“Protected identity harm” report filed with Stanford University administration after student photographed for reading “Mein Kampf”

January 29, 2023 • 1:20 pm

What we have here is one or two Stanford students being reported to the University administration after a photo was circulated online of one student reading Hitler’s Mein Kampf.  There are two reports of the incident, the first from FIRE and the second from the student newspaper The Stanford Daily. They’re in order below, and you can read them by clicking on the headlines.

First, the report was made to the Stanford bias reporting site designed to collect reports of incidents that might harm “protected groups”:

The Protected Identity Harm Reporting process is the University’s process to address incidents where a community member experiences harm because of who they are and how they show up in the world.

They add:

Specifically, a PIH incident is conduct or an incident that adversely and unfairly targets an individual or group on the basis of one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics: race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, veteran status, marital status or any other characteristic protected by applicable law.

The Protected Identity Harm (PIH) Reporting process, intakes information via a reporting mechanism to 1) help students who have been affected by these incidents and 2) collect data. It is not a judicial or investigative process* though we do hope to provide a path to resolution for the affected individuals or communities who need to heal.

But it is certainly an investigative process, and a quasi-judicial one as well. (In this case the protected group was Jewish people.)  And the students involved in the photo have been called to account by the administration and are certainly preparing their formal apology—if they want to stay at Stanford.

Read on:

From FIRE (my bolding):

Reading a book on a college campus should not prompt formal administrative intervention. But that’s what’s reportedly happening at Stanford University this week, after a photo of a student reading Adolf Hitler’s autobiography, “Mein Kampf,” circulated on campus last Friday.

The Stanford Daily said over the weekend that administrators were working “swiftly” with the students involved to “address” the incident. Two campus rabbis emailed Jewish students saying administrators “are in ongoing conversation with the individuals involved, who are committed to and actively engaged in a process of reckoning and sincere repair.”

Stanford was reportedly alerted to the book-reading via its Protected Identity Harm reporting system. Effectively a bias response system, Stanford says PIH reports help the university “address incidents where a community member experiences harm because of who they are and how they show up in the world.”

Now it’s not clear how many individuals were responsible for this incident, or who reported it. Presumably the “guilty party” was the person reading the book, and perhaps an accomplice who photographed that, though it’s not clear that the photo wasn’t taken surreptitiously. The “students involved” implies more than one, but this could include the student who reported the incident. I can’t find the photograph.

The Stanford Daily adds this, implying that two students collaborated on this (my bolding again):

The photo of the student reading the book was posted to another student’s Snapchat story Friday evening, according to a screenshot of the image obtained by The Daily.

University spokesperson Dee Mostofi confirmed that the Office of Student Affairs and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life (ORL) became aware of this incident on Saturday. Mostofi added that the two offices, along with Stanford’s Hillel chapter, are working with the leaders of the residence that the students belong to address the social media post and its impact on the community.

“Swift action was taken by the leadership in the residential community where both the individuals who posted and the one pictured are members,” Kirschner and Hahn Tapper wrote. Student Affairs and ORL are actively working with students involved to address the issue and mend relationships in the community.

The FIRE article notes that the students have already been notified that they’re in trouble, and are “actively involved in reckoning and sincere repair.” Isn’t that punitive and judicial?

FIRE adds this:

Because college students should not have to report to university authorities for merely reading a book — one, by the way, that has been required reading in at least one recent Stanford humanities class and is available to borrow from the university library — FIRE asked Stanford today to provide additional clarity about the way it handles these kinds of “harm” reports on campus.

FIRE also notes that this picture doesn’t seem to violate the freedom of expression that Stanford promises to its students. Because there is an investigation and presumably the student who read the book and the picture taker are being investigated, FIRE wrote a letter to the President of Stanford, 

Part of FIRE’s letter, sent to President Marc Tessier-Lavigne on January 25:

Reading a book on a college campus should not prompt formal administrative intervention.

Despite Stanford’s insistence that its PIH Reporting process “is not a judicial or investigative process and participation in a resolution is voluntary, it is unacceptably punitive and chills expressive activity. Being “invited” by administrators with institutional disciplinary authority to engage in a formal reconciliation process to atone for reading a book—one that has been previously assigned as required reading for a Stanford class6 and is available to check out at Stanford’s library is not conducive to the campus free speech culture. Stanford deems central to the university’s functions. Nor is it consistent with California’s “Leonard Law,which requires Stanford to provide free expression.

