data from nine U.S. Internet companies in broad secret program,” The Washington Post, June 7, 2013.  James Risen & Eric Lichtblau, “How the U.S. Uses Technology to Mine More Data More Quickly,” The New York Times, June 8, 2013.  Gentile et al., A History of the Third Offset, 2014–2018, Rand Corporation, 2021.  Dr. William Corvey, Media Forensics (MediFor) (Archived), darpa.mil, nd.  Media Forensics (MediFor) Grant DARPA-BAA-15-58, grants.gov, September 29, 2015.  Contractors included Notre Dame, Purdue University, Duke University, Ideal Innovations Inc, Schaefer Corporation, University of Siena, New York University, University of Southern California, Politecnico di Milano, Unicamp, NVIDIA, Columbia University, Dartmouth, University of Albany, UC Berkeley, and Kitware.  Kristina Cooke, “Facebook developing artificial intelligence to flag offensive live videos,” Reuters, December 1, 2016.  Sam Biddle, “Facebook uses artificial intelligence to predict your future actions for advertisers, says confidential document,” The Intercept, April 13, 2018.  Semantic Forensics (SemaFor) Grant HR001119S0085, sam.gov, November 19, 2019.  Aros Harrinson, “Deepfake, Cheapfake: The Internet’s Next Earthquake?”Fix Fake Symposium Proceedings Part 1, 2020.  DeepTrust Alliance, Homepage, deeptrustalliance.org, nd. Jon Prial & Kathryn Harrison, “Episode 133: Tackling Digital Disinformation with Kathryn Harrison,” Georgian Impact Podcast, December 11, 2020.  UW Center for an Informed Public, Digital Forensic Research Lab, Graphika, and Stanford Internet Observatory, “The Long Fuse: Misinformation and the 2020 Election,” Stanford Digital Repository: Election Integrity Partnership, 2021. Matt Turek, “DARPA Announces Research Teams Selected to Semantic Forensics Program,” darpa.mil, March 2, 2021.  Amanda Seitz, “Disinformation board to tackle Russia, migrant smugglers,” AP, April 28, 2022.  Dr. Brian Kettler, Model Influence Pathways (MIP), darpa.mil, May 4, 2022.  Michael Shellenberger, “Why Renee Diresta Leads the Censorship Industry,” Public.Substack.com, April 3, 2020.  Federal Trade Commission, Combatting Online Harms Through Innovation, Report to Congress, June 16, 2022.  Michael Shellenberger, “War on Free Speech War On Free Speech Means Social Media Users Must Be Free To Moderate Their Content,” Public, September 9, 2023.  @nameredacted, twitter.com/NameRedacted247/status/1604641866342756352?s=20, X, December 18, 2022, 4:56 PM.  Kathryn Ann Harrison Experiences. LinkedIn. Retrieved September 11, 2023.  Matt Taibbi, “Report on the Censorship-Industrial Complex,” Racket News, April 25, 2023.
As discussed in our July 7, 2023 Newsletter, in early July a Federal District Court issued an decision that enjoined federal agencies from engaging in their coordination with Big Tech companies to restrict and even remove text that had been posted by third parties in social media, Tweets and elsewhere. On September 8, 2023, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a unanimous decision upholding the major items in the District Court's opinion and preliminary injunction while leaving open issues, among other things, about the roles of third parties such as the Stanford Internet Observatory and its affiliates
A PDF copy of the Fifth Circuit opinion is below and where the Stanford Internet Observatory and its affiliates the Virality Project and the Election Integrity Project are specifically named at the bottom of page 68 and the top of page 69. Stanford Medical School Prof. Jay Bhattacharya is a plaintiff in this case, and we have posted one of his essays about the litigation at our webpage here.
