The University of Oklahoma teaches instructors how to make students shut up and swallow an accepted ideology

June 24, 2021 • 9:41 am

This new article from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) tells a dire tale that is documented with a recording.

On April 14, the University ran a professional development workshop for grad students and instructors dealing with “Anti-Racist Rhetoric & Pedagogies”. In this workshop, the instructors were taught how to make students shut up about certain topics, steer them and bend them to a woke ideology and, most offensively, how to threaten students with lower marks (or reporting to the administration) if they didn’t write the right stuff in their assignments. Click on the screenshot to read (and hear):

Of course it’s not illegal under the First Amendment to prevent students from disrupting classes, nor is it illegal to make them regurgitate material you’ve taught them, even if they don’t accept it. (In my evolution classes here, for instance, I sometimes had some creationist students, but they were graded on their ability to answer questions under the assumption that what I taught them was true. But I never made them accept evolution if they rejected it.)

Here’s the one-hour video of the U of O Zoom session. FIRE has highlighted it with time stamps certain parts that are worrying:

FIRE’s quotes are indented:

The workshop in question trains instructors on how to eliminate disfavored but constitutionally protected expression from the classroom and guide assignments and discussion into preferred areas — all for unambiguously ideological and viewpoint-based reasons. FIRE’s concerns are further compounded by the University of Oklahoma’s brazen and unconstitutional track record of putting individual rights out to pasture.

. . .But it’s not just racism the presenters encourage participants to root out.

One of the workshop leaders, Kelli Pyron Alvarez, explained in the recording how undergraduate students in one of her introductory English courses are “a little bit more emboldened to be racist” (17:17). To combat this, she forbids huge swaths of classroom speech, including “derogatory remarks, critiques, and hate speech,” as well as “white supremacist ideas or sources,” unless the student is using those sources to dismantle racism.

If you are wondering what sources or ideas are off limits because they fall into Pyron Alvarez’s subjective categories of white supremacist sources or “derogatory remarks” — well, she never specifies, so you should be.

Making a mistake can cost you: “If they use any of those things, if any of those come through in their writing or in their comments, I will call them out on it.” (18:20)

And if it happens again, “report them.”

Report them! To whom? Remember, as a state school, the University of Oklahoma must adhere to the principles of the First Amendment, and cannot penalize students for simply believing things that the instructors frown on. But wait! There’s more!

. . . Fairly early in the training, Pyron Alvarez addresses the potential reluctance faculty members might have toward putting a heavy hand on student speech. “One of the fears is that we’re going to get in trouble for this, right?,” she says. “Like we can’t tell students that they can’t say something in class. But we can! And let me tell you how.” (17:45)

Pyron Alvarez’ fellow workshop leader Kasey Woody later goes into some detail on how instructors can “steer” students away from “problematic territory” to accomplish this. (46:01)

“I, in this case, usually look for my students who might be, like, entertaining the idea of listening to a problematic argument. Then I say, ‘we don’t have to listen to that.’” (45:45)

That’s right — even thinking about listening to a disfavored argument is apparently to be discouraged.

Woody later reassures the instructors that they won’t face consequences for censoring students: “You do not need to worry about repercussions at any degree in the university if you are responding to a student who is using problematic language in the classroom.” (49:42)

And who gives them the green light to censor OU students? According to Pyron Alvarez, that permission comes from the highest court in the country.

“The Supreme Court has actually upheld that hate speech, derogatory speech, any of the -isms do not apply in the classroom because they do not foster a productive learning environment. And so, as instructors we can tell our students: ‘no, you do not have the right to say that. Stop talking right now’, right?” (20:05)

Now that is just wrong. The Supreme Court has said that speech on school grounds that causes “material and substantial disruption” of school functions can be punished. But what doesn’t “foster a productive learning environment” now becomes the judgment of the U of O instructors, and “material and substantial disruption” doesn’t seem to be what the OU trainers are addressing here—unless they adhere to the false mantra that “offensive speech is violence.”


Some of the responses from workshop participants indicated that they understood how what they were being told to do was out of the ordinary, and expressed reservations about it. One workshop participant asked whether instructors are doing a disservice to their students by censoring certain topics. The participant asked how to identify problematic arguments and whether, for example, a student should be able to examine if the Black Lives Matter movement should refrain from property damage. In response, Pyron Alvarez suggests telling students to “re-adjust” their topic if they’re “bordering” on being offensive. (53:05)

That’s not advice on what arguments might be effective — that’s “advice” on what arguments are politically acceptable.

It goes on, and doesn’t get better. FIRE wrote the University about this, and at first they refused to respond. Finally, yesterday UO Chief Diversity officer Kesha Keith responded, but it was a non-response. Keith asserted that the University “unequivocally values free expression and the diversity of all viewpoints”, but that’s not what the video shows. Keith also says that participation in this session was voluntary, but instructors are required to attend at least two of nine workshops.

On April 8 I reported that when FIRE wanted to see this Zoom session, the U of O stipulated very specific conditions:

The university’s March 23 response — more than four months after our request — said that FIRE would be permitted to view the training materials, but only in person on OU’s campus in Norman, Oklahoma. In other words, in order to view public records, the University of Oklahoma would require a FIRE staff member to fly across the country (FIRE is based in Philadelphia) during a global pandemic. That’s not exactly a transparency-friendly approach to public records, and it all but ensures that public records remain private.

It looks as if the U of O will continue this training—training that is effectively propaganda and also involves lying about student rights.

What can you do about it? At the bottom of the FIRE page is this form, and all you have to do is fill in your name and email address and press “send”, which will send the message at the bottom. I’ve already done that.  Read FIRE’s report, and if you agree that this kind of training  violates the rights of students, fill in the form and click. The only way we can stop the propagandizing of students and the discouragement of “speech” that the instructors don’t like is to speak up!


The message that’s automatically send under your name.

I am concerned about the state of free expression and freedom of conscience at the University of Oklahoma. Multiple instructor training sessions indicate that student and faculty individual rights are in jeopardy.

OU is a public institution, obligated to respect student and faculty rights. We call on you to ensure that individual rights are not violated at Oklahoma’s flagship institution.

Demanding ideological uniformity is a violation of students’ constitutional rights.

Supreme Court rules for cheerleader accused of obscene and disruptive speech

June 23, 2021 • 12:30 pm

I’m told by reader Ken that a number of important Supreme Court rulings are coming out today, and this appears to be the first. By an 8-1 vote, with Clarence Thomas dissenting (see full opinion below), the court showed near unanimity in ruling that Brandi Levy, a Pennsylvania high school student, had not violated the First Amendment by sending out a Snapchat message when she was off school grounds. Click to read the NYT story:

Ninth grader Levy, upset that she didn’t make the varsity cheerleading squad, put out a short Snapchat message with her middle finger upraised, saying, “Fuck school;” “Fuck softball;” Fuck cheer”; and “Fuck everything.”  Although, like all Snapchat messages, it disappeared on its own, someone took a screenshot and called it to the school’s attention. The school suspended Levy from cheerleading for a year, arguing that her speech caused “chaos” and disrupted the “teamlike environment.”

