MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Three Pro-Free Speech Statements About College Campuses

Purdue's Mitch Daniels, Brookings' Jonathan Rauch, and students at Claremont-McKenna speak up loudly for the free and open exchange of ideas.

The past few weeks have not been good for free expression on the nation's college campuses. Indeed, virtually every day seems to bring news of another feckless college president or bureaucrat stepping down for failing to protect students from potentially hurt feelings and ugly episodes (at least one of which has been revealed to be a hoax).

So it's good to see at least a few instances of people standing up for free speech and due process on college campuses, where intellectual curiosity, integrity, and freedom is supposed to trump reactionary emotionalism.

One example is former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who now serves as president of Purdue University. Even as Yale bigwigs were flinching in the face of students angry over a discussion of how to deal with potentially offensive Halloween costumes, Daniels has released this statement:

First, that we strive constantly to be, without exception, a welcoming, inclusive and discrimination-free community, where each person is respected and treated with dignity.  Second, to be steadfast in preserving academic freedom and individual liberty.  

Such a statement of goals and governing principles is so widely shared as to be unexceptional. Yet it stands out in the current climate of weak-kneed appeasement to folks who insist that colleges and universities ensure that campuses provide "safe spaces."

Another examples comes from Jonathan Rauch of the Brookings Institution. A gay man who wrote one of the first book-length arguments in favor of gay marriage, Rauch is also the author of Kindly Inquisitors (1993), a powerful defense of free speech and intellectual freedom as the basis of any liberal, open society. Writing in the New York Daily News, Rauch argues:

Trigger warnings supposedly help students cope with (or avoid) exposure to upsetting ideas and images; their other purpose, I and many other free-speech advocates believe, is to chill the presentation of controversial material. Either way, they seek to make higher education emotionally safer by making it less intellectually dangerous....

It is only fair to warn students and their parents that higher education is not a Disney cruise. Tell them in advance so they can prepare. Not, however, with multiple trigger warnings festooning syllabi. One will suffice:

“Warning: Although this university values and encourages civil expression and respectful personal behavior, you may at any moment, and without further notice, encounter ideas, expressions and images that are mistaken, upsetting, dangerous, prejudiced, insulting or deeply offensive. We call this education.”

Finally, the staff of the Claremont Independent, a student newspaper at Claremont McKenna College (CMC) is pushing back against an almost-unbelievable situation that led to the school's dean of students resigning. A Mexican-American student wrote an editorial in a campus publication that detailed the ways in which she felt her heritage was systematically devalued in contemporary America.

"Anywhere from the media to the Claremont Colleges," wrote Lisette Espinosa,

I am constantly receiving the message that we aren't worth anything....Maybe most of us have felt out of place at Claremont McKenna College for one reason or another, but my feelings of not belonging cut deep across economic and racial lines. 

After reading the article, Mary Spellman, CMC's dean of students, wrote to Espinosa asking to talk with her about her experiences:

Would you be willing to talk with me sometime about these issues? They are important to me and the [Dean of Students] staff and we are working on how we can better serve students, especially those who don't fit our CMC mold.

I would love to talk with you more.

Spellman's use of the phrase those who don't fit our CMC mold offended two students so greatly they announced that they would go on hunger strikes until Spellman was dismissed or resigned her post.

Wrote one of the students, Taylor Lemmons:

I believe that Dean Spellman should resign as Dean of Students, due to her insensitive comments, her inaction in supporting marginalized students at Claremont McKenna College, and the fact that her actions, independent of any isolated incident, reflect her inability to truly understand the students at CMC....I will end my strike upon Dean Mary Spellman’s resignation.

Suffice it to say that Spellman resigned so quickly that Lemmons didn't have to skip more than a meal or two. Lemmons may well have been the first person in history to gain weight on a hunger strike.