Views from Other Schools
The Cornell Free Speech Alliance, an independent alliance of Cornell alumni, faculty, students, and staff, recently submitted to Cornell's president, provost and trustees recommendations for restoring academic freedom and free expression at Cornell. The recommendations are based on what is commonly referred to as the Chicago Trifecta and a separate statement adopted at Yale several years ago. A link to the Cornell recommendations is here. Also see our Back to Basics at Stanford proposals here and our compilation of the Chicago Trifecta here.
“In recent years, Cornell University has drifted away from its founding mission of discovering and disseminating 'knowledge and truth'. . . “Make diversity of thought and viewpoint diversity a clearly stated and prominent objective of the University. Free speech and academic freedom have little meaning if they do not encompass the diverse viewpoints of persons of disparate economic, geographical, and cultural backgrounds. “Freshman orientation should include a training module on the importance of free speech and academic freedom on campus as well as practical instruction on how to engage in civil debate and constructive disagreement. “Students should not be encouraged or supported in spying and reporting on each other or any other member of the University community for any alleged infraction arising from any speech, expression, or the reporter’s interpretation thereof that is protected by the First Amendment, the Constitution of the State of New York, or any other state or federal law. [Editor's note: See our prior article "Stanford's Protected Identity Harm Program for Reporting Bias" here.] “DEI (by any name) course requirements should be eliminated for all courses of study that do not directly implicate it. "DEI statements (by any name), or other pledge of allegiance or statement of personal support or opposition to any political ideology or movement should not form any part of the evaluation of an individual’s fitness for a faculty position. “Any faculty or staff accused of any infraction should have due process, including immediate dismissal of any complaint that involves protected speech or infringes on academic freedom . . ..”
A set of principles was recently published as the result of a conference of scholars from around the country held at Princeton in March 2023. A PDF copy of the Princeton Principles for a Campus Culture of Free Inquiry is below. See also our compilations of the Chicago Principles on our webpage here.
Excerpt: The American university is a historic achievement for many reasons, not least of which is that it provides a haven for free inquiry and the pursuit of truth. Its unique culture has made it a world leader in advancing the frontiers of practical and theoretical knowledge. . . . To do their work well, universities need a protected sphere of operation in which free speech and academic freedom flourish. Scholarship and teaching cannot achieve their full potential when constrained – externally or internally – by political, ideological, or economic agendas that impede or displace the disinterested process of pursuing truth and advancing knowledge.
By Jennifer Kabbany, The College Fix, December 29, 2022
Massachusetts Institute of Technology faculty have adopted a resolution that defends freedom of speech and expression — even speech some find “offensive or injurious.”
The “Free Expression Statement,” approved by the faculty senate Dec. 21, states that “Learning from a diversity of viewpoints, and from the deliberation, debate, and dissent that accompany them, are essential ingredients of academic excellence.” The statement was approved by a vote of 98 to 52, a source close to MIT told The College Fix. “We cannot prohibit speech that some experience as offensive or injurious,” the statement reads. It had been presented earlier this year by MIT’s Ad Hoc Working Group on Free Expression, developed after the venerable university was engulfed in controversy for canceling a guest lecture to be given by University of Chicago geophysicist Dorian Abbot in 2021. Activists had led a campaign against Abbot for his comments critical of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs, but he had been slated to speak on climate change, not DEI policies. If MIT leadership is proud of the statement’s passage, they have not said so it publicly. A roundup touting the institution’s 2022 accomplishments, published a couple days after the statement was approved, does not mention it. Others have celebrated the development. “The MIT Free Speech Alliance has from the beginning advocated the free expression statement’s adoption, and we’re very pleased to see the faculty take this step,” MIT Free Speech Alliance President Charles Davis said in a news release. “We especially commend the faculty who tirelessly fought for the statement’s adoption as it was debated this fall.” Peter Bonilla, MIT Free Speech Alliance’s executive director, called on incoming MIT President Sally Kornbluth to continue to work to defend free speech and academic freedom. “President Kornbluth can set a strong example by endorsing the free expression statement herself, as well as by considering and implementing the thoughtful recommendations of the free expression working group,” Bonilla said in a news release. The statement did garner a bit of criticism from its supporters. Writing on his popular Why Evolution Is True blog, University of Chicago emeritus biology Professor Jerry Coyne took issue with the statement’s “slightly hedged” final version. “The only objection I have is to … calling for ‘civility and mutual respect’, as well as ‘considering the possibility of offense and injury’. You simply cannot have free speech without offense and injury. Abbot’s invitation provoked precisely such offense and injury, with many people supporting his deplatforming,” Coyne wrote. “… You can’t have free speech without harm, much though the word is much overused by the faux offended.