Levy sued and won in a federal appeals court on the grounds that her speech was made off school grounds and was therefore protected by the First Amendment. (The Court previously ruled that students could be punished if their speech was on school grounds and caused “material and substantial disruption” of school functions.) According to the NYT article, though, there was divergence among the judges about why her speech remained protected:

Though the Third Circuit was united in ruling for Ms. Levy, the judges disagreed about the rationale. The majority announced a categorical rule barring discipline for off-campus speech that seemed to limit the ability of public schools to address many kinds of disturbing communications by students on social media, including racist threats and cyberbullying.

In a concurring opinion, Judge Thomas L. Ambro wrote that he would have ruled for Ms. Levy on narrower grounds. It would have been enough, he said, to say that her speech was protected by the First Amendment because it did not disrupt school activities. The majority was wrong, he said, to protect all off-campus speech.

The Supreme Court has limited students’ First Amendment rights since the Tinker decision in 1969. In the court’s last major decision on students’ free speech, in 2007, for instance, the court sided with a principal who had suspended a student for displaying a banner that said “Bong Hits 4 Jesus.”

In general, though, I count this as a victory for the First Amendment. There was clearly no violation of free speech by Ms. Levy saying “Fuck softball/school/cheer/everything”.  I’m not sure about whether the Court’s new ruling really would protect off-campus speech that could include “racist threats” and “cyberbullying”, for some examples of those behaviors could constitute harassment in the work(school)place.

Her speech, though, was clearly off campus, and disruptive though some may have seen it, is not subject to the school’s authority.

I wonder if she’ll go back to cheerleading, or will make the varsity squad.

Here’s the 8-1 opinion, with only Clarence Thomas dissenting on the grounds that whether this speech was really “off campus” is unclear. You can download the pdf by clicking on the arrow to the right.

Click to access 20-255_g3bi.pdf

U Chicago law professor: Universities need dedicated units and officers to protect academic freedom and free speech

June 17, 2021 • 9:15 am

We all know that both the Left and the Right impinge on free speech and academic freedom in American colleges and universities. Though the Left does it more often, at least judging by the number of speaker deplatformings and disinvitations, the Right is no stranger to censorship. The latest incident from the Right occurred recently when Nikole Hannah-Jones, known for her founding of the NYT’s 1619 Project, for which she won a Pulitzer Prize, was refused tenure by the Board of Trustees for a position in the journalism school at the University of North Carolina. Her position had already been approved by the journalism school itself, and by the UNC administration, but the Board of Trustees, which has ultimate power, put the kibosh on it. Though I’m no fan of Hannah Jones or the 1619 Project, I think the trustees should have rubber-stamped the decision of the school itself and hired Hannah-Jones. It’s pretty clear they didn’t do so because Hannah-Jones is a controversial figure beloved by the progressive Left.

Incidents on the Left are more numerous, and I often describe them here. Some are summarized by my colleague Tom Ginsburg, a professor of law and political science at the University of Chicago, in a new article at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The UNC debacle was not an isolated incident, nor is the threat limited to the political right. Consider other recent examples: the University of Oklahoma demanded agreement from faculty and staff members with certain diversity-related statements as a condition of employment; Chapman University faculty members called for the firing of a professor who appeared at the pro-Trump rally in Washington, D.C., that took place hours before the Capitol insurrection; and Central Michigan University ended the contract of a journalism professor who invited members of the Westboro Baptist Church to class. A recent survey by the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology found widespread self-censorship among U.S. academics.

What to do about this? Ginsburg’s article proposes a solution that seems excellent. Read on by clicking on the screenshot.

The issue is a disparity involving colleges having ample resources and programs for promoting DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion), often with policies that can impinge on freedom of speech and/or academic freedom, but lacking programs and resources to ensure those freedoms themselves. Ginsburg describes this disparity:

In recent years, colleges have devoted significant resources to institutionalizing diversity, inclusion, and equity. These efforts accelerated after the murder of George Floyd, and many colleges are now creating vice president- or vice provost-level positions, leading entire bureaucracies devoted to this effort. As a requirement of federal law, colleges have also developed Title IX bureaucracies, which help to ensure that institutions receiving federal money deal with sexual harassment. Whatever one thinks of the implementation (and the implementation of Title IX in particular has been controversial), it is clear that colleges are serious about these important goals.

In contrast, in most institutions of higher learning, issues of academic freedom or free speech have no designated campus officer. There is no emerging profession devoted to it, no mandatory training programs, no resources for faculty members and students who want to understand what it means. There are no job ads posted for vice presidents for academic freedom. Instead, academic-freedom controversies tend to be left to faculty committees, whose membership turns over regularly, or to ad hoc decisions by provosts and presidents. Among students, questions of freedom of expression are left to deans of students or in some cases to the diversity bureaucracy. Without an institutional base to protect free inquiry, standards are applied in an uneven way. The risk is that administrators will simply give in to the loudest voice in the room, which will, by definition, never be someone whose full-time job is to speak up for academic freedom.

Perhaps Ginsburg was inspired by discussions that many of us have had about the Kalven Report, one of the U of C’s foundational principles. I’ve discussed it here many times; the report is meant to ensure that, with a very few exceptions, neither the University, its administrators, nor its departmental units are permitted to take ideological political, moral, or ideological positions.  (Professors and students themselves, of course, are welcome and encouraged to do so.) The purpose of this policy is to avoid chilling speech and intimidating dissenters that could occur when those who disagree with “official” political or ideological stands become fearful of their standing or treatment by the University.

The Kalven principles were affirmed last fall by our President, Bob Zimmer. Despite that, administrators and departments have been posting many “official” political statements on University websites, most of which clearly violate the University’s own Kalven policy. But it’s hard to get departments to remove them (I think all of those at the previous link are still up), and there is no official mechanism for doing so—and no official ombudsperson, group, or unit devoted to protecting our own principles of free speech. This is important, for it is those principles that the school uses to attract students, and advertises them heavily as an inducement to come here. Without enforcement, though, our famous principles, which include “the Chicago Principles” of free speech (copied by over 55 other schools) are in danger of disappearing.

One solution mentioned by Ginsburg is to give incoming students a unit on freedom of speech and academic freedom, comparable to their units on DEI. But the other is the creation of a formal academic system to ensure freedom of thought. To my knowledge, no university in America has such a system, though nonpartisan organizations like the American Association for University Professors, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the Academic Freedom Alliance will go to bat for faculty and students if their freedom of expression is violated.

