Campus Free Speech

The Academic Freedom Podcast #4 with David French

A conversation about fighting for free speech on campus and the trouble with legislative restrictions on it.


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This episode of the podcast features my conversation with David French, the former president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and current senior editor at The Dispatch. We talk about his experience in the trenches defending free speech on college campuses, the growing hostility to liberal values in some segments of the American right, and recent legislative efforts to ban "divisive concepts" and "critical race theory" in American schools, including state universities.

From the podcast, on the difference between students and professors in free speech controversies:

We had a lot of professor inquiries, but very few professors willing to sort of make a public stand. So the students were much more willing to sort of like saddle up and go to battle against their university. And the professors were much less willing. There were there was more than one instance where I would talk to a professor who'd be in there and they would have tenure. But they would be in their office and they would be talking to me in hushed tones, lest anyone overhear them. And this is, again, going back 15 years. And so we did have some professor litigation, including what I think is either the first or one of the first cases where we actually won a jury trial on behalf of a professor who had been denied a promotion because of his political point of view. And that was Mike Adams sadly committed suicide during the pandemic. And that case was- you know, it's understandable why people would have reluctance to challenge their school. He won. He won. He got his promotion. He got all of the back pay that he was due. You know, he was vindicated. But the whole process also took seven years. So that's a hard, hard thing to endure when you're when your professional reputation in your professional, in your peer relationships are on the line.

On recent state legislative efforts to ban "critical race theory" in schools:

You will see young kids in a public school system in this state or this city being taught some pretty outrageous stuff about race. You know, you'll see some diversity, DEI diversity, equity, inclusion training programs that are almost like a caricature of critical race theory that will place people into racial affinity groups that will, you know, put people on privileged walks. I mean, these things actually exist. And many of them are so, actually so outrageous as to, in all likelihood, violate civil rights law by being racially discriminatory. But there's been little sense of how widespread it is. For example, how much does it actually exist in your own local school?

And so there was there was a rush to try to ban critical race theory. And so because critical race theory is such a slippery concept to define concisely, it's got a lot of different branches, a lot of different scholars, a lot of the scholars will argue with each other. They instead began to ban the not just the advocacy of certain specific concepts, but the inclusion of these concepts in courses in some of the concepts. So the concept it might be the idea that one race is inherently superior to another, which is a concept that, if taught in class, would violate civil rights law. Right. But it began to be these concepts. There were a variety of these concepts that were attempted that that schools attempted or legislatures attempted to ban. And that the breadth and the vagueness of these statutes began to be very, very concerning, they weren't just replicating the requirements of civil rights law, for example, they weren't just replicating the requirements of the First Amendment, which prohibits, for example, compelled speech. They were going way beyond that.

And they were both under inclusive and overinclusive. They were under inclusive in the sense that they weren't banning critical race theory. They weren't. But they were overinclusive in that they were banning kinds of conversations and an instruction that even the legislators themselves would say we didn't intend to ban. And so they were very sloppily written. They would have a profound, chilling effect and wouldn't even accomplish the goal that they were drafted to accomplish. Other than that, they were fine.

Listen to the whole thing.

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  1. Ibram XXX Kendi wasn’t available?

    1. Don’t like David French’s firm policies and beliefs? Slip him a $20 and he will change them for you.

      1. It appears bigoted, disaffected right-wingers have turned on David French. Did Trump tweet something negative about him?

  2. David French, “Don’t ban CRT in toto because you might throw out the anti-racist baby with the CRT bathwater. Instead pay me money to sue to stop it piecemeal. Should only take 10s of 1000s of dollars and about 5 years. If you lose, I still got paid. if you win, I still got paid and you’ve accomplished nothing because your case isn’t applicable to anyone else. And your kid probably graduated years before in any case.”

    1. You nailed him.

    2. In fairness to French, I suspect those clients are responsible for paying the costs (or expenses) of litigation — which can be substantial and for which a downpayment of some amount is typical — but it’s doubtful that those clients pay him by the hour. Which means that, absent a win or a settlement, French isn’t getting paid his fees. With respect to the length of time for a case to be litigated, well, it’s hard to say you’re wrong.

    3. Trump broke no one like he broke French.

      1. Trump broke French the way lemon juice causes paper cuts. If you know what I mean. All he did was expose that French was broken.

  3. With regard to professors, it’s hardly surprising that a field whose brass ring is guaranteed lifetime employment and light hours–as opposed to, say, lots of money or a chance to change the world–would attract cowardly conformists.

    1. Derrick Bell (not to be confused with Derek Bell) didn’t strike me as a cowardly conformist, but I met him but twice.

      I gather you never met him. Perhaps such a meeting would have improved your perspective.

    2. How much do you know about corporate environments?

      Lots of cowardly conformists and yes-men running around there as well. Few middle managers are bold entrepreneurs.