Despite these obligations, Stanford chills student speech when the response to a PIH report involves notifying an accused student that they may have caused “harm” by merely exercising their rights.

The PIH system’s “resolution” mechanisms also raise compelled speech and thought reform concerns. Stanford “invites” accused students to meet with their accuser to engage in, for
example, “restorative justice, [a] healing circle, [or] mediation to help move towards resolution.” Stanford’s “goal” is for students to:
[I]mmediately focus on the resolution practices, but also account
Acknowledgement of Harm (and History)
Accountability and steps taken towards change (to the
extent possible)
Healing/Harm Reduction (if desired)


This presupposes that students must acknowledge their expression as “harmful” and commit not to cause “harm” in the future. In this case, students will understand that certain protected speech is nonetheless off limits, and they will self-censor.

Here’s what FIRE suggested:

If Stanford wants to provide both this PIH reporting system and promote a culture of free expression, it should undertake a cursory review of PIH complaints and first determine whether the conduct alleged constitutes protected expression. In such cases, Stanford can offer support to the complainant without notifying or involving the accused student. 

And they asked for a response from Stanford by February 1.

Now it’s entirely possible that this was designed as an anti-Semitic stunt to scare Jews. In that case, it’s reprehensible but still not a violation of free speech. (Needless to say, if the student really was reading the book out of interest, or had been assigned it, and it wasn’t a scare tactic, Stanford should stay well away from the reader and photographer.) But in either case FIRE is right: the students who read the book, and perhaps the one who took and posted the photo, were exercising their rights of free speech, which Stanford supposedly guarantees. Getting them involved in a bias reporting investigation solves nothing, but serves only to chill speech in general. (Remember, if speech is protected, offensive speech must be protected, and that includes “hate speech”.)

As a (secular) Jew, I’m very sensitive to the rise of anti-Semitism on American campuses and among the American Left. It worries me, as does the seeming embrace of “anti-Zionism” on campus.  And if Jewish students say they were harmed by seeing this photo, well, it’s perfectly fine for Stanford to offer them counseling and tons of support.  I would hope, though, that Jewish students would develop a hide thick enough to withstand a photograph like this without being traumatized. (I realize that this may be part of a campus pattern, which would make it extra bothersome.)

But Stanford should leave the students involved in the incident alone (there were probably two, since they live in the same dorm). Otherwise the “perps” are being not only investigated, but punished, for of course a note from the administration that you’re being investigated, followed by a process of “restoration” are by chilling your speech, forms of punishment. You’re being punished for saying what is legal.

h/t: Ginger K.

Ira Glasser: Why we need freedom of speech, even if it’s offensive and hateful

January 23, 2023 • 9:20 am

The University of Chicago and some of our faculty are pondering creating an orientation module on free speech for incoming students—a module that’s all too rare but essential, for “progressive” students are beginning to oppose free speech and the First Amendment since some speech is seen as “harmful”, “offensive”, or even “violent.”

I wrote to a few people involved in our campus endeavor and told them this:

This short article by Ira Glasser (former head of the ACLU) is the best concise explanation of why we need the First Amendment that I’ve ever read. It carefully explains why all speech—including “hate speech”–must be protected. Naturally, it appeared in a right-leaning site, Spiked, but that makes no difference.
Were I to construct an orientation for first-year students here, I’d have them read his piece (it also explains why all progress in social justice has required freedom of speech):
. . . and also watch Christopher Hitchens’s 20-minute defense of free speech; a tour de force of rhetoric:
Even if you already know all the reasons why free speech—with the few exceptions carved out by the court—is in the Bill of Rights, you should still read this article by the estimable Ira Glasser, head of the American Civil Liberties Union from 1978-2001. I’ve written about him several times, including this interview as well as a blurb for a very good movie about his career, “Mighty Ira.

Now Glasser has just published a very good piece in Spiked that I highlighted above (naturally it’s on a right-leaning site, for the Progressive Left is not so keen on free speech because it can include “hate speech”). It’s hard to get a defense of free speech published in a liberal place.

Glasser’s message is simple and compelling; click on the screenshot to read it:

The parts of the article essential for a modern student’s introduction to free speech is Glasser’s explanation of not only why “hate speech” must be allowed, but also why progressive social justice of the good type requires freedom of speech.