As Ginsburg notes, however, such external bodies “are too removed from the front lines to touch the culture of students and faculty members”. So Ginsburg proposes a way to create or strengthen a freedom-of-expression culture in universities and colleges (remember, public ones must adhere to the First Amendment):

Institutionalization of academic freedom could look something like diversity initiatives, and would have the same goal: to advance core values in the culture of colleges. Staff members would serve as a resource for the faculty, develop basic explanations of core concepts for students, collect data, and advise leaders behind the scenes on how to handle controversies when they arise. While the last thing faculty members need is another online training program, there should at least be materials introducing new faculty members and students to the importance of academic freedom. One might imagine orientation programs where participants wrestle with the idea, perhaps role-playing through tough cases; books on free speech could be considered for pre-freshman summer reading; and students should be invited to ruminate on the fate of academics in places like Turkey, Venezuela, and Hungary, where attacks on colleges were a harbinger of broader assaults on democracy.

Indeed, when the controversy about the Kalven Principles arose in the past year, many faculty members were completely unaware of this policy, even though it’s a critical part of our Foundational Principles. But even when departments are informed that they’re putting up statements that violate these Principles, they ignore the critics and leave them up. This has already caused some chilling of speech on campus.

I would go even further than Ginsburg, though. The “institutionalizaton” of freedom of expression and academic freedom should encompass a formal and permanent unit that will adjudicate reported violations by the University itself or by its departments. The decisions should not be left to the University administration, for, as in our case, they’ve let stand several arrant violations of our own principles—for reasons I can guess but don’t know for sure.

If we can have permanent units to deal with and promote DEI, we can surely have permanent units to promote and enforce academic freedom. After all, our principles are already written down; all we need is a way to ensure that they’re followed. This need not involve Pecksniffian “bias reporting,” but certainly can involve dealing with issues like deplatforming, disruption or abrogation of free speech, and, for the faculty, violations of academic freedom.

The ACLU unconvincingly denies accusations of “mission creep”

June 10, 2021 • 10:45 am

Three days ago I highlighted a New York Times piece, “Once a bastion of free speech, the A.C.L.U. faces an identity crisis“. (This was a news report, not an op-ed.) It obviously hit home at the ACLU, because on the organization’s website their legal director, David Cole, has written a long piece defending the ACLU against the accusation that it’s undergoing mission creep by moving from defending civil liberties to engaging in social-justice work.

Click on the screenshot to read.

Cole argues strenuously, and gives examples, that the ACLU is still actively engaged in defending civil liberties—often of people or groups despised by the Left, including the NRA, Milo Yiannopoulos, Donald Trump, and so on. He gives a list of five years of civil-rights lawsuits that the ACLU has brought—from 2017 to 2021.

And, as I’ve said before, he’s got a point here: the ACLU is indeed continuing its mission. My point, and the New York Times’s was that it’s diluting its classic mission by engaging in social justice work, which isn’t in itself bad, but because some of that social justice work is not even-handed but one sided in terms of rights. Further, there are many other organizations doing social-justice work, but only the ACLU (and now the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE), has the resources and chops to defend the civil liberties of the despiséd.

In other words, the ACLU is doing what the Southern Poverty Law Center has done: taken its classic mission and, by branching off into questionable social justice activities (damning Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali for the SPLC), diluted not just its mission, but also its credibility.

I’ve written at length about the dubious stuff the ACLU is engaged in; and here’s a partial list of posts:

The ACLU backs off defending free speech in favor of promoting social justice

New improved standards proposed for adjudicating sexual misconduct in college; ACLU opposes them for “inappropriately favoring the accused”

The ACLU defends the right of biological men to compete in women’s sports

ACLU continues defending the right of medically untreated men who claim they’re women to compete in women’s sports

ACLU joins lawsuit allowing biological males to compete in women’s sports

My beefs fall into four areas.

First, the ACLU is on the side of diluting the changes in Title IX made by Betsy DeVos to guarantee a fair hearing to college students accused of sexual misconduct. Nearly all these changes brought college hearings closer to court hearings, at least in terms of guaranteeing fairness. As I’ve said, these changes are one of the few positive things accomplished by the Trump administration, and the ACLU should have favored them. Instead, as you see in one piece below, they were characterized as “inappropriately favoring the accused.”  If you read the changes, I suspect you’ll agree that the ACLU should have been in favor of them, not opposed to them.

Second, the ACLU is on a big-time movement to ensure that transgender women can compete on a level playing field (i.e., competing under their gender identity) with men in sports. This is a complex issue (see here for one possible solution), but becomes less complex with the ACLU’s claim that medically untreated transgender women (that is, biological males who have undergone neither surgery nor hormone treatment but claim a female identity) should be able to compete in sports against biological women. This is a very bad call as it’s the equivalent of biological men competing against biological women, and this violates the very reason why we separate men’s and women’s sport. Further, even with medically treated transgender women, there is an issue of fairness to biological women, since transgender women may retain strength, bone density, and muscle mass that gives them an average advantage over biological women. The ACLU’s kneejerk reaction here does not take into account the “rights” of biological women. It is an ideological stand that deviates far from the ACLU’s mission to assure civil rights for all.

Third, in tweets by ACLU branches and attorneys, they have favored censorship of books like Abigail Schrier’s, and accused cops of murder who were, by all reasonable accounts, doing their jobs. How is this fulfilling their mission of extending civil rights to all? (Chase Strangio is the ACLU staff attorney in charges of transgender issues.)

Fourth, as I discussed in a post a while back, the ACLU circulated a document in samizdat that explicitly said that they now have to consider diluting their mission when defending speech involves defending “hate speech”. As I wrote at the time (my words are indented in regular type; the ACLU’s words are indented further and italicized):

The ACLU is committed to the fundamental rights to equality and justice embodied in the Fourteenth Amendment and civil rights laws. See Policies #301-332. We are determined to fight racism in all its forms, whether explicit or implicit, and the deep-rooted institutional biases that continue to reify inequality. We are also firmly committed to fighting bigotry and oppression against other marginalized groups, including women, immigrants, religious groups, LGBT individuals, Native Americans, and people with disabilities. Accordingly, we work to extend the protections embodied in the Bill of Rights to people who have traditionally been denied those rights. And the ACLU understands that speech that denigrates such groups can inflict serious harms and is intended to and often will impede progress toward equality.

Note that they now claim that speech that denigrates groups—including religion!—can “inflict serious harms” and “impede progress toward equality”. Here is the beginning of the slippery slope of “hate speech”. Is criticism of the Vatican, or the excesses of Islam, sufficiently harmful that the ACLU will not defend it? What about religionists who demonstrate for the right of bakers and others not to serve gays?

And remember when the ACLU defended the Klan when it wanted to march through the Jewish suburb of Skokie, Illinois? Well, no more.

