FIRE finds Syracuse University creating prohibitions against “threatening mental health”—even with a single remark

January 20, 2022 • 12:45 pm

I’ve heard of a lot of conventional universities trying to truncate freedom of speech, but not in such a draconian and ambiguous fashion as Syracuse University in New York. Syracuse has previously received the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s (FIRE’s) yellow-light rating, which means that the school has restrictions of expression that would be illegal at public universities(Syracuse is a private school.) However, within Syracuse’s free-speech policy is a sub-policy on nonsexual harassment that prohibits the following, all of which is reasonable and indeed, considered unprotected “speech” by the courts:

Harassment is defined at the University as unwelcome conduct or speech directed at an individual or group of individuals, based on a Protected Category, which is so severe or pervasive that it unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, terms of employment, educational program participation, or it creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment for study, work, or social living. To qualify as Harassment under this policy, the speech or conduct must be both viewed by the listener(s) as Harassment, and be objectively severe or pervasive enough that a reasonable person would agree that the speech or conduct constitutes Harassment.In determining whether reported speech or conduct qualifies as Harassment under this policy, the University will consider all circumstances surrounding the reported incident(s), including, without limitation, the frequency, location, severity, context, and nature of the speech or conduct, including whether the speech or conduct is physically threatening or humiliating, rather than a mere offensive remark. The University will also consider the intent of the speaker(s).

Now “intent” is not really something that one can adjudicate, and doesn’t belong here, but the rest of the policy is not only reasonable, but shared by both private and public universities. Note that the violations have to be based on a “protected category”, which I don’t think is necessary because anyone can be subject to harassment that can constitute an “intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.” But the incidents have to be more that one-off statements, even to members of a “protected class” (I’m not sure what Syracuse considers to be a “protected class”).

However you construe harassment, though, it doesn’t hold in the case described below.

What happened is that Syracuse freshman biology major Samantha Jones was at a party, and there saw a guy who was rumored to have “a history of problematic behavior toward women.” Jones went up to the guy and asked him flat out if he was a registered sex offender.

Granted, this is not the best way to get to know someone, and of course you can always look up online whether someone’s a registered sex offender. But this guy was Canadian, and I’m not sure if Americans can ascertain that online. However, the question, though weird, is neither out of line (maybe she would have left the party if the answer was “yes”), nor a violation of free speech, nor harassment.

But Syracuse didn’t see it that way, because they also have a Student Conduct policy that says this (my emphases):

The following behaviors, or attempted behaviors, are considered violations of the Syracuse University Code of Student Conduct:

  1. Physical harm or threat of physical harm to any person or persons, including, but not limited to: assault, sexual abuse, or other forms of physical abuse.
  2. Assistance, participation in, promotion of, or perpetuation of harassment, whether physical, digital, oral, written or video, including any violation of the Syracuse University Anti-Harassment Policy or Sexual Harassment, Abuse, and Assault Prevention Policy. Bias-related incidents, including instances of hate speech, may qualify as harassment under this Code and the University’s Anti-Harassment Policy.
  3. Assistance, participation in, promotion of, or perpetuation of conduct, whether physical, electronic, oral, written or video, which threatens the mental health, physical health, or safety of anyone.

Because of her single question, Ms. Jones was punished by Syracuse. Here’s an extract from the FIRE report:

In October, having heard rumors of past predatory behavior, Jones approached a fellow student at an off-campus party and asked him if he is a registered sex offender in his native country, Canada.

He reported the incident to campus police, who referred the matter to Syracuse’s Office of Community Standards. Last month, the University Conduct Board found Jones responsible for violating a ban on “[c]onduct, whether physical, electronic, oral, written or video, which threatens the mental health, physical health, or safety of anyone.” Jones has since been placed on disciplinary probation and is required to attend “Decision-Making” and “Conflict Coaching” workshops.

“Accusing someone of something that has no validity, especially being on a sex offender list can harm one’s mental health and safety,” wrote Syracuse administrator Sheriah Dixon in a December memo detailing Jones’ formal punishment. The problem with this assessment? Jones didn’t accuse the man of anything. The Conduct Board’s own findings conclude plainly that all Jones did was seek clarification about rumors.

This is ridiculous. If Jones did that repeatedly, it could constitute harassment, but she asked the question once. Note as well that anything can be construed as harming one’s mental health. All you have to do is assert it; you don’t need to prove it, I suspect, by having the victim examined by psychiatrists, though that would be problematic as well.

You simply cannot prosecute someone for single questions or comments that the recipient takes as “harming their mental health.” That would prohibit any question or speech that the recipient finds “offensive”. (The boundary between “offense” and “mental harm” was erased a long time ago.) Finally, there is no restriction that your mental-health-harming statement be aimed directly at the complainant. What if, for example, a Jewish student said they were caused mental harm because somebody said “Burn down Israel” online? That is legal speech so long as it’s not uttered in front of a bunch of Hamas supporters holding Molotov cocktails.

FIRE sent letter to Syracuse that you can see at the link below:

FIRE wrote to Syracuse on Friday, asking the school to reverse its charges against Jones and reminding the institution of its obligations to protect student speech and facilitate sexual abuse reporting. FIRE urges Syracuse to clarify to students that asking questions or reporting sexual misconduct on campus doesn’t constitute “mental harm” — and won’t get them punished.

FIRE warned that this policy would be abused when Syracuse adopted it in 2020. Jones’ case shows how easily the “mental harm” ban ratchets up the stakes of any run-of-the-mill student disagreement. The looming threat of punishment will cast a chill over campus conversations.

Indeed. And it’s clear that Jones, however awkward her question, was trying to find out whether she was in the vicinity of a convicted sexual predator. Since he was Canadian, perhaps there’s no other way she could find out.

This is the result of adopting speech and conduct codes that include “mental harm” as an offense. Now if the offense is deliberate and repeated, yes, it can create a legal violation against harassment, but this is not such a case.

Syracuse should rescind the punishment immediately and apologize to Ms. Jones. At the bottom of the page, if you wish, you can fire off an email to Syracuse (there’s already a boilerplate you can sign) objecting to what it did to Ms. Jones. I’ve said my piece and sent it off.

No college can have a speech or conduct code so severe that it penalizes students whose one-off statements are supposedly damaging to “mental health”. And remember, even if you’re not in college or much interested in this kind of stuff, this kind of mishigass that begins in universities invariably spreads to the wider society. As Andrew Sullivan presciently said, “We’re all on campus now.”

I’ve written; it takes just a second. Imagine if all the readers who felt likewise took 2 minutes to send the email too? They’d get tens of thousands of complaints, and they couldn’t ignore that!

Emory Law School student government denies request for a free speech society, claiming that it might cause “harm”

January 13, 2022 • 9:15 am

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) puts up a lot of news, but you can read it on their webpage. This piece, however, I found worth calling to your notice. Click on the screenshot to read:


This stunt is especially surprising because Emory University, in Atlanta, Georgia, has gotten a “green-light” rating from FIRE, which is FIRE’s highest rating for free expression within a university. But, as we know, fighting for freedom of expression is a never-ending task—especially these days when “harm” (meaning “offense taken”) is often judged to trump freedom of speech. And that’s apparently what happened at Emory:

ATLANTA, Jan. 10, 2022 — Emory University’s laudable free speech promises mean nothing to the Emory Law Student Bar Association, which denied recognition to a free-speech-focused student group because open discussion could cause “harm.”

Today, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education called on Emory Law to promptly process the Emory Free Speech Forum’s application for a charter. FIRE first wrote to the school on Nov. 1 and received no response.

“The rejection of the Emory Free Speech Forum exemplifies the exact reason why this club must exist,” said Michael Reed-Price, president of EFSF. “Emory Law School’s Student Bar Association values free speech only so long as the ideas are in line with their viewpoint. The SBA need not agree with our ideas, they must merely tolerate our right to express them.”

Emory University is one of the few institutions in the country to earn a “green lightrating from FIRE for its speech-protective policies. Seeking to bolster this commitment to free speech, EFSF is a non-partisan student group “devoted to fostering critical discourse and open dialogue surrounding important issues in law and society.” In October, the group applied for a charter from the SBA, which would allow EFSF to seek university funding and use university resources.

EFSF satisfied all criteria for recognition. However, several SBA members objected to the speakers the group sought to host, the group’s decision to forgo moderators for its discussion-based events, and the group’s perceived similarity to the Federalist Society and the American Constitution Society.

The SBA ultimately rejected EFSF’s application, citing the “nature of this group” and speculating that EFSF’s discussions “will likely give rise to a precarious environment – one where the conversation might very easily devolve.” The SBA admitted it was “hesitant to issue a charter when there are no apparent safeguards in place to prevent potential and real harm that could result from these discussions[.]”

