Columns

Tobolowsky GS: Freedom of expression is for everybody

By
Guest Columnist
Monday, October 27, 2014

Forgive me if, like Professor of Biology Ken Miller ’70 P’02, who recently reopened the attack on the members of the Brown student body who prevented Ray Kelly from speaking here, I have not yet put this issue to bed. But in his Oct. 1 Herald guest column, in which he defended what he called “academic freedom,” I think some considerations were left out.

The issue isn’t that offering less than carte blanche to those who would invite controversial speakers fails to affect our overall level of academic freedom, as it clearly does. It’s that the freedom of the University and University groups is not the only freedom that matters. And though it may add an inconvenient level of complexity, there’s nothing wrong with asking whether the freedom of invitation may indeed be in conflict with overall campus freedom of expression.

We can learn a lot about the incidents of last year by talking about a much more recent high-profile speech cancellation, that of Anita Sarkeesian. Sarkeesian, a cultural critic who has had the audacity to suggest, repeatedly, that there is sexism in the portrayal of women in media and elsewhere, was scheduled to speak last week at Utah State University. Then the school received threats of a massacre if she were allowed to speak, couched in vocabulary eerily reminiscent of the video Elliot Rodger made before he went on a killing spree at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

The threat seems to have included the phrase, “Feminists have ruined my life, and I will have my revenge.” Sarkeesian actually had to cancel her own speech because the university claimed it couldn’t even search speech-goers for guns, due to Utah state laws.

Here we see many things I think Miller, and others who were appalled by the protests, fails to really consider. First of all, it’s obviously a case in which Miller’s proposition that the only thing required to counter speech is “more and better speech” falters. I doubt anyone really disagrees that giving both Sarkeesian and her would-be attackers a microphone is not exactly an antidote to the problems she faced at Utah State.

But there’s a greater issue here, which is the fact that Sarkeesian doesn’t have to face these issues just once, but daily. And this is for expressing a viewpoint far less controversial than the most innocent of Kelly’s policies. In short, Sarkeesian is less free to express herself every day than Kelly is any day, including the day on which he was prevented from speaking at Brown.

And once we acknowledge that there’s a lot more to freedom of expression than who gets to speak at official lectures, I think we can begin to see pretty easily where the protesters — of which, for the record, I was not one — are coming from.

We can argue about the level of difference between the threat represented by Sarkeesian’s experiences and those by Kelly’s policies, but we should note at the same time that equating the two isn’t as absurd as it may seem. In a year in which police violence against African-Americans has never been more visible, it is no stretch to say that Kelly, one of police discrimination’s foremost prophets, did indeed threaten lives, and in New York, this was entirely on purpose.

And we do not have to guess whether anyone at Brown was personally affected by these policies: Kelly’s tenure as New York City Police Department commissioner, in which he officially and systematically stigmatized being a minority in New York City, ended just last year. Even besides the serious threat to life stop-and-frisk represented, living under the policy, according to an American Journal of Public Health study released two weeks ago, seems to permanently heighten anxiety and decrease emotional well-being.

Indeed, this is a fact that is not likely to be news to Miller, who, two weeks ago, at a panel discussion on “white privilege,” recounted the story of a student of his who asked not to have to go to lab at midnight, lest he be — yes — stopped and frisked.

It’s one thing to allow an offensive viewpoint to air — and quite another to have been personally victimized by a speaker. It’s one thing to invite someone who believes a woman’s place is in the home — say, Phyllis Schlafly in her heyday — and another to invite whoever threatened Anita Sarkeesian’s life last week. The problem with Kelly is not his views, but the tremendous ability he had, for years, to enforce them. The students were protesting not Kelly’s words, but his actions.

The fact is, fear steals freedom, no matter what happens at the level of the institution. Sarkeesian’s daily freedom depends on her considerable courage. The freedom of someone who lived under stop-and-frisk is likely to be compromised permanently. It is certainly reasonable to worry what precedent the successful protest sets, but I think it gives our community far too little credit to imagine our undergraduates as incapable of showing discretion. Miller asks what will happen next time. But it has been a year, after all, and it had been a long time since it happened before last year.