We recognize that taking a position on one issue can affect our advocacy in other areas and create particular challenges for staff members engaged in that advocacy. For example, a decision by the ACLU to represent a white supremacist group may well undermine relationships with allies or coalition partners, create distrust with particular communities, necessitate the expenditure of resources to mitigate the impact of those harms, make it more difficult to recruit and retain a diverse staff and board across multiple dimensions, and in some circumstances, directly further an agenda that is antithetical to our mission and values and that may inflict harm on listeners.

Yes this document, which was leaked and is now publicly available, is characterized by Cole this way in his post of yesterday:

I led a committee representing a wide range of divergent views within the ACLU in developing guidelines for selecting cases where they present conflicts between values that the ACLU defends. We reaffirmed in that document that “As human rights, these rights extend to all, even to the most repugnant speakers — including white supremacists — and pursuant to ACLU policy, we will continue our longstanding practice of representing such groups in appropriate circumstances to prevent unlawful government censorship of speech.”

At the same time, we acknowledged the costs that can come with that representation, including to other interests and work of the organization, and outlined ways to address and mitigate the costs when we do decide to embark on that representation. That can mean making clear in public statements that we abhor the speakers’ views even as we defend their right to express them, supporting counter-protesters, and investing any attorneys’ fees we obtain in connection with the work to advance the views that the speaker opposed and that we support. Some saw even this document’s acknowledgment of the complexity of such work as an abandonment of principle, but we saw it as an honest effort to confront the challenge of being a multi-issue organization.

Read the document yourself, and see if you think that’s a fair summary. Their “mitigation of costs” completely ignores the implication in the document that they might reject cases that they’d normally take because it involves hate speech that can cause “harm”.

At any rate, there’s also been negative reaction from other quarters to what I saw as a fair report in the NYT (see this piece in The New Republic).  The TNR piece is misguided in the same way the ACLU’s mission creep is misguided: they do not prioritize free speech over hate speech.  You cannot pretend that free speech will never be construed as “hate speech”—it’s nearly always seen that way by the speech opponents.

But thank Ceiling Cat for organizations like FIRE whose principle of promulgating free speech in higher education has not been diluted.

h/t: Ginger K., Enrico

Michelle Goldberg on why the Left needs the ACLU to keep defending odious speech

June 9, 2021 • 11:00 am

I recently kvetched about the American Civil Liberty Union’s (ACLU’s) movement against defending freedom of speech and towards social-justice initiatives, objecting both to the kinds of issues that the ACLU is now tackling (taking the side of those offended by “hate speech” and rejecting defense of the First Amendment), and to their entering an area that is already full of other people doing similar work. (The only organization doing anything similar to the ACLU is the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education—FIRE), which formed to fill the lacuna left when the ACLU stopped working on college issues.)

I was thus pleased to see NYT op-ed writer Michelle Goldberg take a similar position in her Monday column (click on screenshot below). In her view, the ACLU’s defense of “awful speech” is essential in ensuring social justice:

It’s a short piece and can be summarized briefly. First, this isn’t the first time the ACLU has been divided (there was internecine dissent in 1978 over the ACLU’s defense of the Klan.) Still, it’s pretty clear there’s a generational split over free speech, both in the A.C.L.U. and in liberalism writ large.

Second, people seem slow to realize that defense of free speech is essential for guaranteeing civil liberties and the rights of minorities.  Without the First Amendment, Black Lives Matter protests, for example, could have been banned, and protests are being banned now. Goldberg:

I wonder, however, if this divide could soon fade away, because events in the wider world are conspiring to remind the American left how dependent it is on a robust First Amendment. Civil libertarians have always argued that even if privileged people enjoy more free speech protections in practice, erosions of free speech guarantees will always fall hardest on the most marginalized. This is now happening all over the country.

She gives two examples. One is the spate of anti-protest bills being passed by many states:

In a number of states, Republicans have responded to last year’s racial justice uprising by cracking down on demonstrators. As The Times reported in April, during 2021 legislative sessions, lawmakers in 34 states have introduced 81 anti-protest bills. An Indiana bill would bar people convicted of unlawful assembly from state employment. A Minnesota proposal would prohibit people convicted of unlawful protesting from getting student loans, unemployment benefits or housing assistance. Florida passed a law protecting drivers from civil liability if they crash their cars into people protesting in the streets.

I’m not sure about the legality of punishing people for being convicted of unlawful assembly, but it seems like a form of double jeopardy—like denying convicted felons who have served their sentences the right to vote.  The Florida drivers’ law seem simply ridiculous.

Goldberg’s second example is the widespread passing of laws prohibiting the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in public schools. (Trump started this by banning CRT training for federal employees.) While I have my beefs about some tenets of CRT, I don’t think it’s the place of any government, federal or state, to declare what cannot be taught. (Evolution is an exception, for that is an empirically supported theory ubiquitously accepted by scientists.) Curricula fall under the ambit of schools and school boards.

As Goldberg says, “the credibility of your defenders matters”. What she means is that organizations that are evenhanded in defending the First Amendment or free expression are organizations most likely to be listened to and respected. For they are following a principle, not an ideology.

Goldberg ends her piece with a nice aphorism:

. . . in the end, the A.C.L.U. has usually, in the teeth of internal conflict, stuck to its mission. Maybe every generation has to learn for itself that censorship isn’t a shortcut to justice.

My only beef here is her repeated claim that the ACLU is sticking to its mission. Yes, it is to some extent, but it’s increasingly abandoning the classical mission of defending everyone’s speech in favor of going after those said to purvey “hate speech.” See my kvetch for examples of the latter.


The ACLU loses its way

June 7, 2021 • 9:15 am

I was always a big fan of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), admiring their single-minded dedication to preserving our civil liberties, most notably those specified by the First Amendment. But they also saved my bacon when I took the government to court for drafting me illegally as a conscientious objector. When I went to they ACLU, they started a class-action suit (I paid nothing) that we won, resulting in the release from service of myself and several thousand other guys.

But about five years ago the ACLU went off the rails, at least in my view. Instead of defending civil liberties and free speech, they began to ponder whether free speech and social justice might be incompatible in some ways, with words actually constituting “violence” that could hurt minorities. The real derailing, resulting in today’s split ACLU, began in August, 2017, when the ACLU won the right for far-right groups to demonstrate in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia instead of outside the center city. That demonstration, of course, led to violence, right-wing marches complete with bigoted slogans, and, eventually, to a white-supremacist protestor driving his car into a crowd, killing Heather Heyer. But I don’t hold the ACLU responsible for the death, though some do.

Although the ACLU was already morphing from a civil rights organization into a social justice organization, the Charlottesville debacle made many members and administrators rethink their mission. And since then the transformation has been more rapid, as described in a New York Times article (click on the screenshot below). It’s not the social-justice mission I object to so much—though some of the ACLU’s stands, like wholeheartedly supporting the right of transgender women, even those medically untreated, to participate in women’s sports, are wrongheaded—but to the fact that there are dozens of organizations already fighting for all forms of social justice, while the ACLU was unique in the singlemindedness of its mission. Now, at least on campus, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is taking over its job, but without the same dosh or resources backing the ACLU.