I wonder if other student organizations are required to specify safeguards against “potential and real harm”.  For, as you know, you can get “potential and real harm” these days from something as seemingly innocuous as a chess club.  If you read the second link above (“called on”), you’ll see a peeved FIRE writing to Emory’s President, General Counsel, and Dean asking them for an answer, and enclosing a nine-page letter that they sent on November 1 (pdf here).

You can read it for yourself, but I think Emory will have to cave, for, as FIRE points out, this student decision violates the University’s own free-expression policy:

Emory Law makes affirmative, robust commitments to its students’ freedom of expression. As a private institution, the law school is not required to make these commitments by virtue of the First Amendment. However, Emory Law has a legal and moral duty to adhere to the promises it makes.

Emory Law incorporates Emory University’s “Respect for Open Expression Policy.” That policy affirms “an environment where the open expression of ideas and open, vigorous debate and speech are valued, promoted, and encouraged,” including “these freedoms of thought, inquiry, speech, and assembly.” The policy explicitly notes that the university “respects the Constitutional rights of free speech and assembly.” While the policy recognizes that “[c]ivility and mutual respect are important values,” and calls upon Emory’s constituents to consider these values, it makes clear that these values “do not limit the rights protected by this Policy.”

Further, the Emory Law Student Handbook recognizes “that the educational process of our institution requires diverse forms of open expression – including freedom of thought, inquiry, speech, activism, and assembly,” and “affirms the rights of members of the community to assemble, demonstrate peaceably, respectfully express views on controversial social and political issues and engage in any other activities that are protected by the University Respect for Open Expression Policy.” This policy notably applies to students, and student groups specifically, providing that: “The University shall not deny recognition to an organization because of disagreement with its mission or the viewpoints that it represents.” Likewise, the policy states that “[e]xpression that communicates a viewpoint, regardless of form, is protected as long as it does not violate the guidelines of this Policy. This includes protest, dissent, and any other communicative activity, whether or not it occurs in the context of a Meeting or Event.”

This policy notably applies to students, and student groups specifically, providing that: “The University shall not deny recognition to an organization because of disagreement with its mission or the viewpoints that it represents.”19 Likewise, the policy states that “[e]xpression that communicates a viewpoint, regardless of form, is protected as long as it does not violate the guidelines of this Policy. This includes protest, dissent, and any other communicative activity, whether or not it occurs in the context of a Meeting or Event.”

Emory is a private university, and doesn’t have to abide by the First Amendment. However, once it guarantees certain rights to its students, abrogating those rights is the violation of a contract. I’m confident that the Emory Free Speech Forum will prevail.

I think that Coyne’s Mandate of having every entering university student take a brief course on freedom of speech, must also now have a subsection, specifying that offense, or “harm” is NOT a reason for limiting speech.

Another public university speech kerfuffle: On the defense of liberal but not conservative speech by San Diego State

December 29, 2021 • 10:45 am

In an op-ed in the Times of San Diego, we read that a Dean at San Diego State University, a public California college, emitted some pretty inflammatory tweets dissing Republicans and making other extreme political statements. The question is not whether this is a free speech issue (it isn’t, despite what the headline below implies), but whether the Dean’s speech was wise, advisable, and could have the effect of chilling other people’s speech. And there’s another question about whether SDSU really defends everyone’s speech, or only the speech of faculty having the “correct” ideology (i.e., that of the “progressive” Left).

Click on the screenshot below to read.

From author Herman:

On Dec. 1. Monica Casper, dean of the College of Arts and Letters at San Diego State University, tweeted: “Just so we’re clear on the Right’s agenda — racism good, abortion bad, money good, women bad, capitalism good, sustainability bad, stupidity good, science bad, power good, equality bad, white people good, nonwhite people bad. Stench, indeed.”

And a day later, Casper followed up with this observation about the Supreme Court: “Two sexual predators, a white lady, and some racists walk into a courtroom…” Sure enough, the conservative media picked up the story.

First, on Dec. 21, The College Fix, a right-leaning online news site focusing on higher education, ran a story about how an “SDSU dean publicly criticizes ‘stench’ of conservative agenda.” The next day, Fox News ran a more extensive story on their national site which has garnered, as of this writing, over 8,000 comments.

Here are Casper’s tweets; she is Dean of the College of Arts and Letters and a Professor of Sociology, so she’s what the Brits call “a big noise” at the  school (i.e., she has power):

This one came after Kyle Rittenhouse’s “not guilty” verdict:

And here’s the tweet she wrote when the Supreme Court began hearing the Dobbs v. Jackson case, about Mississippi’s new and draconian anti-abortion law:

First of all, is this free speech? Yes, of course! She’s tweeting from her personal Twitter account, where she can say pretty much what she wants. I’m not sure whether deeming two Supreme Court justices—presumably Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh—”sexual predators” would constitute defamation, but I’ll leave it to the lawyers here to decide. I have no quarrel with the content of her tweets vis-à-vis the First Amendment.

Is it advisable speech? Well, if I were Dean I wouldn’t have said these things for two reasons. First, it paints Casper as a hothead, and someone so woke that she sees the Rittenhouse verdict as an example of “white supremacy”. And even I, as someone opposed to the Republican Party and what it stands for, wouldn’t paint Republicans with such a broad brush. After all, the party contains a lot of women, and not all of its adherents are racists. Nor would I diss the Supreme Court that way, though I’ve argued strenuously that it’s now full of religion-soaked conservatives that have created a right-wing activist court.

But there’s another reason why Casper’s tweets were inadvisable. As the Dean with the most power, what she says, whether or not it’s prohibited by the Constitution, will have a tendency to chill the speech of faculty and students over whom she has power. Faculty and students alike will be aware of her rather extreme views, and that is liable to inhibit the speech of those who take issue with her views—especially students and faculty, whose promotions and tenure she presumably vets.  This chilling of speech is the topic of the University of Chicago’s Kalven Report, prohibiting the University from making official statements on politics, ideology, and morality.

But again, her statements aren’t official ones, so she didn’t violate the Kalven report’s dictates, even though no school other than ours has such a report. No, what’s wrong with Casper’s statements is that they paint her as a hotheaded and non-judicious person, which could be damaging to her, and they’re also liable to make those below her at SDSU keep their mouths shut if they’re more conservative than she. In other words, she had a right to say all that on Twitter. But, like somebody standing outside a synagogue with a “Gas the Jews” sign, her speech is legal but unwise.  Deans should have better sense than to issue such stuff. But she should not be punished. She should be countered with words that are critical, like the ones I’ve just written.

Of course people complained, and the President of SDSU did what she should have done: asserted that Casper had a right to say what she did. Fox News provided a response of President Adela de la Torre:

“It is important to know that faculty speech is protected by both the First Amendment and academic freedom principles, which are advanced by the American Association of University Professors,” the school said in a statement to Fox News. “At SDSU, we encourage all members of our community, including our faculty, to engage in open discourse, as it is our responsibility as a public institution to uphold and protect free speech. We know that open dialogue may introduce conversations about topics that are uncomfortable for some.”

That’s what the University of Chicago would say in any similar case.

de la Torre’s own Twitter feed is very tame, touting the achievements and goodness of her school. She would not, I think, get embroiled in ideological issues.

Well, actually she did—at least once. The op-ed in the Times of San Diego reports this:

In 2018, shortly after President Adela de la Torre arrived, someone sought to discredit a conservative economics professor by digging up and publishing satires that this person published when he was an undergraduate over twenty years ago.  Rather than defending this distinguished member of the faculty and denouncing the use of ancient juvenilia to discredit him, the university responded by condemning the professor: “The language and sentiments expressed in these posts are counter to the values of any institution which supports the principles of diversity and inclusion.”

And yes, here’s the President’s tweet from 2018, which is very different from her response to Casper’s intemperate tweets:

This apparently refers to SDSU Professor of Economics Joseph Sabia, who is reported in the school paper, The Daily Aztec, of having made offensive blog posts when he was a Ph.D. student  at Cornell between 2001 and 2003—fifteen or more years before the President declared that his posts were “contrary to the values of diversity, respect, and inclusion.” The paper reports some of what he said in these posts; I’ll give two examples from the Daily Aztec (now deleted but archived). Note that the op-ed maintains that these statements were satirical, not serious:

One of the blog posts, written by economics professor Joseph Sabia, attempts to strike a metaphor between gay sex and campaigns against high-fat foods.

“In gay sex, we have an activity that is clearly leading to disastrous health consequences,” Sabia wrote in the 2002 blog post. “What rational person would engage in this sort of activity? There is only one solution – let’s tax it.”

Note that Sabia is gay!

