The Death of Free Speech on Campus

Few of us like to be exposed to opinions contrary to our own or to be challenged by facts that challenge our opinions. There is a natural temptation to suppress opinions that do not comport with our own, as Justice Holmes noted: “Persecution for the expression of opinions seems to me perfectly logical. If you have no doubt of your premises or your power and want a certain result with all your heart you naturally express your wishes in law and sweep away all opposition.”

There are any number of reasons to resist the totalitarian temptation, however. Most of us lack the power to enforce our orthodoxy on others. Some may resist the temptation when they do possess the power out of the recognition that one day in the future others might possess the power to suppress their thought and expression.

Or perhaps we are products of a culture that places a supreme value on the freedom of individuals to form their own opinions and express them as to the proper ends of life and were raised on the quote attributed to Voltaire, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Our founding fathers fashioned a Bill of Rights that gave pride of place to freedom of speech, and which sought to avoid any abridgment of that freedom by government. But as Judge Learned Hand warned, no legal regime is sufficient in and of itself to protect freedom of speech, if its underlying rationale is not embedded deep in the fiber of the people: “I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws, and upon courts… Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women, when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it.”

The evidence mounts that appreciation of the values underlying the First Amendment can no longer be assumed at either the popular or elite level. A recent Rasmussen poll reveals that 55% of Americans agree that the government should be allowed to review candidates’ campaign ads for their accuracy and punish those it deems false; only 31% disagreed. While that result in part reflects the public’s dismal and justified view of the probity of politicians and their campaign propaganda, still the majority seem blissfully unaware that founding fathers viewed the government as the greatest threat to freedom of speech and would have recoiled at the idea of the government as the arbiter of permissible political speech.

PERHAPS EVEN MORE FRIGHTENING is the declining appreciation at the elite level for individual autonomy to think and speak as one wants. Our elites are being educated on campuses governed by speech codes whose underlying premise is that no members of favored “identity groups” should ever suffer any offense. The idea that individuals or groups have a “right” never to feel offended is antithetical to the robust speech that the First Amendment seeks to protect.

Mark Steyn, who is all too familiar with the thought control police from his battles with various Canadian human rights commissions, describes modern universities as “no longer institutions of inquiry but ‘safe spaces’ where delicate flowers of diversity of race, sex, orientation, ‘gender fluidity’ and everything else except diversity of thought have to be protected from exposure to any unsafe ideas. As it happens, the biggest ‘safe space’ on the planet is the Muslim world.”

Muslims have at least partially succeeded in imposing Islamic blasphemy laws on the rest of the world. Consider the case of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whose invitation to speak at the Brandeis commencement was recently rescinded at the urging of Muslim groups and the usual cast of their useful idiots. In the identity-obsessed university culture, Hirsi Ali should hit all the right buttons: She is a woman, black, Somalian-born, an atheist, and crusader for women. Her only problem is that she has focused her energies on the misogyny of Islamic societies – female mutilation, forced consanguine and child marriages, honor killings. She is herself a victim of all but honor killing, and lived under armed guard as a parliamentarian in the Netherlands, after her collaborator on a film on women in Islamic society, Theodore Van Gogh. had his throat slit. That it can be empirically demonstrated that the practices she describes have deep roots in contemporary Islamic societies availed her nothing.

Similarly, Brown University officials took no steps last October to ensure that former NYPD Superintendent Raymond Kelly would be able to complete a scheduled speech on campus, despite being warned days in advance of planned disruptions and having had their offer to allow expanded time for questions and debate rejected. Kelly incurred the wrath of Muslim groups for the NYPD’s surveillance of mosques for signs terrorist activity. Again, all the evidence that that surveillance had enabled the NYPD to nip numerous terrorist plots in the bud did not earn Kelly the right to be heard – or at least not if Muslim students and townies felt “offended.”

