The Washington Post decries the suppression and deplatforming of speech by students

May 1, 2023 • 9:30 am

Is a turning point really being reached in the War Against Wokeness?  Every time I read a piece in the mainstream media decrying  the pernicious antics of the Authoritarian Left (one of the terms I use for “the woke”), I think to myself, “Is the tide really turning at long last?”

Well, it’s not going to any time soon—if for no other reason than that most of the mainstream media (and this still includes the NYT) is still woke, and because DEI initiatives have firmly installed themselves on college campuses, grasping onto academia like an octopus. (The idea behind these isn’t bad, but the way these initiatives are perpetrated, hand in hand with Diktats against “hate speech”, is harmful.)  Such initiatives, employing thousands of minions throughout the U.S., won’t easily go away, even if the Supreme Court, as expected, rules against affirmative action based on race.

BUT, here we have the entire editorial board of the Washington Post applauding the actions of schools like Stanford and Cornell in resisting the demands of the woke. Yep, the entire editorial board; this is no one-off by a disaffected academic.  And it mentions at least two schools whose anti-wokeness I hadn’t heard of. Click headline below to read:

Here are the incidents of pushback they describe (quotes from the Post are indented:

a.) The statement by the president of Cornell University that trigger warnings should not be mandatory.

In March, a Cornell University sophomore and member of the undergraduate student assembly saw a friend become visibly disturbed while reading “The Surrendered,” a Chang-rae Lee novel with a graphic rape scene. So she spearheaded a resolution that “implores all instructors to provide content warnings on the syllabus for any traumatic content that may be discussed.”

On the surface, this story has all the trappings of a wider phenomenon increasingly prevalent on American university campuses: the curtailing of academic inquiry, and sometimes even free speech, for the protection of perceived student “sensitivities” — invisible boundaries whose contours are never quite clear but almost always couched as barriers against “harm.” What happened next is cause for celebration: The Cornell administration immediately struck down this resolution, a welcome reminder that academic institutions have the power to defend their fundamental values — and are willing to use it.

“We cannot accept this resolution as the actions it recommends would infringe on our core commitment to academic freedom and freedom of inquiry, and are at odds with the goals of a Cornell education,” wrote Cornell’s president, Martha E. Pollack, and its provost, Michael I. Kotlikoff, in a letter rejecting the student assembly’s plea for trigger warnings. Although they did note, understandably, that “in some cases faculty may wish to provide notice,” an outright trigger warning requirement, they noted, “would have a chilling effect on faculty, who would naturally fear censure lest they bring a discussion spontaneously into new and challenging territory, or fail to accurately anticipate students’ reaction to a topic or idea.”

b.) Penn State strikes back as well:

Earlier this month, Neeli Bendapudi, the president of Penn State, released a recorded statement defending her university’s embrace of controversial speakers. The Supreme Court, she reminded her viewers, has long held that public universities such as Penn State are bound by the First Amendment. But she also reiterated a moral reason to continue welcoming diverse, and even offensive, opinions: “For centuries, higher education has fought against censorship and for the principle that the best way to combat speech is with more speech.”

Watch the video.  Bendapudi naturally has to say that she deplores the message of many of the “hate speech” speakers whose rights she nevertheless defends.  But she shouldn’t have to say this to defend freedom of speech; she should maintain institutional neutrality and leave her personal opinion out of this.  Still. . .it’s better than nothing, and a good lesson for Penn State students. (It’s a reiteration of Mill’s arguments from “On Liberty”.)

c.) From Vanderbilt (and Harvard):

A similar defense is being waged at private institutions. At Harvard University, a group of more than 50 faculty members last month established the Council on Academic Freedom, a group “devoted to free inquiry, intellectual diversity, and civil discourse.” Vanderbilt University, likewise, announced last month that it would become the U.S. foothold for the Future of Free Speech project, an initiative of the Danish think tank Justitia. “For a university to do its work, faculty and students must have maximum freedom to share their ideas, assert their opinions, and challenge conventional wisdom — and one another,” said Vanderbilt Chancellor Daniel Diermeier in a statement.

A few years ago, Diermeier was the Provost of the University of Chicago.

The article then mentions the results of the long survey by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE; download its 54-page report here).  FIRE’s own summary:

  1. Roughly three-in-five faculty (61%) surveyed said that “a university professor should be free to express any of their ideas or convictions on any subject,” and more than half (52%) said speech should only be restricted “where words are certain to incite physical violence.”
  2. On average, 81% of faculty supported allowing four different hypothetical controversial speakers on campus, compared to 48% of the students who were asked about the same speakers in FIRE’s College Free Speech Rankings (CFSR) survey.
  3. More than half of faculty (55%) said students shouting down a speaker is never acceptable. Four-in-five said this about students blocking entry into a campus speech and 92% said this about students using violence to stop a campus speech. In FIRE’s CFSR the percentages of students who say these actions are never acceptable are 38%, 63%, and 80% respectively.
  4. Roughly one-in-10 (11%) faculty reported being disciplined or threatened with discipline because of their teaching, while 4% reported facing these consequences for their research, academic talks, or non-academic publications.
  5. Liberal and conservative faculty have starkly different views on mandatory diversity statements for job applicants, the value of political diversity on campus, and when freedom of speech should be restricted. They also have very different social and professional experiences on campus.
  6. Faculty are split evenly on whether diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) statements are a justifiable requirement for a university job (50%) or are an ideological litmus test that violates academic freedom (50%). Three-in-four liberal faculty support mandatory diversity statements while 90% of conservative faculty and 56% of moderate faculty see them as political litmus tests.
  7. More than half of faculty (52%) reported being worried about losing their jobs or reputation because someone misunderstands something they have said or done, takes it out of context, or posts something from their past online. Almost three-quarters of conservative faculty (72%), 56% of moderate faculty, and 40% of liberal faculty reported feeling this way.
  8. A significant portion of faculty (ranging from 18% to 36%) endorsed their college’s administration launching a formal investigation into other faculty members for their controversial expression.
  9. Roughly one-third (34%) of faculty said they often feel they can not express their opinions on a subject because of how students, colleagues, or the administration would respond, compared to one-fifth of students surveyed for FIRE’s CFSR.
  10. The percentages of faculty who said they were very or extremely likely to self-censor in different contexts ranged from 25% (in academic publications) to 45% (on social media). Only 8% of all faculty said they do not self-censor in any of the four contexts asked about.

Yes, these data are pretty distressing, especially the disparity between faculty, who are generally favorable towards free speech and academic freedom, and students, who are substantially more censorious. The degree of chilling of speech is high.  Of course, conservative faculty are far less supportive of mandatory DEI statements (which may well be unconstitutional) than are liberal faculty.  I was going to write more about the FIRE report, but it’s long and you can get the gist of it above.

Finally, the Post counts the “turning point” of the Zeitgeist to the letter by Stanford’s President and Stanford Law School (SLS) Dean Jenny Martinez to Judge Kyle Duncan, apologizing for the abysmal and juvenile behavior of SLS students at a talk by conservative judge Kyle Duncan. Well, it’s a letter, and yes, they did put the offending DEI dean, Tirien Steinbach, on leave, but there was no attempt—and we don’t know if there will be in the future—to discipline students who try to disrupt talks or deplatform speakers. So far Stanford has talked the talk but not really walked the walk.  Is it a turning point that prompted other schools to grow a backbone, or only one of the earliest efforts of pushback by schools? Who knows. The Post op ed ends this way:

Thankfully, trigger warnings and other such measures are not always successful in taking root. But, at least in certain universities, they’ve triggered long-overdue defenses of unimpeded academic inquiry. For far too long, administrators and professors have been silent. Not anymore.

Well, we’ll see, won’t we?

I should add that several universities have adopted some of my own University’s Foundational Principles, most notably the Principles of Free Expression, which have been adopted in some form by over 80 universities. Unfortunately, only one school—the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—has adopted our powerful statement of institutional neutrality, the “Kalven report.”  Despite this, the University of Chicago has, up to now, lacked a formal committee for monitoring these violations, but this is now being fixed.


h/t: Ginger K.

6 thoughts on “The Washington Post decries the suppression and deplatforming of speech by students

  1. This past week, protesters at Edinburgh University succeeded for the second time in preventing the showing of a film. Protesters were aided by UCU Edinburgh, the union. The film is Adult Human Female. There is a full account in The Scotsman. Edinburgh Academics for Academic Freedom are involved in attempts to prevent this kind of interference in what can be presented at the University.

    1. Also this week, a panel of eminent women experts due to speak at the University of Bristol had to switch venues at the last minute because the university refused access to members of the public and tried to charge the student group organising the meeting for some of the costs of security. Here’s the student who organised the meeting discussing it with Titania McGrath’s creator, Andrew Doyle:

    2. And also this week:

      SNP MP Joanna Cherry has told BBC Scotland she has been cancelled by an Edinburgh venue for “being a lesbian with gender-critical views”.

      She was due to appear at The Stand during the Fringe Festival in August.

      The venue has cancelled the event after staff said they were not comfortable with her views on transgender issues.

      The Edinburgh South MP is a critic of Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform plans, which make it easier for people to change their legally-recognised sex.

      Ms Cherry told BBC Radio Scotland’s Drivetime programme: “I would hope The Stand would see sense here. Staff shouldn’t be framing editorial and artistic policy. I’m being cancelled and no-platformed because I’m a lesbian, who holds gender-critical views that somebody’s sex is immutable. I’ve made those views clear over a number of years. I have never said that trans people should not have equal rights.”


      Ms Cherry said she was planning to talk about her career in politics and the independence movement, as well as her feminist views.

      She added: “Because a small number of people don’t like my feminist and lesbian activism, I’m being prevented from talking about all of those things in my home city where I’m an elected politician. I think it says something’s gone very wrong in Scotland’s civic space. Small groups of activists are now dictating who can speak and what can be discussed.”

  2. My opposition is adamantine to requiring college instructors to give content warnings. OTOH, I see no problem with instructors choosing to give advisories that specific course materials may include content that some viewers/readers may find disturbing (such as depictions of graphic sexual violence).

    This seems to be standard practice in the news and entertainment businesses, and, if memory serves, our host occasionally provides words to that effect when posting videos or images of graphic scenes. Such warning have never kept me from reading or viewing a goddam thing, though it does give me a chance to brace myself for the worst — kinda like the warnings Catholic mothers in my old neighborhood growing up would give their daughters as they headed off on their honeymoons. 🙂

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