There’s more:

Another blog post, published in March 2002, attacks the sexual promiscuity of girls in college.

“The chant of Gen. Y college babes might as well be ‘We’re here, we’re whores, get used to it! No, most girls are not actually uttering those words, but the slutty sentiments are implicit in the standard female college behavior – wearing tight shirts and pants, getting publicly drunk, hanging on every guy around, and engaging in random sex,” the blog post read.

Yes, these are stupid and offensive, even if satirical, but he had a right to say what he wanted. And SDSU could have found them before they hired him and promoted him to full professor. Now it’s too late.

The statements came to light in 2018 only when Sabia was invited to testify before a House Committee, but someone dug up the old blog posts and so the committee canceled Sabia’s appearance. That’s when an outcry brought those early statements to the notice of SDSU’s president.

Should Sabia be disciplined? Of course not: those statements constituted free speech, and only came up years after he made them. One of them is clearly satirical, as Sabia is gay. And Sabia apologized for them in 2018:

“I regret the hurtful and disrespectful language I used as a satirical college opinion writer 20 years ago,” said Sabia. “I am a gay man in a long-term, committed relationship and these charges of homophobia deeply hurt both me and my family.”
“My peer-reviewed professional work on veterans’ health, school shootings, discrimination against LGBTQ individuals, the opioid crisis, and the minimum wage are a more accurate representation of my more than 14-year career as an applied microeconomist,” Sabia continued.
So was President de la Torre justified in condemning Sabia’s blog posts as her “personal response”? Well, that’s disingenuous, because most of what she said is also an official response of SDSU published on the official SDSU News Site.  The official response, though not identical to what de la Torre wrote, is so similar that it was probably written by her and tweaked by Legal (or vice versa):
The language and sentiments expressed in these posts are counter to the values of any institution which supports the principles of diversity and inclusion. SDSU unequivocally rejects any sentiment which seeks to undermine or devalue the dignity of any person based on their gender, orientation, ability, or any other difference among people which has been an excuse for misunderstanding, dissension or hatred.
Freedom of speech is the right of every individual, and that right affords the responsibility to challenge and to oppose the spread of fear and intolerance. This responsibility extends to challenging and reflecting on our own former statements and beliefs. We believe that diversity and inclusion is a journey, not a destination and that many individuals will change their perspectives over time. SDSU promotes open expression of our individuality and our diversity within the bounds of courtesy, sensitivity and respect.
Whoever wrote the statement above violated the principles of our own Kalven report and produced words that could chill free speech. Who decides what the “values of San Diego State University” are? Do ALL the faculty, alumni, and students agree with her? If you criticize Islam, is that also “counter to the values of SDSU”?  And as for the President’s “personal statement” asserting that free speech is a “two way street” (always be aware of hedges like that), it’s only so because if you speak freely, you invite others to challenge you by speaking freely.  You might be demonized, and that goes with the territory. But what de la Torre means by a “two way street” is that you’re free to speak, but you’d better speak responsibly!

By calling out Sabia many years after the fact, and asserting that his earlier statements violated the “values of SDSU”,  President de la Torre overstepped her bounds. Yes, again what she said was not illegal, but it was certainly chilling of the speech of others.  What she should have said is exactly what she said in defense of the Republican-hating speech of Professor Casper, which I repeat:

“It is important to know that faculty speech is protected by both the First Amendment and academic freedom principles, which are advanced by the American Association of University Professors,” the school said in a statement to Fox News. “At SDSU, we encourage all members of our community, including our faculty, to engage in open discourse, as it is our responsibility as a public institution to uphold and protect free speech. We know that open dialogue may introduce conversations about topics that are uncomfortable for some.”

In fact, Sabia wasn’t even on the faculty when he made the offending statements! (The President could have added that.) But a version of this same statement would have served as a response to the Sabia kerfuffle.

Or does SDSU defend only liberal faculty and condemn the speech of conservative faculty as “contrary to its values”?

Good news for free speech in the UK: Court of Appeals rules that legal investigation of “hate incidents” cannot be used to chill speech

December 23, 2021 • 1:15 pm

I hadn’t realized that if, in the UK, if you express lawful speech, you can still be put in police records for creating a “hate incident”, described by the first link below (from the BBC) this way:

A hate incident is “any non-crime incident which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice”, according to the College of Policing’s guidance on hate crimes.

(Note that it’s the perception of the “victim”—or anyone else—that makes it an “incident”. Intention itself doesn’t matter, just the perception of intention.)

And a Brit named Harry Miller, a retired policeman, created a “hate incident” by issuing, in 2018 and 2019, a number of tweets that were considered “transphobic”, including one that questioned whether transgender women were “real women”.  Another tweet said “I was assigned mammal at birth, but my orientation is fish. Don’t mis-species me.” That was reported as another transphobic hate tweet.

So someone complained, the cops showed up at Miller’s house and questioned him, and although his speech was legal, a record and a report of Miller’s behavior was made by the police.

Click the screenshot to read more:

Miller wasn’t going to take this lying down:

Humberside Police visited Harry Miller in January 2020 after a complaint over alleged transphobic tweets he made.

It was recorded on a national database as a non-crime hate incident.

But the Court of Appeal ruled on Monday the guidance was wrongly used and it had a “chilling effect” on Mr Miller’s freedom of speech.

Speaking outside court, Mr Miller, from Lincolnshire, said being offensive was “one of the cornerstones of freedom”.

“Being offensive is not, cannot and should not be an offence,” he said.

“Only when speech turns to malicious communication or targeted harassment against an individual should it be a problem.”

That, in effect, is what the First Amendment in the U.S. stipulates. While Twitter can take down Miller’s tweets as “violating community standards,” the government, in the form of the police, cannot prosecute you, nor can it give you a permanent record for doing nothing illegal.

Miller first challenged Humberside Police’s actions at the High Court, which ruled in February 2020 that the force’s response was unlawful and a “disproportionate interference” with Mr Miller’s right to freedom of expression; but also ruled that the guidance itself was legal, served “legitimate purposes” and was “not disproportionate.” That’s when Miller took his case to the higher Court of Appeals.

And the Court of Appeals just ruled for Miller (Britain’s Free Speech Union helped with the appeal):

The Court of Appeal said national rules set by the College of Policing had placed too much emphasis on the perception of transphobic hostility, despite no evidence recorded by police.

Dame Victoria Sharp, one of England’s most senior judges, said: “The net for ‘non-crime hate speech’ is an exceptionally wide one which is designed to capture speech which is perceived to be motivated by hostility… regardless of whether there is evidence that the speech is motivated by such hostility.

“The volume of non-crime hate speech is enormous and the police do not have the resources or the capacity to investigate all the complaints that are made.

“There is nothing in the guidance about excluding irrational complaints, including those where there is no evidence of hostility and little, if anything, to address the chilling effect which this may have on the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression.”

The court heard the guidance had been revised with updates including “a strong warning against police taking a disproportionate response to reports of a non-crime hate incident”.

However, Dame Victoria added: “In my opinion [the revisions] do not go very far or not nearly far enough to address the chilling effect of perception-based recording more generally.”

An analysis of what all this means was made by Dominic Casciani, the Home and Legal Correspondent for the BBC:

Today’s ruling backs Harry Miller’s legal right to speak his mind and potentially cause offence – a freedom that he says is fundamental in the battle of ideas in a democratic society.

His victory is a headache for the College of Policing, which now has to come up with new “safeguards” to ensure that any future recording of non-crime hate incidents does not disproportionately interfere with the legal right to speak one’s mind.

That means rethinking guidance that dates back to the fallout from the 1993 racist murder of Stephen Lawrence.

Mr Miller says it was obvious back then what the police should have been recording: genuinely hateful gestures that were a prelude to awful crimes. He urges them today to remember that lesson and to focus on rooting out hate speech – rather than taking it upon themselves to police provocative thought and debate.

So the College of Policing has been called off, and has to rethink what it does vis-à-vis “hate speech”.

What this has come down to is a tentative ruling that takes British law on speech closer to the U.S. First Amendment, but it’s not all the way there yet. For example, saying “gas the Jews” is legal in America, but almost certainly not in Britain.  And posting a video on YouTube of a dog making a Nazi salute might violate YouTube’s standards, but it’s not illegal in America. But in the UK it is, for in 2018 Mark Meechan was convicted of a “hate crime” in Scotland for an action that caused physical damage to nobody. It only hurt feelings. As the Washington Post reported:

[Meechan was] guilty of a charge under the Communications Act that he posted a video on social media and YouTube that was “anti-semitic and racist in nature” and was aggravated by religious prejudice.

Meechan was fined £800 pounds, which was seized from his bank account.  I’m sure you remember the Nazi Dog Incident.