Of course, not all ethnic minorities are treated with the same kid gloves. Few universities have acted to protect Jewish students from the “hurt” of the annual Israel Apartheid Week hate fests, and some have even allowed academic departments and professors to put their imprimatur on those activities via the sponsorship of events and speakers. Jewish students at whom anti-Semitic insults and even threats are hurled have little chance of redress, especially if those hurling the insults are Muslims or other members of favored minorities. The campus as a “safe place” exists only for selected groups.

WHILE CAMPUS ADMINISTRATORS push all sorts of affirmative action quotas for various minorities – except, of course, Asians — the one type of diversity in which they have no interest is precisely that of greatest relevance to their educational mission: ideological diversity. Outside of the hard sciences and engineering faculties, probably no more than 10% of most faculties voted Republican in 2012, and the more elite the university the lower the percentage. The bitter tenure fights over Thomas Pangle at Yale in the late ’70s and Peter Berkowitz at Harvard a decade later — both of whom were enormously popular and widely published teachers, with an interest in classical philosophy — revealed how far the country’s leading universities are, in Berkowitz’s words, from fostering “a spirit of tolerant of dissent [and] keen on competition between rival opinions and ideas.”

For most of the twelve contributors to Why I Turned Right (2007), the monolithic nature of American academia, especially at the elite universities, and the lack of encouragement of debate, first opened their eyes. David Brooks of The New York Times reported that he never had a conservative professor at the University of Chicago, despite it being the home of the “Chicago school” of economics. (On a personal note, I can say that when I was an undergraduate at University of Chicago a decade earlier, there were still a number of conservative scholars on the social science and humanities faculties, and many professors whose politics could not be remotely discerned from their teaching. Still I assiduously avoided any exposure to the great Milton Friedman to my lasting shame.) Psychiatrist Sally Saltel was 36 years old and an assistant professor at Yale for five years before she met her first Republican. For former Harvard lecturer Stanley Kurtz the turning point came when many faculty members at Berkeley attempted to prevent U.N. Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick from speaking.

In a column in the Wall Street Journal this week, Daniel Henniger traces the regnant campus attitudes to philosopher Herbert Marcuse, the godfather of campus speech codes and political correctness. Marcuse had the old Marxist penchant for Orwellian inversion of terms according to “objective” criterion best discerned by him. “The restoration of freedom of thought,” he taught, “may necessitate new and rigid restrictions on teachings and practices in the educational institutions.” Traditional notions of “tolerance,” he argued are often just means for protecting entrenched oppression. And thus “the [liberating] objective of tolerance would call for intolerance toward prevailing policies, attitudes and opinions.” “Certain things cannot be said, certain ideas cannot be expressed, certain policies cannot be proposed,” he preached, and accordingly “certain groups and movements” cannot be tolerated.

Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man and Repressive Tolerance were also widely read by undergraduates in my day. But the inmates had not yet taken over the asylum, and they would have gained little assent from the faculty and administration. But those undergraduates of my generation have gone on to spread the Marcusian gospel throughout higher education. The Commissars of Truth of the future are being produced on today’s campuses.

STEYN QUOTES SWARTHMORE COLLEGE STUDENT Erin Ching who protests, in a letter to the student paper, “the whole idea that at a liberal arts college we need to be hearing a diversity of opinion.”Harvard Crimson oped writer Sandra Korn offers a full-blown plan for ensuring that exposure to differing views is not inflicted on students. In a recent, oped, she decries the whole notion of academic freedom and urges in its place what she terms academic justice. Only those who advocate justice, as defined by Korn, would be allowed to speak with the authority of a position on the Harvard faculty, for “only those who care about justice can take the moral upper hand.”

Among those she would dismiss are political philosopher Harvey Mansfield for expressing the “sexist” view that a lack of female modesty and the proliferation of harassment charges are not entirely unrelated. She quotes approvingly of the American Studies Association’s resolution supporting an academic boycott of Israel on the grounds that “there is no effective or substantive academic freedom for Palestinian students and scholars under conditions of Israeli occupation.” I wonder if she knows that under Jordanian and Egyptian occupation, there were no universities of any kind in the West Bank or Gaza, and that Israel built seven for Palestinians.