In the sense again that students who suffered under stop-and-frisk now live on a campus that invited its architect to defend it, we can at least consider whether what these protesters were doing last year was not stealing Kelly’s freedom of speech — which, for all intents and purposes, cannot be stolen — but instead protecting one another. They weren’t showing their disregard for academic freedom. They were showing their commitment to each other’s safety and the academic freedom arising from that.

If the actions of last year made vulnerable members of our community feel that this campus was a safer place for them, then they were a blow struck for, not against, freedom of expression.

 

Andrew Tobolowsky ’07 GS is a PhD candidate in the Department of Religious Studies and can be reached at andrew.tobolowsky@gmail.com.

Topics:
  • Luther Spoehr

    A more accurate headline for this article would be “Freedom of expression is for everybody that Andrew Tobolowsky approves of.” His article contains more conflations (directly threatening someone’s life has never been considered to be protected “free speech”) and slides down more slippery slopes (“It is no stretch to say that Kelly, one of police discrimination’s foremost prophets, did indeed threaten lives, and in New York, this was entirely on purpose”) than can be explored here. But the bottom line is that neither Mr. Robolowsky nor any other self-appointed censor has the right to determine what I or anyone else on campus has the right to hear. Once they do, Brown ceases to be a university. There are indeed other values at work in the university, but freedom of expression is the preeminent one. Without it, all the other values are considerably diminished. Mr. Robolowsky is apparently at the beginning of his academic career, so there should be plenty of time for him to come to appreciate that. I hope he does.

    Luther Spoehr
    Senior Lecturer
    Education Department

    • guest

      From a student – thank you for your comment. Please know that there are at least some students here at Brown who believe in freedom of speech and expression, and will fight for the truth no matter how controversial that truth may be.

    • cbucksrule

      Talk about a slippery slope. There is no such thing as a protected “right to hear”–which a person at virtually any stage of his or her academic career should know. There is also no affirmative right to “be heard”, and hence, in fact, no one’s rights were infringed last October in any way recognizable in a court of law (the space where “rights” discourse has meaning). And actually, in practice, the government regularly restricts speech with respect to time, manner, and place, and also for public safety reasons (as in hate speech/fighting words) as part of its speech functions.

      But let’s leave aside the slipperiness of our “rights” with respect to the private governance of Brown. Because in any case, high-toned repetition of categories like “freedom of expression” as the “preeminent value” of the university seem to get repeated again and again, as yours here, Dr. Spoehr, without ever taking any of the critics of Ray Kelly seriously. Do you contend that Ray Kelly’s policies don’t have material affects on the safety of people of color in New York City? Do you further contend that no such people attend Brown or live near it? If you answered “no” to both of those questions, then you must ask, to what degree do the things that have happened to them impact our understanding of the dynamics of inquiry and understanding in that forum?

      Secondly, the most serious problem with your notion of “free inquiry” is that it involves a pretense, one that Tobolowsky has rightly discarded. Namely, the pretense that the justifications for these policies is information that was scarce, and somehow uniquely available through the forum itself.

      But in fact, power differences matter, as Tobolowsky rightly conveys, and this is the other problem that empty repetitions of “freedom of expression” continually speak past. Ray Kelly is on the record in Wall Street Journal editorials, quoted in nearly every news article you’ll find about stop-and-frisk, and also has held scores of press conferences (in many of which he has artfully dodged his critics!). Those Brown and Providence community members who “did their homework”–some of them because they couldn’t avoid those policies, many of them through “free inquiry” in our own classrooms–deserve the acknowledgement that their speech, and indeed their anger, was itself instructive. It benefited us all, in our little public sphere’s long reckoning with this issue, to hear *their* opinions, one which, unlike Ray Kelly’s, does not have the force of law.

      If you’d like to keep replaying this poisonous conversation’s dynamics, ignore both criticisms above and keep repeating any phrase like “free inquiry” or “freedom of expression” and ignore all questions of access, security, and social position that give the word “free” its particular form and substance.