I don’t see America as the best country in the world, but it is one of the best for freedom of speech, and is superior to the UK in dealing with “hate speech”. For “hate speech” is a slippery term, and there is no good reason I can see for someone training a dog to make a Nazi salute or emitting tweets that weren’t really transphobic (though truly tranphobic tweets, like, “transsexuals shouldn’t have the same legal rights as cis people”, would also be legal). The issue is whether society incurs damage by allowing such speech, or whether it’s damaged more by chilling such speech. My view aligns with that of Mill and Hitchens, and goes along with the American court’s interpretation of the First Amendment: unless your speech creates immediate, predictable, and imminent harm to people or property, it is legal. Private companies can ban it, but the government cannot.

Miller was clearly being “chilled” by the UK’s hate-speech policy. If the government can decide that speech that hurts nobody, and is merely offensive, is illegal or can give you a mark against your name for perpetuating a “hate incident”, then speech has the potential to be impeded. And, as we know in these fraught days, nearly anything can be seen as hateful or offensive.

Princeton University violates the Kalven Report (even though it doesn’t have one)

December 19, 2021 • 1:00 pm

The article below is from the conservative National Review, but of course if you want to find out what’s going on with colleges and universities, especially vis-à-vis free speech and academic freedom, you have to look at right-wing sources. This is not to imply that the Right doesn’t censor or suppress speech, but since most colleges, university faculty, and administrators are on the Left, as is the mainstream media, the latter tend not to cover the excesses of the former.

What’s more, the article was written by two undergraduates. Abigail Anthony is a junior studying politics and linguistics, and Myles McKnight a junior studying politics, as well as president of the Princeton Open Campus Coalition.  It’s remarkably thoughtful and well written, and should serve as a lesson for Princeton—though it won’t since the Woke Tiger Train has left the station.

What I espcially like about is thqt it mentions and urges that Princeton adhere to the tenets of the University of Chicago’s Kalven Report, which prohibits official statements from our administration, departments, or units of the university about politics, ideology, or morality. (Rare exceptions involve issues that affect the University’s functioning.) I’ve written a lot about Kalven before, as I think every university should have such principles, but I think we’re the only one in the world. Kalven was explicitly designed to promote free speech—to prevent junior faculty, students, or timid professors from self-censorship out of fear that they’ll get in trouble for violating “official” University politics.

Click on the screenshot to read:

The two undergrads apparently understand the meaning of Kalven far better than do their administrators and faculty—and better than many University of Chicago professors, whose departments have blatantly violated Kalven time after time. I’ll quote from their letter:

An academic institution committed to truth-seeking and open inquiry should foster an environment in which students feel welcome — even encouraged — to speak up on controversial issues about which reasonable people of goodwill disagree. But as Princeton students and frequent critics of the ideological orthodoxy that pervades our campus, we’ve witnessed our peers retreat from conversations, opportunities, and even friendships out of fear that their deeply held beliefs will cost them academically, socially, and professionally.

A university hinders its truth-seeking mission when it — unintentionally or otherwise — prompts students to think twice before expressing unpopular but reasonable points of view. This can occur when officials violate the basic institutional neutrality required for the university to be a home for the free marketplace of ideas. When an educational institution adopts official stances on controversial issues not directly connected to its core mission, it suggests parameters around an otherwise liberated discourse. This effect is enhanced when such pronouncements are morally tinged; in these cases, the university would appear to have decided that such parameters are morally requisite. By implication, those who defy them are morally suspect.

The “basic neutrality” ideal isn’t new. The most famous defense of the principle was offered by faculty at the University of Chicago during the height of the Vietnam War. Chicago’s Kalven Committee made the point succinctly: “The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic.” The Kalven Report, long celebrated, is still operative at the University of Chicago. Universities everywhere should consider adopting the report’s guidance, as well as the university’s famed Free Speech Principles, which Princeton formally did in 2015.

Anthony and McKnight give several examples of the violation of “basic neutrality”, but concentrate on one at their own school: an official statement by Dean Amaney Jamal of the School of Public and International Affairs, issued after the Rittenhouse verdict.  Conveyed by email to the entire study body of her department, Jamal’s statement went like this:

[Dean Jamal decried] Kyle Rittenhouse’s not-guilty verdict. She lamented with a heavy heart the “incomprehensib[ility] . . . of a minor vigilante carrying a semi-automatic rifle across state lines, killing two people, and being declared innocent by the U.S. justice system.” Furthermore, she situated the verdict within the context of the racism embedded “without a doubt . . . in nearly every strand of the American fabric,” thus implying that defenders of a not-guilty verdict are defenders of racism.

Campus Reform gives a bit more of what Jamal said (they’ve seen the email):

“What we do know without a doubt is there are racial inequities in nearly every strand of the American fabric. Today’s verdict employs me to ask you — our current and future public servants — to investigate our policies and practices within the justice system and beyond. How can we use evidence-based research in pursuit of the public good? What role do we play, and what obligation do we have to serve?”

These are moral judgments that push an ideological line hewing to CRT (it’s similar to Kalven-violating statements of some University of Chicago Departments, which we’re trying to remove). As the title of their article notes, Dean Jamal is telling students what to think—in an official communication.  Not only that, but she’s telling them how to act. 

The authors and 60 of their fellow undergrads then wrote a letter to Princeton’s President Christopher Eisgruber, a letter that you can see here.  Here’s a short excerpt of a letter that is, in effect, a bunch of students giving a college dean and president a hard spanking on the tuchas:

. . . What motivates our letter is a concern about the implications of a University administrator, speaking in her official capacity, promulgating to an entire community of students her moral evaluation of the outcome of a highly publicized and controversial trial. Her doing so in effect places SPIA’s institutional support behind a particular position on a matter which, as it engages the interests of so many, should invite a vigorous and respectful conversation amongst students and faculty alike.

Instead, students and faculty are left to read that a Dean has adopted a definitive stance on a matter about which reasonable people of good will can and do disagree. Dean Jamal writes with a “heavy heart” as she decries the “incomprehensib[ility]” of a not-guilty verdict, labels the defendant a “minor vigilante,” and situates the alleged outrageousness of the trial’s outcome within the broader context of racial inequalities pervading “nearly every strand of the American fabric.”

Each of these features––the verdict, the alleged vigilantism, and the systemic racism claim––are the subjects of genuine debate among serious legal commentators and academics. Contrary to Dean Jamal’s forceful assessment that some of these issues––viz., the systemic racism allegation––are settled “without a doubt,” these topics occupy the debates of students, faculty, and the public at large. Though no one claims that Dean Jamal’s statement directly forces dissenting students to remain silent or to affirm what they do not believe, it is no stretch to conclude that the establishment of an institutional position tends to draw restrictive parameters around a dialogue that would be otherwise unfettered.

The reply, much to their (and my) dismay, was disingenuous:

. . .President Eisgruber responded to our complaints by denying that Dean Jamal had spoken in her official capacity. He suggested that the dean “quite clearly stated that her views about the Rittenhouse verdict were her own opinions” and that “she framed her comments in very personal terms.”

We wonder whether President Eisgruber read the same statement we did. Nowhere did Jamal clearly state that she was speaking in a personal capacity. To the contrary, she qualified her views by writing “As dean of a School of Public and International Affairs . . .” She promulgated the message on her school’s official email server. What’s more, she employed her institutional authority to summon SPIA’s resources, offering a space for affected students to “process” the outcome of the trial in the company of a counselor. Was Jamal writing as an academic or as a dean? We believe she provided a clear answer.

Pardon my French, but Eisgruber’s response is equivalent to what comes out of the south end of a bull facing north.  This certainly was an official statement in any reasonable view.  Now the dean has a right to speak for herself, though, as dean, she should be wary of doing so since it still comes off as “official”.  But she certainly does not have the right to issue such a statement as dean and send it over Princeton email to a list of Princeton students.

Thank Ceiling Cat for brave Princetonians like Anthony and McKnight, who were NOT chilled by Dean Jamal’s statement and had the guts to not just write a letter to the President, but also to publish a piece in the National Review. I don’t know their politics, but I congratulate them and wish them well. They are, after all, allies in the fight for freedom of speech. They understand that concept better than the Grand Poobahs of Princeton:

To students who frequently dissent from campus orthodoxy, statements like Jamal’s are as frustrating and alienating as they are inappropriate. All university officials — especially those at Princeton — have a duty to facilitate an environment conducive to the full realization of the institution’s truth-seeking mission. Reasonable neutrality provides a starting point for the fulfillment of that responsibility.

I have a notion to write an email to President Eisgruber, perhaps attaching a copy of the Kalven Report. . .

