The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

Free Speech

Andrew Koppelman (Northwestern) and Me, Moderated by Judge Stephanos Bibas, on "Freedom of Thought on Campus"


I much enjoyed this Federalist Society discussion (sponsored by the Georgetown Law Student Chapter and by the Free Speech & Election Law Practice Group) and hope you do, too! Here's their summary:

Is open discussion and debate essential to the function of the university?

Many universities, including Georgetown, have adopted strong policies on academic freedom, affirming that deliberation or debate may not be suppressed because ideas put forth might be offensive, unwise, immoral or ill conceived.

But when controversy arises on campus, concrete complaints about offensive speech can displace these abstract principles of academic freedom.

What does an environment conducive to learning require? What kinds of limits should govern the ideas that students are exposed to by their teachers and classmates? Should students be exposed to ideas or opinions that are offensive? Should students have recourse to administrative action when faced with an offensive opinion? What kind of harm does offense entail?

On the other hand, when administrators step in to punish offending speech, does that decision come with consequences? And who bears the resulting harm attendant on limiting who can speak or what opinions can be expressed? Who measures what kind of opinions or statements are harmful or not?