Alan Charles Kors on Speech Codes, Libertarianism, And the Case for the Humanities

"I guarantee you," Alan Charles Kors tells Nick Gillespie, "that Reason published on a campus would be defunded and that you'd be up on harassment charges every other week."

Kors knows what he's talking about. As the Henry Charles Lea Professor of European History at the University of Pennsylvania and the co-founder of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), he has long agitated against repressive speech codes at the nation's colleges and universities. Along with co-author (and fellow FIRE co-founder) Harvey Silverglate, Kors made a book-length case in the 1999 polemic The Shadow University.

Kors' interest in free expression - especially in an academic setting - blends seamlessly with his scholarship on the Enlightenment (he's the editor of Oxford's encyclopedia on the topic) and his commitment to classical liberal ideals of unfettered inquiry and freedom of conscience. Nobody is in a better position to talk about the resurgence of in loco parentis in higher education and the corrosive effects it has not just on undergraduates but professors and intellectual discourse as well.

Earlier this summer, Kors (a Reason contributor) sat down with Reason TV to talk about the persistence of authoritarianism on campuses, his experiences building an experimental multicultural dorm at Penn in the early 1970s, why the much-beleaguered humanities are more important than ever, and much more.

About 35 minutes. Shot by Jim Epstein with Meredith Bragg and edited by Epstein. Interview by Nick Gillespie.

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  • wareagle||

    it continues to defy logic that a vast section of the public sees absolutely nothing wrong with campus speech codes.

  • Ice Nine||

    Not really. A vast section of the public has no real idea of why college exists.

  • ||

    I cut that part from my reply because I didn't want to offend anyone.

  • ||

    Why wouldn't you want to offend anyone?!? It's what we do here!

  • ||

    Epi, I am disappoint.

  • ||

    That's offensive!

  • BarryD||

    I'm not entirely sure any more, and I've worked for a few of them.

    If POSIWID, then I think it would be very difficult to explain to anyone, just why college as we know it does exist.

  • ||

    I would guess a vast section of the public is totally oblivious to their existence in the first place.

  • KPres||

    Especially given that the public has always held so tightly to strict logical rigor.

  • A Serious Man||

    I'm a current college student, and the campus speech codes at the school I go to are basically vague to the point where the university could ban anything it deems "offensive", and by offensive they mean embarassing to them. This is particularly true with regard to my school's very active chapter of the Muslim Student Union which annually hosts "Israeli Apartheid Week" and will feature speakers with a history of anti-Semetic remarks.

  • ||

    What's your major?

  • SugarFree||

    Sexual Engineering. He's working on a nuclear-powered Fleshlight for his senior thesis.

  • ||

    But has he gotten it up to 3600 rpm?

  • SugarFree||

    rpm? Like all serious scientists, A Serious Man has switch to metric time.

  • SugarFree||

    *has made the switch* The blinding stupidity of your question paralyzed my typing ability.

  • ||

    It's okay, I know you've made the switch to metric English.

  • Randian||

    What is a metric minute called again?

  • Pro Libertate||

    A seminute.

  • ||

    I blame Grandma Plopwell.

  • A Serious Man||

    "When this fleshlight hits 88 miles per hour, we're going to see some serious shit."

  • Loki||

    "When this fleshlight hits 88 miles per hour, we're going to see some serious shit."

    Where are you putting your fleshlight dude? Wait, nevermind, I don't want to know.

  • A Serious Man||

    Poli sci and history. Yes, I know I'm an idiot given the glut of people with BAs in those fields, but I happen to be exceptionally good at writing about such things. That, and I suck at math and could never perform well in science courses.

  • ||

    Well, we'll all have fun financing your debt as you work at Mickey D's after college.

    You should have become a city planner like joe. Wait, are you short enough for that?

  • A Serious Man||

    Well in my defense I saved myself a lot of debt by paying for two years of community college myself and then getting some scholarships before taking a few loans. I'll get my degrees with a little less than $20K in debt, which isn't bad IMO.

    And who knows? I may end up working for Reason or some other libertarian publication. And then I'll get to be Wyatt Earp to your Ike Clanton.

  • Randian||

    I'm your huckleberry.

  • ||

    You mean like this?

    It would be epic if one of us ended up working for reason...with power. Lucy was actually one of us before she worked there, but she has no power. And we would abuse that power. I know I would.

  • toddb||

    Don't worry, Serious. You'll do fine in the business world. I graduated with a BA in history and ended up working as a pricing analyst in a telecom company. You'll find that you'll run circles around business majors. They can't think around corners, think critically, or solve problems. They now a little about "how" to do some things, but rarely understand why.

    I later picked up a masters degree in economics because I couldn't stand the idea of taking those horrible accounting and marketing classes in an MBA program. It was the right choice.

  • ||

    To paraphrase the Great Maddox: "Saying you suck at Math is saying 'I suck at following directions'".

    I self-admittedly suck at following directions but enjoy the shit out of majoring in chemistry.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Kors criticizes the "infantilization" of students, but he ought to have mentioned that most universities promote a Huxleyan world of irresponsible personal behavior conditioned on obeying certain political limits.

  • Randian||

    How do colleges promote irresponsible personal behavior?

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    There's this book as an example:

    "Sperber uses original research culled from students, faculty, and administrators around the country, to argue that what universities offer instead of a meaningful undergraduate education is a meager and dangerous substitute: the party scene surrounding college sports that Sperber calls "beer and circus" and which serves to keep the students happy while tuition dollars keep rolling in."

  • JWatts||

    Vast student loan debt for one.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Kors did some lectures for The Teaching Company. Great stuff. Reminds me of Asimov with that accent.

  • BMFPitt||

    I think I might have hung out with this guy at a bar one night when I was going to Drexel in 2003.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    I think the modern campus is the antithesis of the free society. What does this mean? It means that the 60's was a flaming fart from a jackass ass.

  • teuiwnmbjhb||

    More characteristics, novel style,varieties,and good quality low price

  • Ardelle||

    Being free to pick from a pre-selected number of variables that are all tightly controlled by the manufacturer of the product is a lot more like government as we have it today than it is libertopia.

  • mustking||

    I think the modern campus is the antithesis of the free society. HP Pavilion dv6 batteriaWhat does this mean? It means that the 60's was a flaming fart from a jackass ass. batteria Sony VGP-BPS13

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