Although I’ve written about this before, the article has a lot more “inside” quotes both for and against the new mission of the ACLU.

An intro (we’ve met Ira Glasser before):

The A.C.L.U., America’s high temple of free speech and civil liberties, has emerged as a muscular and richly funded progressive powerhouse in recent years, taking on the Trump administration in more than 400 lawsuits. But the organization finds itself riven with internal tensions over whether it has stepped away from a founding principle — unwavering devotion to the First Amendment.

Its national and state staff members debate, often hotly, whether defense of speech conflicts with advocacy for a growing number of progressive causes, including voting rights, reparations, transgender rights and defunding the police.

Those debates mirror those of the larger culture, where a belief in the centrality of free speech to American democracy contends with ever more forceful progressive arguments that hate speech is a form of psychological and even physical violence. These conflicts are unsettling to many of the crusading lawyers who helped build the A.C.L.U.

The organization, said its former director Ira Glasser, risks surrendering its original and unique mission in pursuit of progressive glory.

“There are a lot of organizations fighting eloquently for racial justice and immigrant rights,” Mr. Glasser said. “But there’s only one A.C.L.U. that is a content-neutral defender of free speech. I fear we’re in danger of losing that.”

And here’s the scary bits, which I put in bold:

One hears markedly less from the A.C.L.U. about free speech nowadays. Its annual reports from 2016 to 2019 highlight its role as a leader in the resistance against President Donald J. Trump. But the words “First Amendment” or “free speech” cannot be found. Nor do those reports mention colleges and universities, where the most volatile speech battles often play out.

Since Mr. Trump’s election, the A.C.L.U. budget has nearly tripled to more than $300 million as its corps of lawyers doubled. The same number of lawyers — four — specialize in free speech as a decade ago.

Some A.C.L.U. lawyers and staff members argue that the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech and the press — as well as freedom of religion, assembly and petitioning the government — is more often a tool of the powerful than the oppressed.

“First Amendment protections are disproportionately enjoyed by people of power and privilege,” said Dennis Parker, who directed the organization’s Racial Justice Program until he left in late 2018.

To which David Cole, the national legal director of the A.C.L.U., rejoined in an interview: “Everything that Black Lives Matter does is possible because of the First Amendment.”

After Charlottesville, the ACLU began its shift, which I’m sure will go further. I wrote at the time about how the organization issued a memo beginning to back off defense of free speech. A quote from today’s NYT piece:

But longtime free speech advocates like Floyd Abrams, perhaps the nation’s leading private First Amendment lawyer, disagreed. The new guidelines left him aghast.

“The last thing they should be thinking about in a case is which ideological side profits,” he said. “The A.C.L.U. that used to exist would have said exactly the opposite.”

And the old ACLU was right. If you don’t keep freedom of expression as an inviolate principle, then speech is subject to the vagaries of not only who controls the government but also, like now, of which ideological views are considered acceptable. Right now we’re seeing this clash play out largely on college campuses, often through official ideological announcements as well as deplatformings, disinvitations, and cancellations of speakers. And this is where FIRE has picked up the torch, for the ACLU doesn’t get much involved. Even here the clash between free speech and offense has led to the University of Chicago’s violating its own principles of academic freedom and free expression.

While the ACLU continues to take traditional civil liberties cases, it’s now sometimes taken stands opposite to what it would done in the past. For example, Chase Strangio, the transgender ACLU staff attorney in charge of that part of the new mission, has called for censorship of Abigail Shrier’s book on gender dysphoria. Censorship—from the ACLU!

To wit:

And the ACLU opposed the Title IX changes made by the Trump administration (one of the few laudable things it did) assuring a fairer process in sexual-misconduct hearings in college.

Further, below you’ll see a tweet from the ACLU of Ohio not only jettisoning the presumption of innocence, but ignoring that the officer criticized here was trying to prevent a murder. It’s madness for the ACLU to issue a statement like this (yes, official tweets are statements) violating not only the known facts, but the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” In fact, from what I know so far, the police officer acted correctly.

I mourn the new direction of the ACLU, but of course that’s the direction that everything is going. While the organization will still do good stuff involving social justice, it will also do questionable stuff, as we’ve just seen. And I can’t think of a single case in which their past defenses of the First Amendment have been deplorable.

If the First Amendment and free speech is to be preserved, it must be preserved for everybody, with a few exceptions already carved out by the courts. We don’t need more exceptions, especially to placate those who equate speech with violence.

Here’s a humorous prescription by Katie Herzog. I agree, though we don’t need an ACLU Jr., as there are already plenty of those organizations.

And here’s a list of my posts, with links, describing and mourning the ACLU’s new direction:

The ACLU backs off defending free speech in favor of promoting social justice

New improved standards proposed for adjudicating sexual misconduct in college; ACLU opposes them for “inappropriately favoring the accused”

The ACLU defends the right of biological men to compete in women’s sports

ACLU continues defending the right of medically untreated men who claim they’re women to compete in women’s sports

ACLU joins lawsuit allowing biological males to compete in women’s sports

h/t for Herzog tweet: Eli

Cancel culture: is it real and, if so, how can we tame it?

June 4, 2021 • 9:15 am

The latest news is about as scant as I’ve seen since the pandemic began, and maybe that’s a good thing. The bad part is that nothing meaty is happening in the world of culture, with the usual instances of demonization, pushback, abject apologies, and the relentless spread of wokeness, which I now consider unstoppable for the next five years or so. But what do I know?  Today I’ll point you to several articles that you can read, and I’ll give my own take on them.

Here’s an article from the Vancouver Sun sent in by reader Michael called to my attention; click on the screenshot.

While many on the Left deny that there is a “cancel culture”, arguing that it’s just a fancy, right-wing monicker for the usual give-and-take of political discussion, I don’t think that’s the case. There are two things that are new with real “cancel culture” that distinguish it from regular debate about ideas:

a. The creation of taboos: ideas that one is forbidden to discuss, many of them involving observed group differences. Even mentioning these ideas or the data behind them can ruin one’s reputation. John McWhorter specializes in discussing this taboos with respect to race in America.

b. Which brings us to the second point. Instead of being seen as political/intellectual/moral discourse, much “cancel culture” discussion involves labeling people as “bad” and attempting to ruin their reputations. In other words, people’s characters become a topic more important as their views.

Todd, whose Twitter bio says that he’s a “migration, diversity & spirituality writer at Vancouver Sun/Postmedia (incl. housing crisis)”, first adduces evidence for a cancel culture (his words are indented):

But cancel culture is spreading wider today. Social media has expanded the power of mass cancellation and de-platforming (stopping a person from contributing to a public forum). Polls suggest two of three North Americans believe social media is fostering more hatred and violence.