      Thanks for your terrific insights above, Andrew Tobolowsky.

      • IRL

        Shutting down that lecture and Q&A cut off information that is indeed scare and uniquely available through the forum. The information straight for the horse’s mouth is different than other sources. There is information conveyed in meatspace that cannot be had over print or even video. For example, would you ever marry someone you only know through online dating sites and video? No.

        • cbucksrule

          You got me. I wouldn’t marry them. However, I *would* believe qualitative and quantitative data sets about whom their racial profiling had impacted and how, even without looking into their dreamy eyes.

          • IRL

            There is life and information outside of data sets and spreadsheets which is “scarce, and … uniquely available through the forum itself.”

        • Alum

          you mean the Q&A session that was only put on the schedule because of the protests and was originally not planned?

          • IRL

            The petition increased the Q&A from 15 minutes to 45 minutes. There was always a Q&A. It would also be misleading and inaccurate to call the petition “protests” within the context of the speech getting shut down. We’re not talking about the general act of protest being bad here.

    • andytobo

      Dr. Spoehr seems to have taken from my article that the freedom of speech I was talking about was mostly that of the protesters. That’s obviously my fault as author, but to be clear, the freedom of speech I am concerned about is that of those who don’t have as much of it as some of the rest of us do, including me. I actually have no idea what percentage of the protesters this applies to. While I am offering sympathy for the protesters, I have mixed opinions about the speech cancellation, which was of course, in any case, not the result of the protesters (who had not the power) but the
      administration’s response to it.

      I believe it is the case that Dr. Spoehr, and alum 2013, and probably other commenters to come, and probably Dr. Miller himself, feel that their own speech has been threatened by the actions of last year. As I said in the very second paragraph of this column THEY ARE NOT WRONG TO FEEL THAT WAY. I am not eager for a university in which the possibility of offense ties the university’s hands, and I’m less happy about the effects of the protests than you take me to be.

      And I would like also to say that I have heard Dr. Spoehr himself give a speech, and thoroughly enjoyed it. He may think me naïve of the implications of what I am suggesting and hopes for a brighter future for me. I have no doubts about his sagacity, and to the extent that he is certainly correct about part of that, and wishes me well, rest assured, I hope for this as well.

      After we have admitted all that, however, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that freedom of expression on campus isn’t 100% dependent on who gives a speech, but may also be dependent on who is scared to speak, why they are scared, and whether we should be doing more to make them less scared and more free. Alum 2013 says it is an incontrovertible fact that the protest made him or her more scared, and I have no reason not to believe that. Why shouldn’t the reasons for the protest be given the same hearing as Alum 2013’s fear now has?

      And forgive me if this seems to me to be an uncomplicated point, but the fact that we sometimes actually have to negotiate the possibility that the freedom of one person may represent a threat to another’s isn’t exactly news. If someone took from my writing that I think I know how to do it every time, I apologize for that. But we don’t need to be in a hurry to answer every one, forever, right now. I would like a general admission of the complexity of freedom and a complicated discussion of how to preserve it for as many people as possible as often as possible. That doesn’t seem so bad. I’m calling for nuance, not change, and reflection, not carte blanche to regulate speech. Because it is an unfortunate reality that stop and frisk is ALSO an attack on speech, that its legacy is continuing to attack speech even now that it’s over. I doubt that’s hard to believe.

      The only thing I’m disappointed about in the criticisms so far is the refusal to take seriously the possibility that stop and frisk represents a threat to life and lives. I can’t convince anyone who isn’t already convinced by the evidence, but a more open mind about it wouldn’t hurt anybody. You may say that everyone knows it’s bad, and that’s part of why there was no reason to protest the speech, but it does seem like none of the critical commenters have taken seriously how bad it might be. Thank you for your comments.

      • geksliver

        Claiming that people defending the university’s charter are doing so because they “feel that their own speech has been threatened” is an ad hominem attack of their position, again, equivocating and projecting tetchiness onto their tremendously parsimonious claims. Nobody is talking about couching feelings or things such that people feel good. It’s about maturity, which your analysis consistently deviates from.