Dean Amaney Jamal. Photo bySameer A. Khan/Fotobuddy

h/t: Robert

Guest Post: “Aftermath of the Prof. Jason Kilborn Controversy at UIC.”

December 18, 2021 • 12:15 pm

Yesterday I got an email from a student recounting an incident I’ve described before: the attacks on University of Illinois at Chicago Law Professor Jason Kilborn. Kilborn was demonized and punished for putting the redacted words “b—-” and “n—–” on an exam in describing a hypothetical case where these words were relevant. In contrast, at the University of Chicago, Law Professor Geoff Stone used the “n-word” in class yearly in his Free Speech course as a demonstration, and was never disciplined or warned by the administration. (Geoff did stop this practice after he met with some black law students.)  But UIC isn’t that keen on free speech or academic freedom.

You can read more about Kilborn and the execrable behavior of his university at these two FIRE posts: #1 and #2.

At any rate, the student, Joseph Shen, deliberately chose to use his name in this post, and what you see below is what he wants to tell us. The title is his as well. His piece is between the sets of asterisks:

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Aftermath of the Prof. Jason Kilborn Controversy at UIC.

Greetings WEIT readers, my name is Joseph Shen, a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Recently, my university released its final word on an event relevant to the issue of progressive politics clashing with academic freedom of expression, and I’d like to share with you some details that would otherwise be unavailable outside UIC. The event in question is the controversy surrounding Jason Kilborn, a professor at the UIC School of Law (formerly the John Marshall Law School, whose renaming is another topic discussed here before), and his use of censored but recognizable slurs on an exam question. Our host has previously mentioned this issue in several previous posts.

First, some background on UIC. If you search for UIC on the FIRE website, you’ll find that my university is sadly given a red-light rating for having a policy that “substantially restricts freedom of speech.” As a public University in an overwhelmingly politically liberal state and city, it’s not surprising that the administration has steadily made changes that push progressive politics even at the cost of academic freedom. Curiously, UIC’s Policy on Open Expression is given a green-light rating despite the university’s overall red-light rating, which means the university is being hypocritical when it acts the way it did in controversies such as this one.

On Nov. 30, the university sent an email to the UIC Listserv summarizing its findings of and corrective actions to the events that happened around Dec. 2020 – Jan. 2021. The full redacted investigational report is linked in the email but only available to people with UIC long-in credentials. After reading the email and full report, there are some key points from the email that I want to mention and comment on.

First, the Chancellor gives a statement containing the following claim (indented, bolding is mine):

UIC remains unequivocally committed to fostering an environment conducive to learning and free of any form of harassment or discrimination. UIC also strongly supports and defends faculty rights of academic freedom, a critical component to preserving the intellectual integrity of our University. These are not antithetical principles, nor can they be. Our faculty prove daily that both principles can be honored. The key is not what ideas are presented or tested; it’s simply great consideration for how it’s done in a respectful manner for all involved. The use of words that disparage individuals based on identity or background is not necessary for academic freedom to flourish and is inconsistent with our commitment to create an inclusive and conducive learning environment. These actions are not acceptable in our educational settings from any member of the campus community.

This is a form of the ‘Free speech, but…’ claim that Prof. Coyne has talked about many times. I fully agree, and I believe you would too, that of course people in academia should be considerate of what others think and should in general adjust their actions and words to maintain respect towards each individual. The problem is when the recipient of your actions and words is extremely sensitive and becomes offended when you don’t follow the strictest guidelines. Anyone is capable of setting their tolerance so low that the most innocuous words and phrases become offensive.

The chancellor’s claim is palpably wrong because if one’s expression of academic opinion greatly offends another, then you can’t have both freedom of academic expression and freedom from (verbal) harassment. The solution is to not let individuals be the ones to set the bar and instead have generally accepted guidelines that can be agreed upon by most people of any background. Rather than judging Prof. Kilborn’s actions according to only the tolerance level of the particular students who were offended, judge them according to best practices of general guidelines for professional conduct. What did he intend with the question, what are the justifications for the question, do others people in the same demographic as the offended students think the same? These are all things to consider in best practices that are not considered when you only listen to the particular people offended. Extreme progressives don’t want to consider these points or just dismiss them, and the university has sided with this type of progressive.

Second, in addition to the use of the censored slurs (which was one of four racial harassment allegations), Prof. Kilborn was also charged with racial discrimination on two accounts:

(1) Dropping and refusing to re-add a student to a course based on race; and (2) Imposing an in-person participation grade bump policy that precluded Black students who could not attend in-person classes from receiving extra points due to COVID restrictions and precautions.

After reading the full report, it’s clear (to me at least) that the particular student who made those charges is the one responsible. Prof. Kilborn responded appropriately by dropping the student for not attending class (in person or remotely), not responding to emails, and submitting “woefully deficient” work as make-up. He also ultimately gave extra points to all students, which would have included the complainant. Neither of these responses by Prof. Kilborn was racially motivated nor directed only towards minority students. I suspect that the particular student adheres to the narrative of prevalent systemic racism and believed Prof. Kilborn acted out of racism because that would have matched the narrative. Ostensibly, the student didn’t seek information that would have given the whole picture and stuck to their initial assumption of racism. I fully admit that we have no knowledge of the student’s personal circumstances and that they may have perfectly valid reasons for missing class. That, however, does not entitle them to the level of special treatment they were asking for and a passing grade in a class they didn’t attend. Fortunately, the report found Prof. Kilborn to be not guilty of these charges. But the fact that a student was so quick to accuse him of racial discrimination without first investigating and introspecting is symptomatic of how wedded many modern university students are to progressive ideas. It has indeed become a social religion for them.

Lastly, Prof. Kilborn was found guilty of four racial harassment allegations, including the censored slurs. This was due to 5 actions in his history:

[Prof. Kilborn] Did violate the harassment aspect of the same Policy. This conclusion was not based on a single incident, but on his conduct considered in cumulative fashion and in context. The conduct included: (1) Using the word “cockroaches,” which was not directed to Black students, but in context, could have been perceived as directed towards racial minority plaintiffs; (2) Using the term “lynching,” although apologizing immediately for it; (3) Using African American Vernacular English [AVE] when referring to lyrics of an African American rapper; (4) Using racially charged language (the redacted terms “‘n____’ and ‘b____’…”) in an exam question;*** and (5) Responding to concerns about the exam with insensitive, chastising, and arguably threatening comments in January 2021, including using the term “homicidal” during a four-hour Zoom meeting with a student.

I argue that none of this should be considered harassment by a critically-thinking person. Regarding the above five points: 1) Words can and should have different meanings in different contexts. We should be cognizant of how others think about a word, but that action should be reciprocated. 2) The fact that Prof. Kilborn immediately apologized is a sign that he has some consideration and isn’t an inherent racist. Why is it that the offended never give people second chances, only all or nothing? What’s the point of sensitivity training if people can’t be forgiven for transgressions? 3) If the lyrics are indeed in AVE and he was quoting them, then what was he to do, convert them to the standard English equivalent or forbid himself from saying them? Gatekeeping language does not help build appreciation for one’s linguistic quirks. 4) I have nothing to add that Prof. Coyne and people like John Mcwhorter haven’t already said perfectly. 5) This may be the most valid criticism of Prof. Kilborn’s behavior, but we don’t have the specifics to judge for ourselves. I personally would not have used language like Prof. Kilborn, but that should not infringe upon his right to speak freely so long as his intention and the main effect of his speech are not verbal harassment or anything else not protected by free speech laws.

The end result is that Prof. Kilborn must go through “intercultural competency individual training and coaching sessions” and will have his courses monitored for four semesters. The training will likely be a waste of time and effort because of the dubious efficacy of DEI training. The monitoring reeks of Big Brother-like surveillance. I feel such disappointment at my university for their behavior in this debacle. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely to improve in the future.

I hope you all find this helpful and informative. I’m sorry for this long, boring, and depressing post, but I’ll add two things I hope you find enjoyable. Below is a picture of my beloved cat Scooter. Rest assured that he’s kept fat, sleek, and thoroughly spoiled by his staff.

I know our host often shares his love of good music. Here is one of my favorite songs from the 90s, sung by Lesley Lee, about not wanting to wake up and lose sight of your love in your dreams.

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JAC: Here’s a YouTube video, produced by FIRE, of Kilborn describing his “transgression”.  And thanks for Joseph for sending along information bout Kilborngate!

Greg Lukianoff on the recent history of campus free speech

December 15, 2021 • 1:15 pm

Over at the Reason site, Greg Lukianoff has an interesting article on the two (yes, two) ages of American political correctness. You’ll have heard of Greg, as he’s president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and co-author with Jon Haidt of The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.  The present article is not on the FIRE site, so represents Lukianoff’s personal analysis rather than any official statement of FIRE. But it’s an interesting analysis, although some people may find it long. Click screenshot to read it.