Critic Bruce Bawer does something I can never imagine inflicting upon myself and dives into Korn’s larger corpus of work. The result tells us a good deal about the value of the Harvard education for which her parents shelled out close to $300,000. Fortunately, they can afford it. This avatar of social justice grew up in a home purchased for $800,000 in 1998. Her mother is a pediatric endocrinologist and her father’s website boasts that he has raised $250 million of capital.

One column suggests the value of her concentration in gender studies. She protests those professors who encourage her not to say “like” and “you know” in every sentence for imposing a “masculinist” paradigm on her speech. Bawer discovers from Harvard’s website that a history of science major, like Korn, need take no actual science courses. Korn’s undergraduate thesis seeks to demonstrate that biologists have attempted to explain gender differences using “science.” “She has learned about science – without really learning any science – in order to discredit “science,” which she puts in scare quotes,” writes Bawer.

Elsewhere she laments the jingoism of her fellow Harvard undergraduates celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden, protests the cultural imperialism of Harvard distributing lecture courses via the internet, and criticizes commemorations of 9/11 that fail to pay “tribute to the Muslim victims of ‘bias crimes” in the U.S. since 9/11.” Perhaps the reason for the lack of such tributes is that there have been virtually no such crimes.

Summing up Korn’s body of writing, Bawer concludes that she “shows no sign that she has been educated at all in any sense of the term – no sign that she’s learned anything of significance about, say, history or economics, . . . , no sign that she grasps the concept of challenging one’s assumptions by taking in unfamiliar facts and grappling with ideas from one’s own.” In sum, “she’s swallowed an ideology whole and learned to spit it back. Her unoriginality, her predictability, are matched only by her colossal self-assurance.”

It is that latter characteristic – Korn’s colossal self-assurance that she can determine what is justice – even more than her ignorance and intellectual shortcomings that create such frightening intimations of what America has to look forward to from the products of its elite universities.

Next: the seepage of the contempt for free speech into the general culture.

This article first appeared in Yated Ne’eman.

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10 Responses

  1. Howard Tzvi says:

    Sadly the cowardice exhibited by Brandeis was applauded by the media and even some Rabbis

  2. Toby Katz says:

    The liberals take very, very tender care of the feelings of feminists, gays, left-leaning blacks, environmentalists, American Indians, and all other certified victim groups. They do it because leftists make sure fellow leftists never have to confront opposing points of view.

    When it comes to Muslims, however, there is a completely different dynamic at play. Liberals know perfectly well that women in Muslim countries are the most oppressed women in the world; they know that gays are stoned in Muslim countries; they know that Muslim Arabs routinely slaughter and enslave black Christians in sub-Saharan Africa. Liberals do not actually, in their heart of hearts, agree with the Muslims.

    Rather, there two other reasons they coddle Muslims. One reason is “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” — liberals hate the West, Arabs hate the West, so for now, they are natural allies.

    But that’s not the major reason. The second and far more important reason they coddle the Muslims is that liberals live in abject fear. Vis-a-vis the Muslim world, the whole liberal western elite is infected with a bad case of “Stockholm syndrome” — afraid to do or say anything that would offend the Muslims, in case they perpetrate another act of terrorism. They are literally afraid, physically afraid. So, like kidnap victims, they “fall in love” with their captors, who hold the power of life and death over them. Some would call them craven cowards, others would say they are merely being prudent.

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s friend, Theo Van Gogh, was murdered in broad daylight in Amsterdam — one of the world’s most liberal cities — for the crime of making a documentary telling the truth about how Muslims treat women.

    Liberals live in fear of the same thing happening to them. They are terrified of being murdered — not metaphorically but literally — stabbed, bombed, shot, beheaded — by Muslims. That’s why they go along with CAIR’s pretense that it is just another civil rights group making sure nobody hurts Muslims’ feelings. Pure, abject, stomach-wrenching fear.