By John Rose
From the Wall Street Journal, June 24, 2021
[Editor's note: John Rose is a faculty member at Duke who teaches courses in ethics, religion and political science. He also is the associate director of Duke's Civil Discourse Project.]
The conservative critique of American higher education is well known to Journal readers: The universities are run by intolerant progressives. The left counters with an insult: The lack of intellectually respectable conservative arguments is responsible for campus political uniformity. Perhaps a better starting point in this debate is the students, most of whom actually want freer discourse on campus. They want to be challenged by views they don’t hold. This, at least, has been my recurring experience with undergraduates at Duke University, where I teach classes called “Political Polarization” and “Conservatism” that require my students to engage with all sides of today’s hottest political issues. True engagement, though, requires honesty. In an anonymous survey of my 110 students this spring, 68% told me they self-censor on certain political topics even around good friends. That includes self-described conservative students, but also half of the liberals. “As a Duke student, it is difficult to be both a liberal and a Zionist,” one wrote. Another remarked, “Although I support most BLM ideas, I do not feel that I can have any conversation that even slightly criticizes the movement.” To get students to stop self-censoring, a few agreed-on classroom principles are necessary. On the first day, I tell students that no one will be canceled, meaning no social or professional penalties for students resulting from things they say inside the class. If you believe in policing your fellow students, I say, you’re in the wrong room. I insist that goodwill should always be assumed, and that all opinions can be voiced, provided they are offered in the spirit of humility and charity. I give students a chance to talk about the fact that they can no longer talk. I let them share their anxieties about being socially or professionally penalized for dissenting. What students discover is that they are not alone in their misgivings. Having now run the experiment with 300 undergraduates, I no longer wonder what would happen if students felt safe enough to come out of their shells. They flourish. In one class, my students had a serious but respectful discussion of critical race theory. Some thought it harmfully implied that blacks can’t get ahead on their own. Others pushed back. My students had an honest conversation about race, but only because they had earned each other’s trust by making themselves vulnerable. On a different day, they spoke up for all positions on abortion. When a liberal student mentioned this to a friend outside class, she was met with disbelief: “Let me get this straight, real Duke students in an actual class were discussing abortion and some of them actually admitted to being pro-life?” For my student’s part, she was no longer shocked the conversation had taken place, nor scandalized at the views of her classmates. Not long after Jan. 6, I asked my students how many of them had a family member or friend who voted for Donald Trump. In a class of 56, 50 hands went up. I then asked them to keep their hands up if they thought this person’s vote was motivated by anything unsavory—say, sexism or racism. Every hand but two went down. Despite our masks, I could see that students were surprised. Turns out, their Trump-supporting cousin wasn’t the exception. When you actually know others, they aren’t an abstraction onto which you can project your own political narratives. The same is true in the classroom. On the last day of class this term, several of my students thanked their counterparts for the gift of civil disagreement. Students told me of unlikely new friendships made. Some existing friendships, previously strained by political differences, were mended. All of this should give hope to those worried that polarization has made dialogue impossible in the classroom. Not only is it possible, it’s what students pine for. Progressives, the power to make this a widespread reality on campus is in your hands; in so doing, you’ll remain true to your own tradition of liberalism. Conservatives, don’t write off the modern university; in continuing to support it, you’ll uphold your own tradition’s commitment to passing down wisdom. Both sides should support efforts within universities that promote civil discourse. We’ll all be happier about the state of the country if we do. After all, as they say, what starts on campus doesn’t stay on campus. Mr. Rose is associate director of the Arete Initiative at Duke University’s Kenan Institute for Ethics.