    • Matt Rose

      Dr. Spoehr, did we read the same article? I took Mr. Tobolowsky to be suggesting that the protests reveal a conflict of goods at a fundamental level of the university. “They were showing their commitment to each other’s safety and the academic freedom arising from that.” I suppose we could have an argument about which set of rights is most foundational at the university – speech or physical safety – but it seems fine to me, and maybe more productive, to allow that these deeply important goods are sometimes in conflict, and there’s no easy way to adjudicate between them. The repeated invocation of “academic freedom” and “freedom of expression” as the conversation-stoppers in this debate demonstrates an inability to see and hear the actual exclamations of pain and suffering from some community members. Why are so many so driven to argue that the protesting portion of the community violated some norms of decency, or the Student Code of Conduct, or a right to freedom of expression? Why not compassionately ask, instead, what motivated them to protest and then seek to respond to those injuries?

    • guest

      Yeah, I’m more concerned about the freedom for black and Latino people to walk the streets without being harassed and detained by cops. Any concern about THAT “freedom of expression”?

  • Alum 2013

    To claim “considerations were left out” and (willfully) fail to recognize that the free speech concerns have little to do with Kelly and everything to do with campus, is disingenuous at best. It’s the students and professors who spend 4 years, nearly 24/7 on campus possibly fearing social and academic reprisal who don’t “have to face these issues just once, but daily.”

    Once we get past the obvious Ray Kelly misdirect, there’s the issue of the atrociously false equivalency between the Brown campus and the angry young men of Gamergate, to which the Sarkeesian’s threats are attributed. Brown is a carefully (I hope) self-selecting community of people coming to an academic sanctuary in order to learn. For that kind of environment, they cannot be afraid of ideas nor create an atmosphere hostile for voicing (not necessarily agreeing with) all sorts of ideas. It requires Mieklejohnian notions of freedom – that all options and ideas must be presented. It also requires an intelligent community with perspectives broader than that of a lynch mob.

    Gamergate, however, is a free-for-all, chaotic mess of temper tantrums on Twitter formed around rage and twisted, anti-social “humor,” not intellectual pursuit. Without an ability to curate their own community (itself a certain form a censorship), Gamergate has already seen issues including a rogue “member” doxxing Felicia Day– that is to say individuals leveraging the whirling, frothing frenzy for their own pursuits. It should not be difficult to see how the “community” here is foundationally, structurally, and procedurally nothing of the sort Brown claims/is/could be.)

    Why do we keep seeing defenses of the protestor’s actions always aim solely at Kelly? Why (quite offensively and egregiously) compare an academic campus of smart people to a free for all of on social media? Why keep bringing up the uncontested and obvious truth that Stop and Frisk as it is today is problematic? Because denying the simple truth that the protestors created a lasting and palpable hostile environment for their fellow students and faculty is all but impossible.

  • Alum ’09

    I, for one, thought this was the best piece penned on this topic so far. Kudos

  • Sean Ling

    I will point out something which should have been self evident: every time a white person, however honorable his position might indicate, speaks of “the students broke the code of conduct”, or simply Rev. James Manning owned slaves legally, this person should look into the mirror and you will see the shadow of a racist. As a university, we cannot arbitrarily make up a “code of conduct” and force the students to accept. Free speech is a fundamental principle we must respect. Kelly could have kept on shouting his views while the students protested. Whether our vice president or president felt embarrassed is of no importance to us as a university.

    • Reality check

      Freedom of speech means the government can’t put you in jail for stating your opinion. Just putting that put there because it seems to have gotten lost in the rush to justify anti-community behavior.

      The Code of Conduct existed well before the speech/protest. That students signed it then choose to ignore it is of no importance to us as members of the community who abide by the rules which were made to maintain standards of that community. You can choose to be a member of the community, or choose to not be a member of the community. And FWIW, not every person who’s annoyed at the protesters is white, and they’re certainly not racists. Stop using that word to shut down opposition. It’s been significantly devalued at this point by people who use it as a weapon n lieu of an actual argument.

      tl;dr: don’t be an asshat then hide behind “freedom of speech”.