  3. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    It may be time to declare universities obsolete, an overblown and overpriced method of getting an education. There are plenty of online resources to get all that knowledge AND the methodology of asking serious questions. There is a demand. There will eventually be a a supply. The problem at the moment is that the universities are run by a privileged elite with a monopoly on the academic recognition. You can know a lot and express yourself well without ever going to a university, but you can’t get jobs that require academic qualifications and you can’t publish in professional journals. The academic mafia therefore has you branded as a quack if you don’t toe their line. A grass-roots revolution against this tyranny is needed. For us Torah Jews and other people with moral ideals, there is a clear and present danger to the integrity of kids who go into universities where all sorts of nonsense goes on which can morally debase people and make them vulnerable to the leftist brainwashing. Chazal said, Israel only worshipped idols in order to make sexual immorality permissible.

  4. Andrew says:

    As a matter of law, there is no right to have your speech sponsored by a private entity, like a university or a yeshiva. However, exposing students to a diverse array of views is a good idea, and can make them a wiser and more thoughtful person.

    Shouldn’t we admit that the secular universities cited in this article (though imperfect advocates of free speech they may be) do a better job exposing their students to diverse viewpoints than most Orthodox yeshivos?

  5. Yaakov Menken says:

    I think Andrew has touched on a much more fundamental difference between a university and a yeshiva. The goal of a (secular) university is not to lay claim to one particular philosophy or truth, but just the opposite. It is supposed to be an open market, rather than tied to a particular political world-view. The universities claim to welcome all world-views.

    The goal of a yeshiva, on the other hand, is to find and teach the Emes. Like any other school with an openly-declared philosophy and worldview (Catholic, Protestant, and Islamic schools among them), the fact that yeshivos do not pretend to be universities does not excuse the hypocrisy of universities that fail to be true to their own proclaimed mission.

  6. Dave says:

    Andrew – the purpose of Yeshivas is not to expose students to diverse viewpoints – it is to teach and learn the Torah that has been passed down through the generations from Moshe at Sinai to us today.

    On the other hand, secular universities all view themselves as paragons of diverse thought where students who have accumulated their three R’s through high school (which is questionable too) can now broaden their minds and expand their knowledge by being exposed to the the great thinkers of the past and present. The idea that certain ideas are allowed and others barred from campus should be anathema to academia. But the liberal mindset that has overtaken most of the university world has lost its taste for debate, and prefers to hold onto only their ideas and ideals which become then “settled” and undiscussable.

    So no, the secular bunch do a bad job at their job and the Yeshivas are irrelevant to the conversation.

  7. Ori Pomerantz says:

    I fully agree with what you wrote here. I do find it interesting to see this was published in Yated Ne’eman, which I thought was published for a culture whose higher education institutions (the Yeshivot) also filter the influences on their students. Or am I missing something?

    Note: I realize this comment is somewhat snarky, but I am honestly asking. I’d rather ask questions and be thought ignorant or stupid, rather than keep quiet and stay ignorant.

  8. Mr. Cohen says:

    Arabs and Muslims donate millions of dollars to American universities.

    These universities will not allow their donors to be offended,
    considering how difficult it is to find multi-million-dollar donors.

  9. lawrence kaplan says:

    I understand the difference between a Yeshiva and a University Still, the description of Sandra Korn, based on her writings, seems to me to apply not only University students. Particularly, the last two sentences, “In sum, ‘she’s swallowed an ideology whole and learned to spit it back. Her unoriginality, her predictability, are matched only by her colossal self-assurance,'” seem to me to accurately characterize many Yeshiva students– and Alumni.

  10. Ori Pomerantz says:

    I apologize, my last comment was misleading. It isn’t just the difference between the stated ideology of a Yeshiva and the stated ideology of a University. Looking from the outside, I’d have expected Haredi society to be much more sympathetic to the idea that people should be protected from toxic ideas than mainstream society. I am glad to see that isn’t the case, at least among the English readership of Yated Neeman.

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