  4. “inclusion training programs that are almost like a caricature of critical race theory”

    Maybe the caricatures of critical race theory aren’t actually caricatures, but instead are fairly accurate?

  5. Is this one called a podcast because it’s two clingers in a pod?

    1. Throw in a gay sex reference. You know you want to.

      1. Interesting lurch, you bigoted hayseed.

  6. One thing French knows nothing about is freedom. He is authoritarian through and through.

    1. Does he support Prof. Volokh’s Federalist Society plan to censor Twitter and Facebook?

      1. Welcome to the Rev’s bizzaro world, where not allowing a company to censor people is “censoring” that company!

  7. Did you ask him about pretending to be a conservative while taking liberal dollars to advocate for some sort of vague conservative principles that always winds up meaning he attacks conservatives and supports liberals?

    Does he think campus free speech issues will get better with the Democrats he supported in 2020 in charge of the Dept. of Education?

    Have the nice tweets been everything he hoped?

    I like how he pretends that actual offensive CRT trainings are rare and it’s just outliers that get propped up as being typical (nevermind that many of these examples are straight from school boards and teachers’ unions which mean they are in fact being implemented throughout), but then he has the gall to say that the typical pushback against these has been overbroad and not specifically targeted, which is actually taking outliers and pretending they’re the typical reaction.

    1. Indeed, he really does need to be asked about that. Is he saying offensive CRT training is rare because that’s what he’s being paid to say?

  8. I have it on good authority that if these anti-CRT laws pass, students will be forced to attend antebellum-style balls where the whites sip mint juleps and the blacks serve them.

    Then everyone, white, black, asian, etc. will be obliged to sing the Confederate National Anthem, put on Klan robes, and burn a giant cross in the football field.

    1. Even worse, if those laws pass schools might not be able to hold “BiPoc Only” BBQs!

      I mean, how can we possibly have good “anti-racism” if schools aren’t allowed to segregate people based on their skin color?

      1. They have barbecue that far up nawth?

        1. Racism? Why, every week we got people of both races sitting outside the country store, drinking moonshine and spitting tobacco juice, until we finally pile into the truck and conduct our weekly hunt for secular humanists. It’s good fun for Godfearin’ folks of every race!

        2. Everybody’s got barbecue. They just mean something different by it.

      2. It is being held at White Hall so it is inclusive.

  9. ‘recent legislative efforts to ban “divisive concepts” and “critical race theory” in American schools, including state universities’

    As opposed to cancel culture destroying people lives for their “divisive concepts”, which is perfectly fine.

    Shorter David French:
    It is entirely acceptable for the Left to destroy people’s lives for disagreeing with them, but it’s utterly unacceptable for the Right to refuse to fund the Left pushing their racist and other destructive ideas on our children.

    I was going to ask “what kind of mental midget brings on David French, for any reason other than to attack him for his utter dishonesty?”

    But you’ve answered that question, so thank you for letting us know you’re not worth listening to, either.

    I was going to say that David French is the kind of guy that, if he’d been a Jew in Nazi Germany, he’d be a Kapo.

    But I realized that’s unfair to Kapos. because, so far as i know, they didn’t fight to get the Nazis in charge. unlike David “blessings of liberty” French, who’s always happy for a good “culture war” fight, so long as he’s fighting against conservatives.

    1. I can see why you dislike him: he’s everything you’re not: principled, conservative, and intelligent.

      1. Well, David, as you’re none of the above, your ability to “see” such things in others is not something I’m going to worry about

  10. > I mean, these things actually exist.

    I will pay attention to this retread race panic when the experts start pointing to real life examples.

  11. Regarding CRT, should we also be allowed to teach eugenics? I mean libertarian free speech and stuff right?

    The answer is yes to both IMO, at least college/university, but I also think that states can prohibit it by legislation at public schools

    1. Do you mean teach those things as in “teach the controversy”, or teach them as being Truth?

  12. Blah blah blah.

    End the trillion dollar student loan heist perpetrated for the benefit of “academics.”

  13. Does a White, male, right-wing blog (with thinning academic veneer) generate commenters who are obsolete bigots . . . or merely attract them?

    1. I don’t know, racist. Did he generate you, or did you already exist?

      1. Guys like me were winning the culture war before Prof. Volokh began contributing to the losing side from the doomed fringe of American academia.

  14. “We had a lot of professor inquiries, but very few professors willing to sort of make a public stand. So the students were much more willing to sort of like saddle up and go to battle against their university. And the professors were much less willing. ”

    At worst, students would be banned from paying exorbitant tuitions for speaking out, while faculty might find tenure or future employment negated. Big surprise?

  15. French is about as fake as they come. I don’t think he believes his own dribble.

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