I’ll give a brief summary. The article, as one expects, deals mainly with issues on campus

We’re noqw in the “Second Great Age of Political Correctness”, which Lukianoff sees as extending roughly from 2015 to the present.  This means that, as during the First Age (1980-around 1995), there was the the “political correctness” we see today: divisiveness between “tribes” on campus, a disconnect between students and administrators (but in the earlier years, the administrators were the censors), and approved language which was eventually mocked as “p.c.”

The period of quiescence lasted from about 1995-2015. Now, of course, we know what age we’re in, because it’s largely the subject of this website. Colleges have speech codes, approved ways of talking and thinking, punishment and demonization of transgressors, and restrictions on freedom of speech that causes speakers to be deplatformed. This trend has of course spread beyond campus, most notably into the media.

It’s Lukianoff’s contention that during the Great Quiescence, the ground was being laid for our present age of political correctness. What happened? First of all, administrators began burgeoning in colleges, and many of these came from schools of education, which are seen as the most activist educational institutions of all. Thus a flood of activist administrators was filling the colleges, as well as secondary schools. Universities then began hiring “more politically homogenous professors and administrators; and reframing speech policing as a crucial part of protecting students’ mental health.”

And there was this:

But it wasn’t just an increase in coverage. Something else had changed on campus. During the previous two decades, administrators were usually the leaders of campus censorship campaigns. Students, in turn, resisted those efforts. In late 2013, however, there was an explosion in censorship that was student-led. The infrastructure built during the Ignored Years was producing downstream effects.

The generation hitting campuses in 2013 had been educated by the graduates of those activist education schools. In some cases they were literally the children of the students who had pushed for (or at least were OK with) speech codes in the ’80s and ’90s.

This generation also grew up with social media; it had a genuine awareness of how hurtful and nasty speech can be, especially when anonymous and online. But it had not been taught that freedom to engage in nasty speech is necessary to the functioning of our democracy and to the production of knowledge.

This all sounds plausible, and a lot of Lukianoff’s article goes to documenting the deplatformings of speakers (now largely but not exclusively to the Left), the Right’s attempt at censorship by passing anti-CRT laws, the firing of professors for saying verboten things and making Nazi salutes (yes, the salute thing really happened, and is not a fantasy of “The Chair” t.v. show), the creation of Pecksniffian “bias response teams” to police campus behavior, and the increasing polarization and liberalization of campuses. Here are some data just for fun:

More recent statistics paint a starker picture. A 2019 study by the National Association of Scholars on the political registration of professors at the two highest-ranked public and private universities in each state found that registered Democrat faculty outnumbered registered Republican faculty about 9-to-1. In the Northeast, the ratio was about 15-to-1.

In the most evenly split discipline, economics, Democrats outnumber Republicans “only” 3-to-1. The second most even discipline, mathematics, has a ratio of about 6-to-1. Compare this to English and sociology, where the ratios are about 27-to-1. In anthropology, it’s a staggering 42-to-1.

In the Ignored Years, higher education became far more expensive and considerably more bureaucratized. From 1994–95 to 2018–19, the inflation-adjusted cost of public college tuition nearly doubled. Meanwhile, the administrative class expanded, from roughly one administrator for every two faculty members in 1990 to nearly equal numbers of faculty and administrators in 2012.

What’s more, preliminary research showed a “12-to-one ratio of liberal to conservative college administrators,” wrote Samuel J. Abrams of Sarah Lawrence College in The New York Times in 2018. His conclusion: “It appears that a fairly liberal student body is being taught by a very liberal professoriate—and socialized by an incredibly liberal group of administrators.” Following the Times article, Abrams was targeted twice by students in an unsuccessful campaign to get him fired for speaking out.

So much for history. Lukianoff’s peroration is a genuinely valuable list of things that we should do “to save higher ed”. And these should be read by all college administrators and faculty:

Amid the Second Great Age of Political Correctness,American higher education has become too expensive, too illiberal, and too conformist. It has descended into a period of profound crisis wrought by shifts in hiring, student development, and politically charged speech codes developed during the Ignored Years, when too few were paying attention. American campuses should be bastions of free expression and academic freedom. Instead, both are in decline.

We cannot afford to just give up on higher ed. College and university presidents can and should do the following five things:

  1. Immediately dump all speech codes.
  2. Adopt a statement specifically identifying free speech as essential to the core purpose of a university and committing the university to free speech values.
  3. Defend the free speech rights of their students and faculty loudly, clearly, and early.
  4. Teach free speech, the philosophy of free inquiry, and academic freedom from Day One.
  5. Collect data and open their campuses to research on the climate for debate, discussion, and dissent.

Those who donate to colleges should refuse to do so without demanding these changes.

#3 and #4 particularly interest me, as I want to make sure that colleges can defend free speech, which means preventing violations of it. And this means having some kind of policy like the University of Chicago’s Kalven Report, which, by preventing university administrators and departments from making official statements about politics, ideology and morality (except in specially delineated circumstances), prevents the chilling of speech by those who disagree. #4 should be a part of all orientation at colleges, and also taught in secondary schools: a unit on the reasons for our First Amendment, what it means, and why it’s valuable. Watching Hitchens’s video about free speech should be mandatory.

At the end, Lukianoff touts “alternative models to traditional higher education”. He mentions the recently-discussed “anti-woke” University of Austin, for which I have little hope, and Khan Academy, which is much better. As Lukianoff argues, “It’s not too hard to imagine a future in which employers value a mastery level from the Khan Academy or a degree from Minerva more than a degree from a middling traditional university.” I have no quarrel with that, though I’m a fan of the traditional university where you interact with your professors and fellow students online, and can have small group discussions in which people learn from each other. “Mastery” is not just the goal of college; one goal is to awaken a love of learning and dispute, an inculcation of critical analysis, and the production of students who know how to analyze evidence and come to rational conclusions. You can’t get that with an online education.

And I’m with Greg 100% in his conclusions:

The bottom line is that the opinions of professors and students should be ferociously protected, and that those who run universities must reject the idea that colleges and universities exist to impose orthodoxies on anyone. Over the past decade, too many academic institutions have grown used to promoting specific views of the world to incoming students.

Radical open-mindedness would be wildly out of place at most contemporary universities. Getting there will take substantial cultural and political change.

That starts with self-awareness. One lesson of the First Great Age of Political Correctness and the P.C. wars of the 1980s and ’90s is that it was a huge mistake to think that because a movie like PCU skewered campus culture, the problem had already fixed itself. As a result, the problem was allowed to grow worse.

We can’t make that mistake again. The ideal time for achieving real change in higher ed was 30 or even 40 years ago. The next best time is now.

Alternative and online colleges are not going to save us, for the rot has spread too far. We need adherence to the five points above, and a group of people who won’t financially support colleges who violate those points. Money talks, and colleges are already worried about the loss of income from miffed donors who aren’t down with extreme wokeness.

Chair of Stanford’s Department of Computer Science sends out woke and confusing email affirming his department’s virtue

December 12, 2021 • 12:30 pm

I’ve spent a lot of time writing and working to try to get colleges and universities—especially mine—to refrain from issuing official political, ideological, or moral statements save under exceptional circumstances.  Freedom of speech is a sine qua non for a decent university, and that goes along with a university not trying to stifle or chill speech by issuing their “own” official positions.  For institutional statements of morality and ideology will necessarily stifle  the speech of those opposed to approved sentiments. We already know that half of college students, and a goodly proportion of professors, are self-censoring lest they incur the wrath of those who have power over them. In colleges, those with power are the Woke. Students and faculty who have issues with wokeness have, by and large decided to keep their mouths shut, and that is not what should be happening in colleges.

It’s for this reason that the University of Chicago not only has the nation’s most respected speech code, the “Chicago Principles of Free Expression“, but also a supporting set of principles to prevent units of the university from establishing official or “approved” political and ideological positions: the Kalven report. Without the latter, the former is toothless, for speech will be chilled and the Chicago Principles will mean nothing. Let me quote the heart of the Kalven Report once again (my emphases):

The instrument of dissent and criticism is the individual faculty member or the individual student. The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic. It is, to go back once again to the classic phrase, a community of scholars. To perform its mission in the society, a university must sustain an extraordinary environment of freedom of inquiry and maintain an independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures. A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community. It is a community but only for the limited, albeit great, purposes of teaching and research. It is not a club, it is not a trade association, it is not a lobby.