      • Sean Ling

        You are right, it is a question of choice as what kind of community Brown wants to be. I choose it to be a community where such drastic actions by students who were so concerned are tolerated, rather than stifled. Likewise, if there are students equally motivated to hear from Kelly, I’m sure they can. From a distance, I can see what infuriated the students was that Kelly’s lecture was packaged as an award of some kind on behalf of Brown. This was implicit racism! Yes, Brown is full of people I consider racists by definition.

        • Reality check

          So just to be clear, you want Brown to be a place where we only hear from people deemed acceptable by an arbitrary number of people with no standards for same other than whatever the group-think of the current culture is, and anything else is shouted down and obstructed in spite of previously agreed-upon rules to the contrary So mob rule, basically. Got it. I’m sure that can only be of help in preparing Brown students for the world outside the Main Green.

          From a distance, I can see what infuriated the students was that Kelly’s lecture was packaged as an award of some kind on behalf of Brown.

          So what you’re saying is Brown admits students who lack reading comprehension? Because it was pretty clear to me why Kelly was invited.

          • Sean Ling

            “you want Brown to be a place where we only hear from people deemed
            acceptable by an arbitrary number of people with no standards for same
            other than whatever the group-think of the current culture is,…”

            This was not my point. I agree with the University’s decision not to retract the invitation once the professor had extended one to Kelly. To force a professor to retract an invitation would be a violation of the professor’s right to academic freedom. My point is that the infuriated students were protected by their rights to freedom of speech by crashing the talk peacefully. So obviously we had a clash of two rights: the professor’s right to academic freedom and the students’ right to free speech. Had the host halted the talk, and asked the police to drag out the protesting students one by one, that would be the way to resolve this conflict for the day. To speak of using the “code of conduct” to punish the students is inappropriate, I was happy to see President Paxson came to her senses
            and let it pass.

            “So mob rule, basically. Got it. I’m sure that can only be of help in preparing Brown students for the world outside the Main Green.”

            This is also not my point. My point is that if we only speak of obeying the rules and laws in the books, the US would have been forever stuck in the Jim Crow era. President Simmons alluded to that point in her speech last week. We owe Rosa Park and Martin Luther King a deep gratitude for having the courage to break the laws at their times. In our case, our students did break our “code of conduct”, but their civil disobedience can be and should be tolerated. Without their actions on Brown campus, I did not even know who Kelly was or what his policy stood for. Now I do, thanks to their rule-breaking actions.

            “So what you’re saying is Brown admits students who lack reading comprehension? Because it was pretty clear to me why Kelly was invited.”

            Your condescending remark about our students is inappropriate. Our students are quite smart and they knew exactly why Kelly was invited: Kelly stood for white power in America. Kelly’s policy says that if a black person runs to me on Hope Street at night, I can shoot him first and ask the question later. But if I did the same to a white person, I will be charged with murder. To not see the outrage in Kelly’s policy, you don’t have a soul.

          • Reality Check

            My point is that the infuriated students were protected by their rights to freedom of speech by crashing the talk peacefully.

            Actually, I don’t think they were. Again, the 1st Amendment means the government can’t arrest you for speaking. It doesn’t mean you get to shout someone else down at a private event. As the poster below us said, censorship is not free speech.

            Had the host halted the talk, and asked the police to drag out the protesting students one by one, that would be the way to resolve this conflict for the day.

            You must be new here if you think that would have resolved anything. It would have started a riot, and the administration knew it. Police brutality claims all around. Shaky YouTube videos going viral. PR disaster of epic proportions.

            To speak of using the “code of conduct” to punish the students is inappropriate, I was happy to see President Paxson came to her senses and let it pass.

            What she did was create an environment where the Code of Conduct has no meaning. Rules are only rules if people are held to them. Otherwise it’s a bunch of words on paper that nobody cares about.