. . . But the disturbing problem with cancel culture is it is most often characterized by vigilantism and moral panic. It lacks due process; it has no checks and balances on the potential ruination of reputations.

I agree with the problem, but how does one enact “due process” for this “vigilantism and moral panic”? Todd has some solutions, but (see below), they seem seem lame.

More evidence (Todd adduces anecdotes like Rusdie’s fatwa and attacks on people like Bari Weiss and J. K. Rowling, but those folks are hardly “canceled”):

Eric Kaufmann is a political-science professor at University of London, Birkbeck, who was raised in Hong Kong and Vancouver. He recently led a groundbreaking study into scholars’ attitudes to free expression in Britain and North America. His poll findings reveal the air is definitely chilly.

“Less than 10 per cent of Canadian academics generally support campaigns to dismiss scholars who report controversial findings around race and gender,” Kaufmann found. “However, a large group, of around 30 per cent to 60 per cent, do not actively oppose cancellation. This mirrors American and British findings.”

Kaufmann, whose origins are Jewish, Hispanic and Chinese, also discovered that major academic departments are overwhelmingly made up of people who are left wing.

“Seventy-three per cent of Canadian social science and humanities academics sampled from the 40 top-ranked universities identify as left-wing, with just four per cent identifying as right-wing.” The few conservatives who remain report the climate is hostile, with many self-selecting away from academia.

Partly because of Kaufmann’s widely discussed report, the British government has brought in legislation to require universities to protect the free speech of staff, students and visiting speakers.

Well, these are polls of academic support and lack of support, and although the Left is more responsible than the Right for deplatformings and cancelations, the Right is by no means exculpated. But let’s assume, based on the long list of anecdotes, which are data in the plural, that there is a cancel culture. The list of firings and ostracism at the New York Times alone will tell you that something wonky is going on.

As for government mandates that universities must have free speech, we don’t need that in public schools or universities in the U.S., as it’s alreadythe law; but there’s no legal mandate that private schools allow free speech.  Such a mandate would violate the Constitution since such schools are not considered arms of the government and hence needn’t follow the First Amendment. But, as far as possible, I recommend that all universities follow the Chicago Principles, which, at our private university, uphold the precepts of the First Amendment. I see no reason why the adoption of these Principles can’t be nearly universal, though of course religious schools won’t cotton to them.

What I do oppose are legislatures’ attempt to mandate what is or is not to be taught, like Critical Race Theory. While I object to much of CRT, it’s the bailiwick of school boards, not state legislatures, to determine what subjects should and shouldn’t be taught.

Given that cancel culture is real, what cures does Todd prescribe. He has three:

1.) “Administrations could start by protecting the weakening tenure system, which provides senior professors with job security, says Gandesha, who has tenure. He is worried many faculty, especially adjuncts, self-censor to the extreme knowing they can be destroyed by a vendetta over a wayward remark.” [Simon Gandesha is a professor at Simon Fraser who teaches a course on cancel culture.]

Yes, there is self-censorship everywhere, but much of that has nothing to do with tenure. For untenured faculty, it’s true that there’s a danger they can be fired for free speech, but the adoption of the Chicago Principles would prevent that. That adoption is in fact Coyne’s Solution to cancel culture, at least in universities (see below).

2.) “As for the chaotic, vicious world of social media, Gandesha joins those who believe it’s time to treat giant internet companies like utilities, organizations that provide the public with electricity, gas or water. That means bringing in complex regulations — so that decisions about what can be shared online aren’t left to the mania of the crowd.”

This is dangerous, as those “complex regulations” will inevitably be so slippery that much of them will amount to censorship of ideas that some people don’t like. Is the Will of Zuckerberg really superior to The Mania of the Crowd?


3.) “And how hard, Gandesha asks, would it be to respond to polarization by having more public debates between people on the left and right — like the way, in 1973, that revolutionary Black Panther Huey P. Newton appeared on the show Firing Line with conservative commentator William F. Buckley.

It’s not impossible to do so today, although it’s rare. To their credit, University of Toronto psychologist Jordan Peterson, who has been subjected to boycott campaigns on some campuses, and Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek were able to model how to dialogue when they took part in a debate in 2019.”

Is there anybody who thinks that more public debates between political or ideological opponents will even begin to ameliorate cancel culture? First, many such debates will be shut down. Second, we’ve been having debates between evolutionists and creationists for a hundred years, and they haven’t brought people to the truth (i.e., evolution) or quelled the controversy, in which Americans who accept some form of creationism outnumber those accepting scientific evolution by more than three to one. Debates are exercises in rhetoric and forms of entertainment, but I don’t think they’re particularly good at changing minds.

So what is my solution? It’s twofold.

First, as many schools as possible should adopt the Chicago Principles of Free Expression, which means adhering to America’s First Amendment.

Second, PUSH BACK on what you don’t like. If you’re in a position to speak up without getting fired or killed, by all means oppose the madness publicly. I think this is the best way to help reduce the prevalance of cancel culture. After all, it worked to reduce the prevalence of religiosity! The more people come out against the madness, the more the silent people will feel empowered to join the chorus.

h/t: Michael

Greg Lukianoff’s answers to common criticisms of free speech

June 1, 2021 • 11:00 am

In this article from Areo, Greg Lukianoff, president of FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), answers some of the criticisms that people on both Left and Right level at those who promote free speech and the First Amendment. It’s short, and you can read it for yourself (click on the screenshot), but I’ll highlight a few items.

A runthrough: speech is not the same thing as violence; free speech implies that words are harmless; the government recognizes limits to free speech (you can’t shout “fire” in a crowded theater if there is none); arguments for free speech are outdated; free speech is the tool of the powerful, not the powerless; free speech applies only to government punishment of expression; hate speech laws reduce intolerance; free speech is a conservative talking point; it’s all right to restrict speech if it promotes civility; restrictions on free speech preserve cultural diversity; and blasphemy should be exempt from free speech.

Lukianoff is an expert in this, and I think his answers are good ones, well worth reading if you’ve encountered some of this before. I want to highlight two points.

1.) Hate speech laws do not reduce intolerance.  This is Lukianoff’s contention, and I’ll reproduce his words and data. Remember that correlation is not causation, so even if areas with hate-speech laws have more hate crimes or incidents than do areas lacking such laws, that does not mean the laws aren’t effective. (Perhaps there would be more incidents if the laws were rescinded.) On the other hand, it shows at least that hate crime laws don’t reduce bigoted attacks below those of nations lacking such laws. The data also also imply that, even if there’s no correlation between the presence of laws and incidence of bigotry, Europe is more rife with bigotry than is North America.