Since the university is a community only for these limited and distinctive purposes, it is a community which cannot take collective action on the issues of the day without endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness. There is no mechanism by which it can reach a collective position without inhibiting that full freedom of dissent on which it thrives. It cannot insist that all of its members favor a given view of social policy; if it takes collective action, therefore, it does so at the price of censuring any minority who do not agree with the view adopted. In brief, it is a community which cannot resort to majority vote to reach positions on public issues.

Two caveats: of course individuals may comment as individuals, so long as it’s clear they are not speaking for the university but expressing a personal view (caveats are always useful to that end). And there can be some political statements allowed if they further the mission of the University: to teach, learn, and do research. (One okay statement would be opposing initiatives that may affect foreign students, like a government attempt to rescinding the DACA act.)

By and large, my university observes these principles, but departments are beginning to violate them, for they can’t resist commenting on issues of the day, even if it has no bearing on their department.  This also allows universities, who are increasingly taken over by administrators and hired diversity advocates, to issue statements that show how virtuous they are. Most of these statements, like the one below, are performative wokeness. They accomplish nothing except to call attention to a universty or department as being on the Side of the Angels. (For a similar example from UC Irvine, go here.)

And so the head of Stanford’s highly reputed Department of Computer Science, John Mitchell, in league with Breauna Spencer, the CS Department’s Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, issued a strongly worded but confusing statement on December 5 connecting the verdicts in the Rittenhouse trial (not guilty) and trial of the McMichaels and William Bryan for murdering Ahmaud Arbery (guilty). I happen to think that these verdicts were both correct and in accordance with the law. But they have little to do with one another save that racial tension (a demonstration in one case, bigotry in the other) was involved.

The Stanford Review, which I gather is the conservative student newspaper, has an article about the email that went out from Mitchell and Spencer to all the students and faculty in the Computer Science Department. It thus has the cachet of an official statement. Moreover, it tells students and faculty how they should be thinking and acting. There’s more to the article, too, but I’ll mention only briefly what I consider an irrelevant bit.

Here’s the email as reprinted in the newspaper:

On Friday, November 19th, a jury found Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty on all charges. It was not disputed that Rittenhouse brought a firearm to a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, killed Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum, and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz. As a department, we bemoan the loss of life.  We are deeply saddened and disappointed by these events and acknowledge the pain and suffering they have caused many members of the community.

On Wednesday, November 24th, Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael, and William Bryan were convicted on nine counts, including malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and criminal attempt for shooting and killing Ahmaud Arbery. Arbery’s case reflects a longstanding legacy of racial injustice. We offer our heartfelt condolences to Arbery’s family.

We condemn the violence, trauma, and suffering that the Black community has both historically and contemporarily endured. The pervasiveness of anti-Black racism reaffirms our department’s mission to create an equitable, diverse, and inclusive community that centers, affirms, and uplifts everyone and prioritizes an enduring sense of belonging and community for all.

For those personally affected by these events, the Stanford CS Department takes your well-being seriously. We understand that recent and ongoing affronts to the principle of racial equality or the Black Lives Matter Social Movement continue to be distressing, burdensome, and mentally and physically exhausting…

The Rittenhouse and Arbery sequences of events remind us of the work we must continue to do to eradicate anti-Blackness and systemic racism in our society. As Martin Luther King Jr. stated in his “I Have a Dream Speech” on August 28th, 1963, “we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.” Therefore, we call for accountability and powerful change. We fiercely and unapologetically ask that each person within our department take a stance against racism and other forms of oppression impacting marginalized communities and that we all educate ourselves on how to become anti-racists. Ibram Kendi writes that “to be antiracist is a radical choice in the face of history, requiring a radical reorientation of our consciousness.”

The email had appended to it a link to the “Stanford CS Anti-Racism Resource Toolkit“, a list of suggested readings, some of which are good, others not so good, but you can be sure that there’s nothing on it that would contravene CRT ideology. John McWhorter (who is an anti-racist)? Forget it. But you’ll certainly see the 1619 Project and books by Ibram Kendi and Robin DiAngelo.

Anyway, read the email.  It somehow manages to link the Rittenhouse affair, in which a young white man killed two white people and wounded one (in self-defense, the jury decided) while an anti-racist demonstration was going on, with the acts of three bigots who killed a black man, surely largely because he was black.  There is no connection between these two incidents save that race played a big role in one and a tangential and irrelevant role in the other. Nevertheless, Stanford manages to connect them as both showing that racism is bad, and that Stanford’s Computer Science Department stands strongly against it.

The final paragraph is a call to action for students and faculty, urging them to adhere to CRT’s version of anti-racism, even citing Ibram Kendi. They also cite Dr. King in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, but they tellingly leave out other words from that speech, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”  That of course didn’t mean that King thought race was irrelevant—he spent his life fighting for justice for African-Americans—but that it should not be the basis on which people make decisions about individuals.  And making decisions about individuals is precisely what this email is doing by connecting the murderers of Arbery, who were racists, to the actions of Rittenhouse, who is white and implicitly deemed bad, though he was found not guilty.

The upshot is that the Computer Science chair and diversity dean had no business issuing a statement like this. It is empty words, performative, devoid of meaning, and almost surely ineffectual. Those who disagree with Professor Mitchell will be afraid to take issue with his views. Others will simply not want to drop their computer science work and start fighting against racism. In the end, this statement, full of innuendo and debatable points, will chill the speech of people in the department.  If Mitchell wanted to issue his personal opinion, saying that “this is my personal view only and others may disagree”, that’s fine, though his position itself gives the statement an air of official-ness. Were I Mitchell, I would simply have shut up.

The article dwells a lot on one CS-recommended book by Assata Shakur, who fled to Cuba after being imprisoned for murdering a cop in the U.S. The piece decries her being made a heroine by being on the book list (she is a hero to many on the far Left). I don’t agree that she should be admired, but I’m more concerned with free speech in America, as Shakur, who is 74, will be free until she dies in Cuba. Ignore that bit and focus on what’s happening in science departments throughout America, something that I thought would never occur. STEM groups are loci of some of the most ludicrous performative antiracism you can find.  The editorial ends this way:

This debacle should serve as a warning to professors and departmental leaders everywhere, but especially in the sciences and engineering: DEI is poison, and if you let it take hold in your department, prepare to be taken for a ride. Today you’ll be promoting fuzzy concepts like “inclusion” and tomorrow what you’ll be including are terrorist memoirs on departmental reading lists. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

I would qualify the “DEI is poison” statement, for DEI is not poison in itself; it’s what many of its advocates do in practice that is toxic. And what they’re doing is taking the science out of science departments, turning them all into Departments of Social Engineering.

What should a university do when a rabid anti-Semitic student calls for the killing of Jews?

December 8, 2021 • 1:15 pm

This article about anti-Semitism on a U.S. campus is taken from the Jerusalem Post. Sent to me by a Jewish colleague, it raises a conundrum for hard-line free speech advocates like me. It’s not because I’m Jewish, but because the proper action of a University in a case like this is not completely clear. This is a fuzzy area. I’ll offer tentative opinions, but want to hear readers’ thoughts.

Click on the screenshot to read:

Yasmeen Mashayekh, the USC student under consideration, is a pro-Palestinian activist who made repeated anti-Semitic tweets, and when called out, she doubled down. Those tweets including calls to murder Jews, and her own desire to murder Jews.

Over the course of the last few weeks, a Palestinian student at the University of Southern California, Yasmeen Mashayekh, has come under intense scrutiny for her antisemitic and violent tweets, which include sentiments such as “Curse the Jews” (in Arabic), “Death to Israel and its b**ch the US,” and repeatedly expressing her “love” for US-designated terrorist organization Hamas and its members, even instructing others on how to assist the terror group online in the fight against Israel. She also celebrated violent attacks on Jews by Arabs, joking about how Jews were set on fire, and in May, Mashayekh tweeted, “I want to kill every mother****ing Zionist.”
When multiple groups drew attention to Mashayekh’s violent tweets, she doubled down, replying to the criticism with “Oh no how horrifying that I want to kill my colonizer.” She also attempted to argue that the phrase she used in Arabic meaning “curse the Jews” was simply a “Zionist” mistranslation, and in fact, she just meant “occupiers” – an explanation that left Arabic speakers of all backgrounds laughing.

Yasmeen also had a position of authority among students involving DEI:

Ironically, Mashayekh was a student senator for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, was allegedly employed by the university, and held multiple positions of leadership. Naturally, USC is now facing tremendous pressure to act, including from dozens of faculty who signed an open letter condemning Mashayekh’s comments. But instead of taking action, they issued a statement claiming they won’t share what they are doing because of “privacy concerns,” and that while they don’t support her comments, her statements are “protected speech.”

