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Janet Napolitano Defends Free Speech on University of California Campus

But UC's president has some blind spots in her pro-free speech stance.

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Janet Napolitano, free speech warrior?
DHS/Wikimedia Commons

University of California (UC) President Janet Napolitano wrote an impassioned defense of free speech on college campuses, published in the Boston Globe yesterday.

The former Obama administration Secretary of Homeland Security and erstwhile Arizona governor laments "how far we have moved from freedom of speech on campuses to freedom from speech," and describes the inhibiting of "the free flow of ideas" on campus—a place meant to "incubate discovery and learning"—as possessing an "irony that gives me pause."

Napolitano makes some excellent points. Among them:

  • "The oldest versions of the university were institutions of indoctrination, whether by the church or by the state. Not until the potent combination of the Enlightenment with the revolution in natural science inquiry did the value of free speech in democratic societies surface."
  • "In 1900…the benefactor of Stanford University, forced the firing of a faculty member in large part because he supported labor unions. Not until the Berkeley Free Speech Movement of the mid-60s was the principle established that the only limits on free speech should be those defined in the Constitution, at least as far as our nation's public universities were concerned."
  • With regards to the tactic of shouting down offensive speech or preventing problematic speakers from having their say at all, Napolitano argues, "the way to deal with extreme, unfounded speech is not with less speech — it is with more speech, informed by facts and persuasive argument. Educating students from an informed 'more speech' approach as opposed to silencing an objectionable speaker should be one of academia's key roles."

But Napolitano loses the narrative a bit when evoking the old misunderstood saw about "yelling 'Fire!' in a crowded theater" as impermissible speech. While creating a stampede for no good reason isn't protected speech, the Supreme Court decision which birthed that cliched analogy was actually about restricting the free speech of anti-war socialists during World War I—which is the kind of speech Napolitano seemingly would support the protection of, especially considering she evokes the anti-Vietnam War Free Speech Movement of the 1960s in this op-ed.

Conspicuously absent from Napolitano's op-ed is any mention of the policy adopted by UC's Board of Regents earlier this year that appears to conflate some expressions of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism—specifically, the "demonization of Israel, applying a double standard for Israel, and de-legitimizing Israel's right to exist," each of which was previously labeled by the State Department as an example of speech which crosses the line from political criticism of the nation-state of Israel to inciting hatred against a particular group. Though Napolitano supported the Board of Regents proposal, ultimately the board decided to list anti-Zionism as a form of "intolerable" speech, but did not impose a blanket ban on it.

It is understandable that Napolitano would not want to re-litigate that issue in her op-ed in support of free speech, but it remains a revealing blind spot. Activists on both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict should be able to have their voices heard on campus, however difficult their ideas might be to be hear.

As I wrote earlier this year for Reason, "holding the belief that the state of Israel's creation was misbegotten or unjust is a political position, one that is frequently debated in academia. While controversial, it is not necessarily motivated by anti-Semitism any more than someone opposed to Hamas running a de facto Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip is motivated by Islamophobia."

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  1. Educating students from an informed ‘more speech’ approach as opposed to silencing an objectionable speaker should be one of academia’s key roles

    Indeed it should. Let’s not forget that being evicted from a university can also be an educational experience, though.

    1. I left before they could throw me out!

    2. Being evicted from a university can indeed be educational, but perhaps not quite as much as going to prison. The biggest gap in Napolitano’s reasoning is her failure to confront the reality of the Trolls, and their vicious “parody” directed at well-connected individuals, including even distinguished members of the academic community. Clearly such trigger-speech should not be met with “more speech,” given the catastrophic consequences that would rapidly result; it should rather be immediately suppressed and reported to the police. See the documentation of America’s leading criminal “satire” case at:

      http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

    1. Don’t pay HM no mind, girl. He just think he Dolemite.

        1. +1 Human Tornado

        2. Hey! That Dolemite litany was the inspiration for that Schooly D ‘Signifying Rapper’ rap that opened Bad Lieutenant from 1989.

          The Kashmir riff mashed with Dolemite!

  2. “the way to deal with extreme, unfounded speech is not with less speech ? it is with more speech

    What about loud, shrill, screeching interruptions?

  3. I’m too lazy to google it… Is this the same Janet Napolitano that coined “see something, say something”?

    Cause if so, I couldn’t give 2 fucks about her pseudo “free speech” endorsement.

    1. If you see something, you are free to say something.

      Please note: here, “free” means “obligated.”

    2. Amazing how many people stand on principle when they are out of office who, when they were in a position of power, actively thwarted those principles.

      Yep. I couldn’t care less what she has to say on the matter.

    3. Yes. She’s the one. The former Stasi, er, DHS head who put in all the facial recognition cameras in all Walmarts, stadiums, motels, etc.. She said if you see something suspicious, like a person talking in another language, report it! Now in an ironic move she heads the UC system and claims free speech is good!?