Assertion: Hate speech laws are important for reducing intolerance, even if there may be some examples of abuse.

Answer: Since the widespread passage of hate speech codes in Europe, religious and ethnic intolerance there has gone up. During the same period, ethnic and religious tolerance has improved in the United States.

At least a dozen Western European countries have hate speech laws, many of which run counter to their legal or historical commitments to free speech. But even though those laws have been on the books for years, by most measures Western Europe is less tolerant than the United States.

Western Europe as a whole scores 24% on the antisemitism index, meaning about 24% of the population harbours antisemitic attitudes, even though many of their hate speech laws explicitly prohibit Holocaust denial. In the United States, with no such laws, the antisemitism index is ranked at 10%.

If it were true that hate speech laws reduce intolerance, we would expect to see fewer hate crimes where such laws exist. Yet, in 2019, in the United States, there were 2.61 hate crimes per 100,000 people; in Denmark, there were 8.08 per 100,000 people; in Germany, 10.34; and in the United Kingdom, a whopping 157.67.

The figures for the UK are astonishing to me (61 times higher per capita as in the U.S.!), as is the antisemitism index in Western Europe compared to the U.S.

Lukianoff’s argument continues:

Nor has restricting hate speech prevented the spread of intolerance. In 1986, the UK passed a law against “words or behaviour … likely to stir up racial hatred”; yet, in the 1990s, racial tolerance decreased. Despite having hate speech laws since the 1980s, Germany is experiencing increased islamophobia and antisemitism. France passed its Gayssot Act outlawing Holocaust denial in 1990, yet as recently as 2019 it held a 17% antisemitism index score.

And I don’t just believe that cracking down on hate speech failed to decrease intolerance, I think there is solid grounds to believe that it helped increase it. After all, censorship doesn’t generally change people’s opinions, but it does make them more likely to talk only to those with whom they already agree. And what happens when people only talk to politically similar people? The well documented effect of group/political polarization takes over, and the speaker, who may have moderated her belief when exposed to dissenting opinions, becomes more radicalized in the direction of her hatred, through the power of group polarization.

2.) Free speech, at least in America, doesn’t apply only to the First Amendment. True, the government can’t punish you for what you say, but other people and organizations can.  This is in principle true, but, for all the reasons that we need free speech (Lukianoff goes over Mills’s classic three reasons), it behooves other groups to allow speech as far as they can. This includes social-media organizations like Facebook and Twitter, though of course some private organizations might be damaged by certain types of speech. And private universities, which needn’t adhere to the First Amendment, should still follow the Chicago Principles of Free Expression.

All too often, the widespread promotion of free speech is attacked using the derogatory term “Freeze Peach,” and when I see that I know i’m dealing with a chowderhead. Here’s an xkcd cartoon which expresses the woke “Freeze Peach” attitude, and, as Lukianoff says, it’s “wrong”:

First of all, it implies that people who object to your speech think you’re an “asshole” and are purveying “bullshit”. That’s not necessarily the case, for, as Mill emphasized, you can benefit by listening to your opponents in several ways. It tacitly approves of social media pile-ons as well as deplatforming, and is notably lacking in empathy. (I find that xkcd cartoons often have that hard-nosed attitude.)

Here’s Lukianoff’s response:

Answer: No, the popular xkcd cartoon below is wrong. The First Amendment limits what the government can do, but freedom of speech is something much bigger than that.

This cartoon is often used to dismiss free speech arguments, but it is wrong: it not only confuses First Amendment law with freedom of speech, it doesn’t even get the First Amendment right.

The concept of freedom of speech is a bigger, older and more expansive idea than its particular application in the First Amendment. A belief in the importance of freedom of speech is what inspired the First Amendment; it’s what gave the First Amendment meaning, and what sustains it in the law. But a strong cultural commitment to freedom of speech is what maintains its practice in our institutions—from higher education, to reality TV, to pluralistic democracy itself. Freedom of speech includes small l liberal values that were once expressed in common American idioms like to each his owneveryone’s entitled to their opinion and it’s a free country. These cultural values appear in legal opinions too; as Justice Robert H. Jackson noted in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, “Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.”

While the United States Constitution limits only governmental behaviour on its face, its application sometimes requires the government to protect you from being censored by other citizens. For example, the government has a duty to protect you from being attacked by a hostile mob that doesn’t like your ideas or having your public speech disrupted by a heckler’s veto.

The First Amendment also bars government officials from punishing your speech in many ways that don’t rise to the level of arresting you. To give just one example, since administrators at state colleges are government actors, they can’t tear your flyer from a public message board because they don’t like what it says.

A belief in free speech means you should be slow to label someone as utterly dismissible for their opinions. Of course you can kick an asshole out of your own house, but that’s very different from kicking a person out of an open society or a public forum. The xkcd cartoon is often used to let people off the hook from practicing the small d democratic value of listening.

The last paragraph, which I’ve put in bold, is absolutely right. (NYT: are you listening?) There’s an increasing tendency to deal with speech you don’t like not by counterarguing, but by deplatforming, dogpiling, or implying that someone (J. K. Rowling is one example) is a bad and hateful person. Like those who go after Rowling, or young-adult authors who are doing their best, or the irredeemable transgressors in the knitting community, this xkcd cartoon lacks empathy. It does have a point, but doesn’t make it very effectively, and, as Lukianoff says, it doesn’t even get the First Amendment right.

h/t: Paul

Branch of Rutgers Law School rescinds unconstitutional requirement mandating “viewpoint discrimination” with respect to CRT

May 28, 2021 • 9:15 am

The craziness that is engulfing American universities with respect to Critical Race Theory is exemplified by a recent ruing of the Student Bar Association of Rutgers Law School-Camden.  Fortunately, some timely intervention from the estimable Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), recounted in its article below (click on screenshot), forced the students to rescind their rule.

Click on the screenshot to read:

As FIRE reports in an earlier post:

The SBA of Rutgers’ Camden campus added a section to its constitution entitled “Student Organizations Fostering Diversity and Inclusion” on Nov. 20 [2020], mandating that any group that wishes to receive more than $250 in university funding must “plan at least one (1) event that addresses their chosen topics through the lens of Critical Race Theory, diversity and inclusion, or cultural competency.” Last fall, 19 of 22 student groups requested more than $250.

This puts student clubs in a bind: Should they request the funding they need, even though it would require planning an event — such as hosting a speaker, outing, or mixer — that may be at odds with or unrelated to the group’s own views?

As FIRE noted, Rutgers is a state university, and is therefore forbidden by Supreme Court rulings from “viewpoint discrimination,” which includes differential distribution of funds to student groups based on their politics or views. The requirement that student groups—many of which surely aren’t involved with CRT—hold specific events promoting CRT is therefore unconstitutional. This was pointed out to the President of Rutgers in a 5-page letter from FIRE on May 17.