My colleague and the Jerusalem Post (the piece was an op-ed) thinks that the University may have violated the First Amendment by allowing a student to issue unprotected speech, didn’t punish her by firing her (she was removed as a DEI student senator and given a different job at the same salary), and at the very least assert that USC should have issued a statement condemning Mashayekh’s statements and affirming their support of Jews as well as denouncing anti-Semitism.

Several questions arise.

Did Mashayekh violate the First Amendment?  My answer is “no.” The First Amendment allows one to call for extirpation of groups, including statements like “Gas the Jews,” and “Kill the Jews.” The only circumstances in which such calls for violence are prohibited (as construed by the courts) are when those statements are liable to cause predictable, imminent, and foreseeable harm to others. That was not the case here. Mashayekh made her statements on social media.

As a private university, USC isn’t required to abide by the First Amendment. But because it espouses free speech in its own principles, see below, it should adhere to the First Amendment and not punish Mashayekh. In fact, USC says that it does adhere to the First Amendment:

From the USC speech policy: (my emphasis):

USC has long had established policies protecting the free speech rights and academic freedom of faculty and students.

In both policy and practice, when USC faculty speak or write as citizens, they are free of institutional censorship or discipline.  And academic freedom at USC protects all faculty. We vigorously defend these principles for faculty of every status and type of appointment.

. . . Our longstanding policies also declare that the University of Southern California is committed to fostering a learning environment where free inquiry and expression are encouraged and celebrated and for which all its members share responsibility. Dissent — disagreement, a difference of opinion, or thinking differently from others — is an integral aspect of expression in higher education, whether it manifests itself in a new and differing theory in quantum mechanics, a personal disagreement with a current foreign policy, opposition to a position taken by the university itself, or by some other means.  The university is a diverse community based on free exchange of ideas and devoted to the use of reason and thought in the resolution of differences.  The university recognizes the crucial importance of preserving First Amendment rights and maintaining open communication and dialogue in the process of identifying and resolving problems which arise in the dynamics of life in a university community.

Now the Jerusalem Post quotes Alan Dershowitz saying there was a violation here:

Even under the US Constitution, Mashayekh’s comments are not protected speech. Harvard Law Prof. Alan Dershowitz stated unequivocally that the comment about killing Zionists “is not protected speech for a university student,” and argued that should USC do nothing, they could be subject to losing federal funding.

I think he’s wrong, even though he’s a real lawyer and I just play one on television.

Should Mashayekh be banned from social media? According to their own principles, they can indeed ban her.  Whether they should do so is a complex question, for I also think that social media should adhere to the First Amendment as far as possible. But since they have the right to ban her, they can and should because her words violate their policies. What the real policies should be is above my pay grade. But the Jerusalem Post goes further, saying that Mashayekh’s statements violate other aspects of USC policy:

First, according to social media hate speech standards, Mashayekh’s comments are absolutely a violation of Twitter’s hate speech policies. Second, at USC, codes of conduct for university students prohibit expressing an intent to “kill” a minority group. For example, Mashayekh’s comments clearly violate the policy on prohibited discrimination, harassment and retaliation, which states, “the University prohibits discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived race, color, ethnicity, religion (including religious dress and grooming practices), creed… political belief or affiliation… and any other class of individuals protected from discrimination under federal, state, or local law, regulation, or ordinance (Protected Characteristics).”

The link to the quote is wrong in the paragraph above; the words are correct but the USC policy is here.  However, spewing hatred on social media does not constitute “discrimination,” “harassment” (which is meant to apply to individuals, not to groups), or “retaliation” (hateful words are not a form of retaliation, as they are not directed towards individuals who harmed Mashayekh). The miscreant was giving her opinion not on campus or at work, but on social media.

Should Mashayekh be fired from her student job?  I think USC did the right thing in transferring her to a different job at the same pay. In that way there was no retaliation, but her hateful behavior was not upholding the tenets of her position and therefore she did not deserve to continue on as a DEI counselor.

Should USC have condemned Mashayekh by naming her? Once again my answer is “no.” She did not violate USC’s speech codes, which are the First Amendment, and therefore condemnation by name or implication is a form of retaliation.

Should USC have called for tolerance and amity towards Jews?  Here I had to stop and think.  But since a divided campus with warring factions of students is not conducive to the function of a University, then yes, I think USC should have reaffirmed its principles of civility, respect, and comity. Everybody would know what this is about. The only other question is whether they should have mentioned the Jews.  This is a two edged sword, for if you just issue a general call for peace, it will offend the group who is seeking redress—the Jewish students, who would ignored or given lower status. On the other hand, if you mention that there is anti-Jewish rancor that impedes the University’s well-being, then all other groups, including Palestinans, will say “Well, why don’t you mention us when there’s anti-Palestinian sentiment?” And they have a point.

However, given the degree of anti-Semitism at USC and how it was inflamed by Mashayekh’s statements, I do think that mentioning the Jewish students as a particular target in a  University statement is warranted, and the right thing to do. That doesn’t mean that everyone should always get such call-outs, as it really depends on the degree of division at the time. A stingle student who complains, for example, does not warrant a University statement calling for people to be nice to him/her.

Whether you agree or not, weigh in below.

Alumni begin withholding donations from universities that suppress free speech or disinvite speakers

December 7, 2021 • 12:30 pm

This article from the “Education” section of the Wall Street Journal is heartening to free-speech advocates like me—and, I hope, us. It turns out that the suppression of speech or disinvitations of speakers on college campuses is beginning to hurt universities where it matters: in their pocketbooks. Increasingly, donors are withholding money to pressure schools to enforce free speech, and urging other alumni to do so as well. Alumni organizations with free-speech ends have formed at Cornell, Davidson, Washington-Lee, and the University of Virginia, among others. Since donations constitute 19% of the budget for student support at nonprofit four-year colleges (and 8% for public research schools), that’s a hefty chunk of change to worry about.

Click on the screenshot to read, or make a judicious inquiry if you’re paywalled.:

I love the story that begins the article:

Two years ago Cornell University asked a California real-estate developer and longtime donor for a seven-figure contribution.

Carl Neuss didn’t write the check immediately, saying he was worried about what he saw as liberal indoctrination on campus and declining tolerance toward competing viewpoints.

To allay Mr. Neuss’s concerns, the development office introduced him to some politically moderate professors, he said. The attempt backfired. The professors, he said, told him they felt humiliated by the diversity training they were required to attend and perpetually afraid they would say something factual—but impolitic.

“If you say the wrong words, you could lose your position or be shunned,” said Mr. Neuss.

Joel Malina, Cornell’s vice president for university relations, said “robust debate and a discussion of all views remain hallmarks of the Cornell experience both in and out of the classroom.”

Mr. Neuss, who graduated from Cornell in 1976, withheld his donation and then helped start the Cornell Free Speech Alliance. It is one of about 20 such dissident alumni organizations that have taken root on college campuses over the last couple of years—including several this fall.

Yes, the withholders and the leaders of these groups are often conservatives or moderates, but if they foster free expression without forcing students to parrot their own less liberal views, I don’t much care. Free speech is the sine qua non of good universities.  While there’s a danger that universities could be swayed towards the political views of big donors, given the liberality of American schools (see below) I don’t see that as a big problem. The more free-speech organizations and the more diverse views they encourage to create debate, the better.

Alongside these groups are non-college-specific free-speech organizations like FIRE and the Academic Freedom Alliance, both nonpartisan and both doing good work. Wokeness and its censoriousness and authoritarianism may still triumph, but it’s good to know that many people are fighting the good fight to maintain free speech, increasingly seen by the woke as incompatible with DEI.

Why are these groups forming? You already know, but here’s what the WSJ says:

The alumni pushback comes as colleges and universities grapple with demands by students, faculty and alumni to battle racism, which many see as a systemic and defining feature of American life. Universities around the country have fired or demoted politically outspoken professors on the right and disinvited conservative speakers who criticize things like the push toward diversity, equity and inclusion.

It’s not just that: more than race is involved, but a whole system of attitudes that, while I generally agree with them, have become dogmatic and rigid, which also stifles free speech, and go to extremes that can even force centrist liberals towards the right. While i don’t approve of the “watch lists” of liberal professors that some of these organizations compile, nor share the view that “This is a battle for Western civilization”, expressed by one professor, I may be too sanguine about the latter.  I sometimes wonder that if I could foresee what American universities will be like like in 30 years, I’d be horrified.

Anyway, there’s no doubt that the present woke climate on many campuses is causing both faculty and students to self censor. Study after study shows that. Here are some data:

Some students are caught in the middle. More than 80% said they self-censor at least some of the time on campus, according to a survey this year by RealClearEducation, College Pulse and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which covered more than 37,000 students enrolled at 159 colleges.