I’ll give a few excerpts. I hope college administrators can and will use this piece to introduce students to the purpose and meaning of the First Amendment.

This describes why the ACLU defended the racist George Wallace’s right to speak in New York City after the mayor had banned him.

For example, the First Amendment protects the right to free speech and assembly by barring the government from abridging such rights. That is how I was able to stop the mayor of New York from banning George Wallace from speaking in 1968. Why did I do it? Because what if George Wallace had been elected? He had already been elected as governor of Alabama. He was trying to get elected as president (and he had considerable support). If he had gained political power, he would not have hesitated to suppress or punish my speech, or the speech of others I supported.

So I needed an insurance policy. I needed a legally supreme rule that barred him from curbing my speech in case he gained political power. And in order to do that, I needed to stop the then mayor of New York, a liberal whom I supported, from using his power to silence Wallace, a reactionary whom I feared. The two were linked because the antagonist of liberty is always power. And because power is fickle and unpredictable.

In a democracy, you can never know who will have power. So all power must be limited in order to protect liberty, including speech. That’s what liberty is: a legal limit on democratic power. The right to freedom of speech is guaranteed only by limiting the power of any government to abridge it. By defending George Wallace’s right to speak when he doesn’t have power, you insure against his curbing your right to speak should he gain power.

On the two-edged sword of bannng speech:

When Martin Luther King, Jr and his colleagues marched, white and black, hand in hand, in America’s deep South, the majority of residents there found King’s vision of an integrated society deeply offensive and tried, on that ground, to ban his speech.

We may find the two examples vastly different. They are vastly different. But if being offensive was allowed to justify banning speech, and if what is offensive were decided by majority vote, then civil-rights marchers would have been banned in Alabama, just as neo-Nazi marchers would have been banned in Illinois.

Could the two cases have been separated, and decided differently? Consider this: those same neo-Nazi marchers in Skokie were also banned from demonstrating in a park in Chicago, along with rival demonstrators from the Martin Luther King, Jr Association, a civil-rights group. Both were banned, based on the same law. And both bans were struck down by the First Amendment, which bars the government from enforcing such a law. The rights of both groups were thus joined together, even as their goals were diametrically opposed.

There was – indeed there is – no way around that. That is why the price of permitting King to speak in Alabama was to allow Wallace to speak in New York. And the cost of banning Wallace from speaking in New York would have been to allow Alabama to ban King from speaking in Alabama.

Finally, the part that may stir the thought of “progressives” who want to ban offensive speech:

What progressives say they care about most is social justice. And for many progressives, free speech and social justice seem to be antagonists. How, they ask, does defending the right of people to advocate bigotry advance the cause of social justice? In their view, prohibiting speech because its content is bigoted or hateful would seem to advance social justice.

Such speech is a barrier to social justice, they say. Permitting it makes it harder to eradicate the layers of prejudice against women and people of colour that has resulted, and still results, in invidious discrimination and subjugation.

I certainly have no quarrel with the passion to end such discrimination and subjugation. I have spent most of my adult life fighting to do just that, and I believe that although much progress has been made, we are still far away from the day when we can declare that fight definitively won. So opposing the content of racist speech remains vital. But believing that, in order to advance social justice, it is necessary to give the government the power to ban speech is self-defeating. Giving the government this power harms social justice. That’s because, in practice, social justice depends on free speech, and always has.

Historically, in the United States, every fight for social justice began with free speech, depending on speech to initiate and sustain the movement to right wrongs. In the early years of the 20th century, for example, the nascent labour movement critically required (and did not often enjoy) the right to meet, to leaflet, to demonstrate and to picket in order to convert workers’ powerlessness into success against oppressive employers.

Also during the early 20th century, the movement to end the lynching of black people, led by courageous advocates like Ida B Wells, totally depended upon freedom of speech and the right to publish. Without these freedoms, it would not have been able to spread the word about the epidemic of lynchings in the South and to gather and build opposition to it.

Or take the case of Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood. In 1916, she was arrested in New York City nearly every week for distributing informational leaflets on birth control to women victimised and, yes, effectively enslaved by unwanted pregnancies. The beginning of the reproductive-rights movement required freedom of speech the way a new plant requires water and sunlight.