By Heather Mac Donald
[Editor's note: Ms. Mac Donald is a widely published author and a graduate of Stanford Law School]
For now, the adults at the Stanford Law School appear to be in charge. In a March 22nd letter addressed to the “SLS Community,” Stanford Law Dean Jenny Martínez unequivocally repudiated the shoutdown of federal judge Kyle Duncan by Stanford law students earlier this month. The law school’s Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Tirien Steinbach, who had lectured Duncan about his allegedly injurious presence on campus, has been placed on leave. That is the good news.
Martínez’s letter is one of the most thorough defenses of academic free speech to come from a college administrator in recent years. However, she has declined to discipline the students involved in the heckling. Distinguishing those students who had engaged in punishable conduct from those who had not would be too difficult, she claims. Moreover, the hecklers had not been warned that they risked sanctions. Punishing the hecklers would also leave unpunished those who did not literally disrupt the event but whose vulgar signs or insulting personal questions were outside the norms of civil discourse. Instead of discipline, Martínez will require all law students to attend a half-day session on free speech later in the semester. (One can’t help but observe that Judge Duncan’s student hosts, who engaged in no speech disruption, do not seem to be in need of such training.) The reasons for Martínez’s amnesty are not persuasive. Nevertheless, that amnesty could serve as an acceptable compromise if other measures to prevent a reoccurrence were in place. They are not, and Martínez’s letter shows why they likely never will be. First, however, it is worth recalling the details of the Steinbach affair, since it is a flawless embodiment of how diversity ideology distorts academic life and constrains decision-making. The Stanford Law School chapter of the Federalist Society had invited Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan to deliver a speech titled, “The Fifth Circuit in Conversation with the Supreme Court: COVID, Guns, and Twitter.” Judge Duncan was a 2018 Trump appointee to the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Headquartered in New Orleans, the circuit is the most conservative federal appellate court in the country. Duncan’s remarks, had he been permitted to deliver them, were going to address how appellate courts reach their decisions in areas of doctrinal flux before the Supreme Court has fully established an emerging legal rule. The speech would have provided Stanford’s future lawyers with practical insights into the evolution of federal case law. It would also have given them the opportunity to interact with a judge who has been centrally involved in his circuit’s important recent cases. Such considerations mattered nothing to Stanford’s left-wing students, however, because Duncan does not subscribe to contemporary academic orthodoxies. Before becoming a judge, he had written a law-review article as a private lawyer, arguing that the definition of marriage should be left to the states. He had represented a Virginia school board that opposed allowing high-school boys to use girls’ bathrooms. And once on the bench, Duncan had declined to use “she” to refer to a male prisoner federally convicted of possessing child pornography. Thus, according to a large contingent of the student body, Duncan was unfit to set foot in the Stanford Law School. The Outlaws—a self-described “social, support, and political group” that actively combats “homophobia, transphobia, [and] heterosexism” at the law school—were joined by the National Lawyers Guild chapter and other left-wing student groups in demanding that Duncan’s speech be moved off campus or held exclusively via Zoom. Never mind that Duncan’s speech would have nothing to do with “gender” issues. He would allegedly have put the “safety” of Stanford’s “marginalized” students at risk simply by being on campus. The Federalist Society rejected the Outlaws’ demand to quarantine Duncan. Accordingly, photographs of Federalist Society members began appearing around the law school over the caption: “You should be ASHAMED.” At 7.02am on March 9th, the morning of Duncan’s planned speech, Associate Dean for DEI, Tirien Steinbach, initiated the first of her two intercessions into the event. She sent an email to the Stanford Law School under the subject line “Today at SLS” intended, she said, to “share [her] office’s goals and roles in this situation”—the “situation” being Duncan’s appearance. A question immediately presented itself: Why was Steinbach weighing in on Duncan’s speech in the first place? Leave aside for a moment whether or not there