After the letter arrived, the Student Bar Association (SBA) met with the Rutgers administration and rescinded their stipulation. The SBA Presidents, however, responded petulantly, saying in a May 23 email to the student body that they did this because of the issues involved and the time deadline, but that they were not giving up. This section of the letter implies that they’ll continue their unconstitutional—and ultimately futile—fight. Click to enlarge:

Of course “the other guys who say so” include the Supreme Court! It’s almost humorous that they think they can pass the amendment again or something like it. That would also be unconstitutional.

It’s manifestly obvious that no public school can force its constituent groups to present seminars pushing a particular ideology. It’s as if a conservative SBA voted that every funded student group would have to present a seminar favoring unrestricted access to guns by Americans, or blanket opposition to immigration. Be the issue on the liberal or conservative side, groups cannot be forced to adhere to or present a favored ideology.

The fact that the Rutgers SBA could even try something like this tells us about the warped thinking that has infected America in the last year. There’s nothing wrong with fighting racism, but there’s everything wrong with fighting it by using unconstitutional means forcing others who may disagree with your methods to nevertheless mouth your approved ideology. It also tells us that a Student Bar Association that blatantly violates a Supreme Court decision needs to bone up on its law.

FIRE has a chat about free speech with the University of Chicago’s incoming President

May 21, 2021 • 11:15 am

As of September 1, our estimable leader, Bob Zimmer, is retiring as President of the University of Chicago and will become Chancellor, retaining his interest in the free-speech principles that he supported so strongly over the past 15 years (I hope he’ll also keep his interest in our ducks as well!). Our new President is Paul Alivisatos, a chemist who was executive vice Chancellor and Provost of the University of Caifornia, Berkeley.

Of course, those of us who are “diehard free-speechers” want to know whether Alivisatos will continue Zimmer’s principles of supporting our Foundational Principles, which include the Principles of Free Expression that have been adopted by more than 70 colleges in the U.S., as well as the Kalven Principles, which mandate that neither the University nor or any of its units, divisions, or departments, can make official public declarations about preferred ideologies, politics, and morals unless those principles bear narrowly on the educational mission of the University.

The Kalven Principles have been much discussed lately, and are important in ensuring that acadmic speech here is free and cannot be chilled by official statements of what is politically acceptable. I myself have fought long and hard to retain them, and they were affirmed by Zimmer last October. Nevertheless (see below), University units have repeatedly violated these principles by making official statements (see below), and this has been a point of great contention.

At any rate, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) wrote statement directed to President Alivisatos, affirming its approbation of our free-speech principles and expressing hope that the new President will continue to support them. The statement is on the FIRE website, along with a letter to Alivisatos from FIRE’s President and CEO, Greg Lukianoff, expressing similar hopes and offering FIRE’s help to buttress our principles against erosion. Click on the screenshot to read both the statement and Lukianoff’s letter:

I won’t reprise any of this except to say that, among American colleges and universities, the University of Chicago has consistently ranked #1 in its “free-speech rating”. Lukianoff applauds this, as do all right-thinking people, but he also issues a caveat (my emphasis):

. . . while UChicago has been a national leader on free expression, its climate for free expression can still be improved. Even with UChicago finishing the highest of the 55 institutions whose students we surveyed last year, the institution’s score of 64.19 out of 100 shows that the institution, like its peers, nonetheless contends with significant challenges to its free expression culture. Even with UChicago doing as much as it does to foster a positive climate for self-expression, students routinely self-censor and worry that the frank and uninhibited discussion of certain topics, whether in classrooms, among friends, or ontheir social media accounts, remains off-limits.

In short, UChicago has made great gains in cultivating a culture of free expression in recent years, but the gains are incremental, and hard-won. What’s more, while those gains are the result of years of investment, they can be unmade with dizzying speed.

In fact, the gains are already being unmade with dizzying speed, at least with respect to the Kalven report. Department after department has posted official statements about politics, race, policing, and other political matters in the last year, and these statements are blatant violations of Kalven principles (see below). Why they remain up is a mystery to me, but I can see why the administration, while supporting Kalven, wouldn’t want to tell departments that they have to take political statements off their websites. I can also see how departments and chairs would regard that as intrusion into their bailiwicks.

So, here’s a list of violations of Kalven that remain online. While critics like me nevertheless agree with some of the political statements in the official issuances below, that is not the point. The point is that our principles state that the University must remain, in general, politically, ideologically, and morally neutral as the best way to avoid chilling free discussion (I would suggest you reading the brief rationale for this in the two-page Kalven Report.) The links include statements by the provost, by divisions and schools, and by departments, all of which are either official statements or have the patina of official statements. Such statements have never been made during political turmoil of the past, even while people were calling for The University of Chicago to oppose Communism, the Vietnam War, and various investments.

Kalven report

The Kalven report outlines a strong presumption against University officials and units of the University taking official positions on social and political issues, except in exceptional circumstances when the issue directly relates to University functioning. Since 2020, a number of statements have been made that appear to be inconsistent with the Kalven report.


Divisions and Schools


An example of a blatant violation, expressing a departmental view on a departmental website and making academically and empirically contestable statements, see the Department of Music’s statement, which even calls for defunding the police. Also see the Department of Human Genetics’ statement, which indicts our field for having a consistent history of supporting racism (yes, some human geneticists were racists, but many were not and many were anti-racist). At any rate, such statements are not part of a mission to teach human genetics; they belong in the history of science or philosophy department. Many of these statements represent attempts to limn an ideologically correct view of the world, made by departments, that will clearly quash dissent on the part of graduate students, untenured faculty, and others. Would a graduate student or untenured professor buck a department’s official political position? I think not.

It goes without saying that if a University principle is not enforced, the principle becomes toothless and then worthless. This seems to be what is happening to Kalven. It’s still touted to prospective students and their parents as one of the great foundational principles of the University of Chicago, and it is, but perhaps the prospectives don’t know that it’s adhered to more by lip service than in practice.

These statements, which some administrators have admitted do violate the Kalven principles, should be taken down. While, as I said, I and others agree with the principles in many of these statements, we disagree on many other claims; and prohibiting official statements about things that are politically and academically contestable is the precise purpose of the Kalven Report. A good University (and we are one of the few left in this respect) remains politically neutral, for our mission is not to alter society in preferred ways but to teach our fields as best we can and instill the principles of analysis and critical thinking in students.

If Kalven goes, the University of Chicago may as well go the way of Princeton, Smith, Middlebury College, and other schools whose purpose has moved from academic instruction to changing the world in certain preferred ways.

If you want to read a good book about this, I’ve just finished Stanley Fish’s short volume Save the World on Your Own TimeThe title tells it all; if academics want to promote social justice, political views, and so on, they should do it on their own time, not as part as their official mission as representatives of a university. Fish has had a fair amount of administrative experience, including serving as dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.