  4. “The oldest versions of the university were institutions of indoctrination…Not until the potent combination of the Enlightenment with the revolution in natural science inquiry [wank wank wank]…

    “…Not until the Berkeley Free Speech Movement [wank wank wank]”

    This ingrate doesn’t know about the great heritage she invokes. Apparently she doesn’t know about the ldisputations in the medieval universities, where students were not only expected but *required* to use their reasoning skills to examine different sides of an issue:

    “…Disputation could occur before a scholarly audience, with one student arguing against a preannounced thesis, another dissecting his criticisms, and an instructor summing up the proceedings. It could be a private exercise between an instructor and his students. Or it could be conducted before the public, with the debaters taking on subjects de quolibet (“about anything at all”).

    “Sound familiar? It should?disputation is still central to Western higher education. The University of Paris made it a cornerstone of its pedagogy when it came to prominence in the 13th century, and the debate form “became an essential ingredient in the basic organization of academic learning,” Novikoff writes. The logic, rigor, and critical thought that became hallmarks of early modern Western intellectual culture can be traced to the medieval custom.”

    1. disputations, not ldisputations

    2. That’s not the same thing as modern “academic freedom,” of course, but modern academic freedom, as Napolitano seems to concede, is a rare bird.

    3. That was fundamentally different in that the premises those debaters assumed in common were grounded in superstition. That is why in retrospect they look silly. But you are correct, of course. In no other time or place, in no other culture did this sort of behavior give birth to an enlightenment on par with western, christian culture. There were other cultures that came close, that had similar behavior, but none of them had all of the ingredients for the cultural, social, technological, and moral explosion that was the western enlightenment.

  5. The Elightenment also brought about the current idiotic idea of “race” and socialism, among other things. It also perpetuated myths and lies about the so-called “Dark Ages” that many still believe today. For all the good it did, and it did a lot of good, it did just as much bad.

  6. I find it entertaining to see progs such as Bloomberg, Obama, and now Napolitano who claim to care about free speech. If you say anything that questions one of their pet causes, that speech will no longer be free.

    1. We cant let the future belong to those who slander the prophet of islam. We will just have to learn to see free speech in a different way, something more aligned with the views of the rest of the world.

    2. which means some of their leftist friends are starting to hear about from the crybullies who run roughshod over academics these days. The funny thing is that they believe reason and logic will convince the safespacers.

  7. If I may translate here: Napolitano wants “free speech” and lifetime employment regardless of performance for ideologically vetted and favorable faculty members; she still opposes “hate speech”, which is any speech that doesn’t toe the progressive party line.

  8. It’s significant that old line liberals in the UC system are starting to stand up for certain principles.

    The social justice warriors will almost certainly come after her for it, and I’m sure she knows that.

    Like I’ve said before, the problem with social justice warriors is that they eventually run out of other people to hate.

    1. When has that ever happened?

      1. University of Chicago is doing it, too . . . or “starting to”.

        http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08…..tness.html

        Making a statement about free speech isn’t without risk these days, and I’m glad to see some of these liberals starting to stand up for it.

        It’s certainly more than saying nothing.

      2. I’m also glad to see that it isn’t all about Robby’s fucking gorilla masks.

        Jesus, reading Robby defending free speech makes me wish I were against it.

      3. Constantly, they eventually eat their own.

      4. Answering Fusionist – July 28, 1794 – End of the Reign of Terror?

  9. RE: Janet Napolitano Defends Free Speech on University of California Campus
    But UC’s president has some blind spots in her pro-free speech stance.

    Only a fascist would approve of free speech.
    Just ask any progressive.

  10. Every dime extracted by the threat of force by a state legislature, the Congress, or a local government, and appropriated to pay for running a state-owned institution of higher ed, a la Cal-Berkeley, or any hybrid state/slash private version (think University of Pittsburgh) and even National Endowment grants to private Us, are free speech violations. Forced subsidy of speech ought to be unconstitutional.

  11. ‘As I wrote earlier this year for Reason, “holding the belief that the state of Israel’s creation was misbegotten or unjust is a political position, one that is frequently debated in academia. While controversial, it is not necessarily motivated by anti-Semitism any more than someone opposed to Hamas running a de facto Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip is motivated by Islamophobia.”‘

    Ok, but have you ever actually met anyone attacking Israel that wasn’t anti-Semitic? I’m sure they exist, but then again, so do hen’s teeth.

  12. While creating a stampede for no good reason isn’t protected speech

    The first amendment says no such thing. If someone responds to your speech by panicking and causing damage, that’s entirely their fault; the speaker did not create a stampede. I hold the – apparently unpopular – viewpoint that you are responsible for your own actions.

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