are matters which might actually require the involvement of a Stanford DEI administrator. A speech on how the Fifth Circuit interacts jurisprudentially with the Supreme Court would not seem to be one of them. We have grown so accustomed to the intrusion of the diversity bureaucracy into every area of academic life that this oddity may pass unnoticed. It should not so pass, however, since this oddity is, until almost yesterday, without precedent. For centuries, legal training in the Anglosphere was bare bones. In the American colonies, an aspiring lawyer would apprentice in the office of a practicing attorney, preparing legal documents out of a form book and performing clerical odds and ends. The first law schools, formed after the Revolution, were little more than a designated professorship within an existing college. Jefferson and John Marshall were taught by one such professor at William & Mary. Lincoln still rose up through the apprenticeship system several decades later, however, reading William Blackstone’s 1769 Commentaries on the Laws of England (the core legal reference text in the United States for over a century) under the tutelage of an Illinois legislator. Long after law schools had evolved into professionalized graduate institutions, they still lacked a therapeutic bureaucracy. In the mid-20th century, a skeletal crew of administrators dealt with the logistics of class registration and job placement; the rest of the educational enterprise was largely left to the faculty. Classes were large, the ruthlessly unsentimental Socratic method prevailed, and if you needed counseling, you went to the health services. The idea of mobilizing an administrator to psychologically prepare students for the arrival of a federal judge would have been unthinkable. Yet here was Steinbach weighing in on Duncan’s upcoming appearance without even knowing the details of what he was going to say. And the reason for that intervention is an interlocking set of fictions that currently reign on university campuses: first, that universities discriminate against and “marginalize” certain student groups; second, that such marginalization puts those groups at physical and psychological risk; and third, that their precarious physical and mental status means that ideas can injure them. A designated bureaucracy is therefore needed to protect these vulnerable groups from harm. Martínez created one such bureaucracy in 2020, during the hysteria that swept college campuses after the George Floyd race riots. She installed Steinbach in the law school’s new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Office the following year. Immaculately intersectional (though, sadly, still using “she/her/hers” pronouns), Steinbach had been a public-interest attorney in the Bay Area and had offered trainings on “increasing mindfulness” in the legal profession, an undoubted plus in the era of the therapeutic college spa. The Stanford law school’s DEI office seeks to remove the school’s “barriers to belonging.” Reality check: There are no barriers to belonging, outside of those created by the school itself through its vigorous use of racial preferences. As a Stanford law student in the early 1980s, I tutored a classmate in legal writing. Based on her abysmal writing and analytical skills, that classmate did not belong at the Stanford Law School, though she would have done just fine at nearby Santa Clara Law School. Stanford welcomed her, however, with open arms (and if asked, would no doubt have penitently attributed her academic difficulties to its own racism), just as it welcomes and celebrates members of every other group that proclaims itself “marginalized.” Given the Outlaws’ contention that Duncan’s presence on campus put them at risk, Steinbach was tasked with mediating between Duncan’s opponents, his Fed Soc hosts, and the judge himself. Her 7.02am memo made no attempt to be even-handed. If there were anything that students might learn from Duncan’s speech, you would not know it from Steinbach’s recitation of Duncan’s past infractions and likely future depredations. Her ultimate announcement that Stanford would not be cancelling the event came off as a conflicted concession to an unfortunate intellectual regime. Unsurprisingly, that early-morning memo had no effect on the law students’ sense of wounded entitlement. Duncan had to pass through a gauntlet of about 100 jeering Stanford students to get to the classroom where he was supposed to speak. The level of discourse was not elevated. “We hope your daughters get raped!” someone taunted. Another protester noted that though he, as a gay man, could find the prostate, Duncan could not “find the clit.” Posters and banners in the classroom proclaimed, “We hate you,” “Leave and