            My point is that if we only speak of obeying the rules and laws in the books, the US would have been forever stuck in the Jim Crow era.

            Don’t dishonor the 50’s-era civil rights workers by comparing them to this bunch.

            Kelly’s policy says that if a black person runs to me on Hope Street at night, I can shoot him first and ask the question later.

            I think you’re confusing NYC with Florida. In NYC you’d be arrested just for having the gun. Stop and Frisk is not Stand Your Ground.

            To not see the outrage in Kelly’s policy, you don’t have a soul.</i<

            Never said what my opinion on Kelly's policy was, and I'll ask you to not put words in my mouth. I'm just someone who wanted to hear the man speak before expressing an opinion. I don't think so highly of myself that my words are so much more important than someone else's that I have to prevent anyone else from hearing the opposing view. If you can't allow someone to state their view before you state yours, aren't you just admitting you have no legitimate argument?

          • Sean Ling

            Okay, Reality Check, I checked the online description of the Stop and Frisk policy of NYC. I admit I did confuse it with Stand Your Ground law in Florida. Still, I find Stop and Frisk a modern day racist policy. Imagine a black teenager goofing around with his friend with a toy gun. A police officer sees him and orders him to STOP. Thinking that he did not do anything wrong, he ignores the order and runs. Under this policy, the police can shoot him. This obviously will never happen with a white boy! I can totally see the outrage from the minority students at Brown – they should have crashed the Kelly lecture, otherwise people like myself would be too busy to notice the problem they were facing.

            You asked me whether I’m new here – I’m only at Brown for 19 years, and I lived in the US only for 27 years (my first 23 years were spent in China). I see racism in this country every where and every day! I think the fundamental reason for this unapologetic racism is that the white Americans got away with major atrocities of humanity and never really apologized for it. Now their off springs like yourself consider your birth right to discriminate against people. I agree the students broke the “code of conduct”, but what options did they have other than protests. Now you and people like Prof. Miller and Dr. Spoehr want to form a lynch mob to hang them? Give me a break!

          • Reality Check

            Police haven’t been allowed to shoot fleeing suspects for…. Probably longer than I’ve been alive, if ever. You’re creating a scenario that doesn’t exist. (And actually under S&F the police don’t even need to see the toy gun to stop the kid. Like I said, don’t assume my opinion on the policy.)

            There were lots of other options other than censoring speech. The protests outside were getting the point across quite well and had attracted every major media outlet in the state. But the brownshirts of Brown weren’t satisfied with that; they aren’t happy until the only speech heard is that with which “they” agree.

            Like Ken Miller alluded to in a comment on another article, all they accomplished was tarnishing Brown’s reputation, chilling dissent, censoring speech, and creating a martyr out of Ray Kelly. Instead of honoring the victims of police harassment, the brownshirts made a victim of their chief persecutor.

          • Sean Ling

            The protestors did not have the power to censor. Let me tell you what is censorship: After I criticized the University’s handling of the alleged scientific misconducts in physics department, the Provost Mark Schlissel sent me a letter to place a sanction on me for a year during this time (now!) I cannot be a candidate for FEC and TPAC. (The letter was hand delivered to my office by a man looks like a mobster in a movie! To speak of intimidation!) I was a candidate for the Vice Chair of FEC before that letter, shortly after, the FEC took me off the ballot for fearing of a public battle with the administration. This is the real censorship! They (the Provost and Dean of Faculty, and I assumed they were backed by Paxson as well) have the power to censor a faculty. The reason you have not heard me shouting about these cases is there is a federal investigation ongoing.

            Back to the Kelly’s case, I don’t think Brown suffered any image damage. If anything, it is an enhancement of our reputation. The Kelly case showed that our students are conscious about social justice and they are willing to stick their heads out to bring attention to such causes.