In a public letter titled "We Dissent," the Claremont Independent staff inveighed against Spellman's pathetic and immediate capitulation to a self-evidently ridiculous demand; CMC's president for cowardly silence; and the student government's president, who gave cover and shelter to the protesters' demands. But the Independent staff directed its most serious admonition to their fellow students:

We are ashamed of you for trying to end someone’s career over a poorly worded email. This is not a political statement––this is a person’s livelihood that you so carelessly sought to destroy. We are disappointed that you chose to scream and swear at your administrators. That is not how adults solve problems, and your behavior reflects poorly on all of us here in Claremont. This is not who we are and this is not how we conduct ourselves, but this is the image of us that has now reached the national stage....

We are disappointed in students like ourselves, who were scared into silence. We are not racist for having different opinions. We are not immoral because we don’t buy the flawed rhetoric of a spiteful movement. We are not evil because we don’t want this movement to tear across our campuses completely unchecked.

Earlier this year, it seemd plausible to think that the high tide of political correctness might have crested. Liberal pundits such as Jonathan Chait were pushing back against stultifying speech codes in widely read and influential essays. Laura Kipnis, an impeccably liberal, feminist journalism professor, called attention to her Star Chamber hearings at Northwestern after writing an essay about her sex life. Bill Maher, the foul-mouthed and iconoclastic progressive comedian who rarely misses an opportunity to mock conservative Republicans and death-dealing jihadists, railed against Berkeley students who protested his appearance at that bastion of left-wing groupthink.

Clearly, the death of political correctness has been exaggerated, even though the past few weeks' protests have the ring of a flailing death rattle to them. Whether we are indeed seeing the final, desperate offenses mounted by a dying army or not, it's inspiring to see the nation's op-ed pages and especially its campuses filling up with people who are unabashedly and unapologetically defending free speech and intellectual discourse.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Notorious UGCC||

    One would like to think that the functioning-neuron, non-insane contingent among the progressives would finally rally and marginalize the freaky-deaky insane types.

    But it never seems to happen.

    Starting with Jacobins v. Girondins, left-wing infighting is just a contest in which whoever manages to out-crazy the other, wins.

    The early Cold War seemed to be an exception, when the Americans for Democratic Action and others tried to boot out the actual Stalinists, but before you knew it, the "moderate" leftists were engaging in tortured self-criticism about how they persecuted the poor communists.

    Instead of waiting for the sane Girondists to ride in on their white horses, let's call upon the uncivilized conservative mobs - at least they have a track record of bitch-slapping radical leftist idiocy.

  • Notorious UGCC||

    [note: this post made use of *metaphors* like "bitch-slapping" and "mobs" - do you know what a metaphor is, kids? I knew you did!]

  • MSimon||

    If only the bitch slapping was as real as the mobs.

  • Harun||

    Where would be find Muscadins today?

    Also, I think the use of skin color and identity politics will make this way more difficult to stamp out.

    You can already see where things are going: people of color want "their turn" to be the master race.

  • Cloudbuster||

    One would like to think that the functioning-neuron, non-insane contingent among the progressives...

    That contingent is standing right over there, in between the unicorn and fairy contingents.

  • Christophe||

    Meh, the typical anti-communist backlash consist of a triangulated half-disguised socialism wrapped in healthy servings of nationalism.

    It usually doesn't end well.

    At this point I recommend the Fire Department approach:

    1. Know at least 2 exits.
    2. Have an evacuation plan.

  • SIV||

    "Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius."

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    "I am constantly receiving the message that we aren't worth anything...."

    Not we, you. You aren't worth anything, and you've proven it repeatedly.

  • MSimon||

    You left out the most important sentence in the Claremont Editorial.

    We are no longer afraid to be voices of dissent.

  • ||

    Watching mass hysteria in action is both fascinating and highly disturbing. Seeing these responses to it are heartening, but the fact it was able to get even close to where it is right now is...concerning.

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    The timing is perfect, IMO. People are seriously throwing the idea of free college around right now. This meltdown couldn't have come at a better time.

  • The Grinch||

    That's an angle I hadn't considered. No one will want to pour their taxes into bastions of insanity. It seems every dark cloud really does have a silver lining.