never come back,” and “FED SUCK.” Waves of mostly female shrieking interrupted the Fed Soc president’s introduction of his guest. And once Duncan started speaking, the heckling prevented any possible delivery of his speech. The student-services bureaucracy had previously assured the Fed Soc board that members of Stanford’s public-safety department would be nearby and ready to step in if there were a disruption. Having campus security actually in the room would apparently put LGBTQ+ students at further psychological and physical risk. (Yale’s equally delicate law students advanced this claim last year as well.) The campus cops never showed, however. So even if someone had issued the hecklers a warning, which Martínez now says is the prerequisite for discipline, no one would have been available to remove the fractious students. Flabbergasted by the display of aggressive irrationality, Duncan began posing rhetorical questions to the screaming audience. “Is this a law school?” “You’re supposed to be learning to be lawyers, what court are you going to go into and act like this?” The responses were puzzling. “You just said that this is a law school; there’s no jurisdiction!” “Trigger!” “This is not your court!” Most weirdly, laughter broke out when Duncan asked, “Why do you want to cancel people’s speech?” Unbeknownst to Duncan, five student-services administrators, including Steinbach, were standing to the side of the podium. After 10 minutes of being yelled at, Duncan asked if an administrator was present. Steinbach stepped forward, introduced herself as an associate dean, and said that she wanted to address Duncan and the students. Confused as to why an administrator would address a speech to him, Duncan repeated his request. The response from the gallery was predictable: “Your racism is showing!” “Black female!” Bowing to inevitability, Duncan ceded the podium and Steinbach began to read from a prepared speech, her voice trembling. From its opening phrases, her remarks captured the ethos of the therapeutic diversity university: "I had to write something down because I am so uncomfortable up here. And I don’t say that for sympathy. I’m just saying I’m deeply, deeply uncomfortable. I’m uncomfortable cuz this event is tearing at the fabric of this community that I care about and am here to support. And I don’t know and I have to ask myself and I’m not a cynic to ask this: Is the juice worth the squeeze? Is this worth it?" The crowd erupted in a chorus of ecstatic finger snaps. Steinbach would go on to use “uncomfortable” or “not comfortable” 11 times, “feel” seven times, “harm” or “harmful” five times, “safety” or “safe” twice, and “pain” once—all in six minutes. It is again worth noting the oddity of Steinbach’s role at this juncture. It was she who represented the administration because the DEI office is at the fulcrum of every university function. And the DEI office is at the fulcrum of every university function because everything in a university today bears on identity. There is no independent sphere of thought and knowledge. Steinbach might still be the acting DEI dean today but for her by-now infamous, thrice-repeated question to Duncan: “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” Asked to clarify, she explained: "I mean is it worth the pain that this causes and the division that this causes? Do you have something so incredibly important to say about Twitter and guns and COVID that that is worth this impact on the division of these people who have sat next to each other for years, who are going through what is the battle of law school together, so that they can go out into the world and be advocates." The answer was obvious. “Luckily,” Steinbach said, Stanford students were gaining the advocacy skills to challenge free-speech policies that do not take harm into account. She concluded with a celebration of the hecklers: “I look out [at this room] and I don’t ask, ‘What is going on here?’ I look out and I say, ‘I’m glad this is going on here.’” Several videos of this dismal episode went viral. By the next day, the law school was in damage-control mode. Dean Martínez sent an email to the law school calling the attempts at managing the room “well-intentioned,” but ultimately not aligned with the school’s “institutional commitment to freedom of speech.” The day after Martínez’s March 10th email, Martínez and Stanford University’s president co-signed a letter to Judge Duncan apologizing for the disruption of his speech. This time Martínez was a little more critical of Steinbach, writing that “staff members … intervened in inappropriate ways that are not aligned with the university’s commitment to free speech.” Martínez’s apology to Duncan and her guarded criticism of Steinbach were