            The reason I spoke out against my colleagues such as Prof. Miller is that I’m afraid that President Paxson and her associates may think those opinions were the only ones from the faculty. Her talk of revising the “Code of Conduct” is frightening to me. I personally had encountered a situation where the Dean of Faculty Kevin McClaughlin sent me a formal letter to threaten to fire me because I had been accused of violating a faculty rule. I went to his office and showed him the complete faculty rule book and pointed out that he had taken part of a sentence and put it in complete out of context. He said:”Oh, in that case I think the rule should be changed.” (The Associate Dean Janet Blume was in the room and she can testify about this quote.)

          • Reality Check

            The protestors did not have the power to censor.

            Back to the Kelly’s case, I don’t think Brown suffered any image damage. If anything, it is an enhancement of our reputation.

            I just realized I’m arguing with someone who believes in unicorns.

          • Sean Ling

            >I just realized I’m arguing with someone who believes in unicorns.

            You either engage in serious debate, or stop wasting my time.

          • Reality Check

            (Comment got cut off)

            To not see the outrage in Kelly’s policy, you don’t have a soul.

            I never said what my opinion on Kelly’s policies are, and I’ll ask you to not put words in my mouth or opine on the status of my soul without evidence. I’m just someone who wanted to hear the man speak. If you’re so afraid of letting an opposing viewpoint be heard that you feel the need to prevent anyone from hearing that viewpoint, aren’t you just admitting that you don’t have an actual argument?

  • tacitus

    Andrew – I really enjoyed your article; I thought it was sensitive, nuanced, and even-handed. I guess I’m struggling with one thing. There might be cases, as you seem to say, where you can make these fine-grained distinctions about the relative value to the community of person X’s ability to air his noxious views versus listener Y’s freedom to be left alone/not re-live their victimization under those views or policies (that’s what I took the thrust of your argument to be). BUT outside of fringe cases where the balance between those things seems to be tilted very heavily in one direction, I don’t know that anyone has the competence to make these kinds of judgments in a way that provides for reasonable consensus. And if we probably can’t reach consensus on the hard cases, my instinct is that we ought to draw the boundaries for what counts as fair game pretty widely. More widely than we might be comfortable with all the time. (I read shouting down Ray Kelly as a way of saying, “This isn’t fair game.”)

    I don’t think that freedom of speech in a university setting (or that even more loaded term, “academic freedom”) transcends all other considerations, or that such freedom is coextensive for everybody (it plainly isn’t), as people who use that kind of rhetoric seem to suggest. That’s probably bullshit. I do think that if you’re designing ground rules for a lecture in an academic setting, you need to build in the bare minimum degree of tolerance for unpopular, troubling, even odious views. Otherwise, the enterprise won’t serve its goals.

    In other words, there might be value in exposing students to views like Ray Kelly’s and giving them the opportunity to express their resolute opposition to those views — or their solidarity with those who have been harmed by those views — in a reasoned way. To me that feels like an essential function of the university environment. Something that links the ivory tower to the real, raw, ugly world, and demands that its students pick up their intellectual tools and contend with it.

  • TheRationale

    Censorship is not free speech. Yelling it louder doesn’t make it true. It’s depressing how many supposedly smart Ivy League students just have no grasp of this.

  • Strunk & White

    do you have to be able to write coherently to get a phd from brown?

  • geksliver

    This is so appallingly idiotic that I can’t begin to deconstruct it, it’s racist, and reductionistic. Claiming that the Utah incident, where threats of violence were pinned to the event and the speaker canceled it herself. 75% of black New Yorkers support Ray Kelly, and this writer chooses to equivocate at one moment, and then not the next. Logically inconsistent trash.

    • GS

      That’s about the most appallingly idiotic comment I’ve seen in this entire thread. I don’t need to deconstruct it, because you’ve posted it in pieces already. If you’re actually interested in engaging in sincere critique, then please do us the decency of re-presenting your concerns in clear, complete, coherent sentences.

      And if you (and others, learned though they might be) can’t read this kind of sincere, thoughtful engagement without throwing the word ‘racist’ around, then put simply, we have an enormous problem on campus which stands squarely in the way of us ever moving forward on promoting a lively, inclusive and deeply critical debate on this campus in the service of social justice, and taking the fight the actual sources of racism and bigotry we should surely be uniting against.