  • ||

    It may be that it happened now either because this is the final misguided push for free college, or because they think they aren't going to get that free college, and this is the tantrum.

  • R C Dean||

    Either way, I'm hoping this actually does permanent damage to our ossified, toxic higher education guild. Enough damage to create room for alternatives.

  • Harun||

    Great point.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Whatever happened to the good old days when the leader of the crazy people would make a big batch of cyanide punch and they would all put us out of their misery. Let's go back to that.

  • Microaggressor||

    But what else do you know about Bernie's tax plan?

  • Lee G||

    LOL

  • R C Dean||

    I am constantly receiving the message that we aren't worth anything

    I suspect she may be misinterpreting messages that her whiny, entitled ass isn't worth anything.

  • Scarecrow & WoodChipper Repair||

    One fun way to confuse progs is try to pin them down on exactly how they will use the 1%'s wealth to finance their dreams. Do they mean wealth or income? If they mean wealth, then do they realize that it only has fungible value once it's sold, and the only possible buyers are the people they just confiscated it from? If they mean income, do they realize that income comes from managing the wealth, and if you steal that wealth and give it to progressives, they will mismanage it right into bankruptcy and no value?

    It requires progressives who are earnestly trying to show how realistic their outlook is, but there are a lot of them that stupid.

  • Harun||

    Also, if they advocate wealth, ask if the value of pensions will be considered. Government employees with nice pensions that retire at age 57 have an asset worth millions of dollars.

    You will never see a lefty change their mind faster than a government employee once this is brought up.

  • creech||

    "First, that we strive constantly to be, without exception, a welcoming, inclusive and discrimination-free community, where each person is respected and treated with dignity. Second, to be steadfast in preserving academic freedom and individual liberty. "

    Methinks Gov. Daniels has his priorities reversed here.

  • SusanM||

    Somehow, I don't think anyone here will find this funny...

    http://xkcd.com/1357/

  • Pan Zagloba||

    Well, best I can say about that comic is that it didn't make my opinion of XKCD Guy any lower.

  • Christophe||

    In defense of XKCD guy, this is an old comic. Doubt he'd endorse the insanity we're now seeing.

  • SIV||

    Not funny but it's true.

  • meister574||

    The reason there is not more push back is because most people who go to college are not really interested in this stuff. The ones that are pushing back are the ones that care about a college education being something that challenges you. But the majority of college students today are there because they have to be. They cannot get a descent job without a college degree, even if it will have nothing to do with what job they get. So they just keep there head down, shut up and get out as soon as they can.

  • Harun||

    Also, everything is on the internet now.

    The black kid who's dad makes 6 million dollars a year, or the female Latina who plans a career as a diversity officer are not worried about what they say.

    Anyone opposing them would be smart to know they will be branded a racist, even for just saying "All Lives Matter."

    The use of racism and "safety" issues is very strong lever.

  • pronomian||

    The need of a university degree to get a good job is crap. There are some instances where one may need one but the claim that everyone who wants to get a good job is false. My oldest is in film, he went to a vocation school, later told me he really didn't need to. My youngest and his fiancee are both in banking, and very successful at it. They had very limited community college but not degree. I had a successful career as an Air Traffic Controller, no college, I had military experience. Then we have those in history, Lincoln, Giannini, Anne Beiler, Anselm Adams, Orek, Frank Lloyd Wright, Eastman, Jimmy Dean, to name a few. Some people who own their own franchises started on the bottom and worked their way up.

  • Harun||

    Going further, the students demand the people behind "free speech" fliers be required to go through a disciplinary process as well as “extensive training for racial and cultural competency.”

  • pronomian||

    I don't understand why students are letting themselves be forced into "free speech" zones. Push it and run it to the SCOTUS. As long as they are corralled and let themselves be so, that "zone" will get smaller and smaller and have more restrictions put on it. Maybe they should take the administration building in protest.

  • LarryA||

    It would be interesting to know if Dean Spellman resigned because she actually thought she did something wrong, or if she was just fed up and said, "Screw it, I'm outa here."

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online