too much for the Outlaws and their allies. On Monday, March 13th, nearly a third of the law school student body protested in Martínez’s constitutional-law classroom, having covered the whiteboard with signs attacking Duncan and commending the hecklers as free-speech heroes. Over half of Martínez’s con-law students joined the protest; those who did not were subject to silent shaming. Feelings were again dominant. When Martínez ducked out of the building after her class, reported the Washington Free Beacon, the protesters began to cry and hug each other, presumably in the belief that they had achieved an historic civil-rights victory. In her March 22nd letter, Martínez announced that Steinbach was “currently on leave.” That letter was implicitly directed at Steinbach’s many supporters inside the law school and the wider university. That Martínez felt compelled to justify her apology to Duncan and her mild rebuke of the DEI dean is a reminder of how politically skewed the academic population is compared to the public at large. Remarkably, the Outlaws insist that it was their free speech that was violated by Duncan’s parrying questions and by his description of his tormenters as “bullies” and “idiots.” And Steinbach’s “allies” claim that she is being “thrown under the bus.” Those allies are right. Her behavior was perfectly in keeping with the ideology of her office. If she ended up tacking a bit too far in the direction of protecting marginalized communities from harm, well, we all make mistakes. Firing Steinbach (more likely, her leave will quietly become permanent during the summer) or abolishing her office, as many who deplore the identity-based university are calling for, will not restore the idea-based university. And Martínez’s letter shows why. For all her eloquent defense of free speech and free association, she nonetheless ends up rewarding the hecklers. Stanford will be offering even more programming and events on LGBTQ+ rights in the spring, Martínez announced. It is hard to imagine how much more thorough Stanford’s celebration of LGBTQ+ identity could be. Martínez justifies this sop to the shutdown lobby on the grounds that what motivated the protests was the “desire by students to bring greater attention to discussion [sic] of LGBTQ+ rights.” That is fanciful. The hecklers were motivated by hatred and censoriousness, period. No one claimed that Duncan needed to be run off campus in order to “bring greater attention to discussion of LGBTQ+ rights.” But even if that had been the motivation, rewarding it now means that the protests worked. The only programming that should be increased in the wake of the shutdown is Federalist Society programming. But Martínez has offered the Stanford chapter no apology, besides stating in her latest letter that the “Federalist Society has the same rights of free association that other student organizations at the law school have.” That self-evident assertion is hardly a rousing endorsement of their role as virtually the only remaining source of ideological diversity at the law school. If we are on the lookout for marginalized minorities to celebrate, we need look no further than the Fed Soc chapter. Martínez’s rush to placate the wounded sensibilities of the LGBTQ+ lobby and her unwillingness to discipline them are signs of how difficult it will be to return the university to a place where reason, not self-pity, rules. Another indication is provided by the law school’s acting associate dean of students. On March 11th, the same day that Martínez and Stanford’s president sent Duncan their apology, that associate dean, Jeanne Merino, sent a one-page memo to the law school’s student groups. It was just as drenched in the rhetoric of victimhood and vulnerability as DEI dean Steinbach’s pronouncements. Merino uses “safety” or “safe” three times, “feeling” or “feel” three times, “hurt” twice, and “comfortable” and “mental health” once each: "The focus of this email is to provide you with resources that you can use right now to support your safety and mental health. I am so sorry that you are having to deal with this difficulty at all, much less now. Many of us are feeling raw and hurt right now. That’s understandable. Use … the wonderful counselors at CAPS and therapists at SLS if you need help dealing with your hurt and anger. … And of course, please connect with anyone at SLS with whom you feel comfortable who can support you now." Merino suggested that the memo’s recipients reach out to Tirien Steinbach and to the Levin Center, the public interest group that had provided what Steinbach, in her 7.02am memo, had called an “alternative space” for “community members for whom [sic] their sense of belonging is undermined by this event taking place.” The Federalist Society leadership received a copy of the Merino memo, addressed to “Dear Fed Soc leadership.” Some observers have wondered why Merino would recommend that Fed Soc members seek help from Steinbach, of all people, in “processing” the previous week’s events. But Merino clearly composed the memo with the Outlaws in mind and merely copied and pasted it to the Fed Soc leadership, oblivious to the resulting incongruity. Thus properly understood, the memo is another marker of the solipsistic bathos that characterizes universities in the grip of victim ideology. It was the Outlaws and their allies who coerced the shutdown of Duncan. Their tactics raised questions of foundational principle for university governance. And yet Merino responded to the incident with the language of feeling, characterizing the Outlaws as the injured party in need of mental-health support. The most astonishing aspect of the Steinbach affair is that it occurred at a law school. The essence of lawyerly work is to represent someone other than oneself—a defendant, a business client, a plaintiff seeking redress. One’s own identity is not at stake. A lawyer is supposed to grapple with legal ideas—the principles behind a statute or constitutional provision, the implications of a contractual clause. Here, too, his identity should be irrelevant. Much of legal work is adversarial; a lawyer confronts strongly opposing viewpoints, the outcome of which may lead even to the loss of a client's liberty. A lawyer rebuts those arguments not by claiming to be emotionally wounded by them, but by posing a stronger set of arguments that better accord with reason. Here, yet again, a lawyer’s own identity should not come into play. A large portion of the Stanford law school student body seems to have no grasp of these truths. They weaponized their feelings against Duncan, and claimed that his mere presence somewhere on campus, even if they stayed away from him, was intolerable. Several administrators openly validated this emotionalism; others may be in quiet agreement. It was not coincidental that Steinbach began her speech to Duncan with a recitation of her feelings. Merino offered Stanford’s vast therapeutic apparatus to salve the wounded students’ “hurt and anger.” The question now is: Where are the faculty? They are looking at an educational failure. If they are not appalled by the protesters’ frenzy of irrationalism, they, too, misunderstand law and their role in passing on legal culture. To be sure, Martinez argues in her March 22nd letter that “lawyers in training must learn to confront injustice or views they don't agree with and respond as attorneys.” But a one-time statement of principle, even one backed up by a “mandatory half-day session on ... the norms of the legal profession,” is hardly enough to reverse the all-encompassing incursion of solipsism. The faculty, either collectively or individually, should themselves put out a statement against the weaponization of alleged victimhood. They should emphasize in all their classes the priority of principle and ideas in the practice of the law. Their continuing silence on the matter demonstrates either cowardice or complicity with the narcissism of the identity-besotted student. Stanford’s law students are not alone in rejecting the ideal of disinterestedness. For decades, certain topics have been off-limits in moot court because students claim that making or hearing arguments on the politically “wrong” side of a question is injurious to them. A number of criminal-law professors have stopped teaching the law of sexual assault. The student protests at Yale, Harvard, and other elite law schools against the elevation of Judge Brett Kavanagh to Supreme Court embraced the motto “Believe Survivors!,” a motto antithetical to the presumption of innocence and to due process. The emotional solipsism of the Stanford students and their peers around the country would make the practice of law impossible. But it also undercuts the highest ideals of Western civilization: that human beings can transcend tribal identities and use reason to govern themselves and to unlock the secrets of nature. By all means, axe every college DEI office, since every one is a monument to a lie. But the student-services bureaucracy and a large portion of the faculty will simply continue their work. That is why, if we are to restore academic integrity, it will not be sufficient to advocate for free speech, however important such advocacy is. It will be necessary to challenge head-on the grounding falsehoods of the diversity university: that majority society (or whatever is left of it) is always and everywhere oppressing the fragile “Other” and that victim identity trumps the ideal of transcendent, objective knowledge.