And of course, in our own time, the civil-rights movement could not have ended legalised racial subjugation without freedom of speech. The First Amendment protected the early efforts of activists to call attention to the abuses of skin-colour exclusions and build the support needed to end them. In 1955, for example, Rosa Parks sat down on a seat reserved for whites on a Montgomery, Alabama bus, and a then unknown young Baptist minister named Martin Luther King, Jr stood up to support her, by organising a boycott of those buses. None of that would have been possible without the protection of the First Amendment.

If this doesn’t convince people to adhere to First Amendment principles, on or off campus, well, there’s no hope for them.

Here’s a 7-minute clip of Mighty Ira defending freedom of speech on Bill Maher’s show, as well as criticizing the modern ACLU for preferring to defend speech that isn’t “harmful”. The ACLU has undergone a severe erosion of its founding principles since Ira was at the helm:

U of C President affirms freedom of speech on campus

January 20, 2023 • 9:30 am

Paul Alivisatos, the fairly new President of the University of Chicago, has written a piece for the Chicago Maroon, our student newspaper. It is, I think, a significant affirmation of our principles of free expression, which have been copied by nearly 100 other schools. And there is no nod to tempering freedom of speech in the interest of people’s “comfort”.  Click on the screenshot to read the whole statement, and I’ll put some bits, with commentary, below.

A few words first. The complete set of the U of C’s Foundational Principles can be seen here, and the important part, copied by other schools (the 2014 Freedom of Expression report), is here. Every university that gives lip service to freedom of speech should formally adopt a version of these principles. They should also adoopt a version of the Kalven Report, designed to buttress free expression. Kalven states that no part of the U of C, including departments or the administration, can make pronouncements on politics, ideology, or morality unless the issue threatens the mission of the university. We’ve abided by it for years with no obvious problems, but other schools have failed to adoopt it (save one: the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) because they can’t accept that official pronouncements on ideology, politics, etc. could chill the speech of people who disagree. In fact, they want to be able to make political statements, even though they’re irrelevant to the university’s mission to teach, create knowledge, and promote critical thought. It’s time for other schools to follow us in adopting Kalven.

Now, on to President Alivisatos’s letter. His words are indented, and my comments are flush left except for one doubly-indented extract from an earlier post.

As we mark the start of a new year and the beginning of winter quarter, I write to share my reflections on the central culture and practice of free expression at the University of Chicago. Together, in the coming years, our community will need to continue devoting considerable effort to the broad and deep cultivation of this culture.

I am prompted by the fact that we live in an era of heightened political polarization, and free expression is in clear distress. This poses challenges to the practice of free inquiry throughout academia. During my time back at UChicago, I have seen firsthand the genuine depth of commitment to free expression within our community; yet it is essential to our mission that we constantly undertake the difficult work of interrogating the integrity of its practice on our campuses and renew our commitment to it time and time again. This unending exercise suffuses the spirit of how we drive rigorous inquiry on our campuses, and it touches every aspect of who we are.

Designed from the outset to foster the creation of new fields of knowledge and to offer transformational educational experiences, the University of Chicago was founded to advance the principles of academic freedom and free expression. Over generations, our community and our leadership have repeatedly worked to defend free expression and create the necessary structures to uphold it. This is an important legacy, and I urge you to examine this timeline of critical events and the key documents that underpin our culture and practice.

Looking ahead, there are four elements of our culture of free expression that are vital to uphold and cultivate: understanding, practicing, protecting, and advancing free expression.

The bit below describes a new addition to orientation; instead of indoctrination in certain ideologies, students are acquainted with free speech using an example. What would they do if someone came to campus to express an unpopular opinion? How many other schools engage in such an exercise? (I know of none.)

As part of that education, incoming College students last fall were invited to grapple with the big questions related to free expression and its practice through Professor Agnes Callard’s Aims of Education address and the subsequent open discussions led by Dean John Boyer and other faculty. At the Law School orientation, students engaged with a hypothetical challenge to free expression. The premise of the case study involved a student group that issued an invitation to a Russian state-sponsored advocate of the invasion of Ukraine, precipitating a series of cascading responses from people from within and without the University. While the specifics were hypothetical, these annual traditions held during orientation help to create a common language for facing real challenges when they arise. These are but two examples of many. They are models for ways in which, in the coming years, we can do more to set the stage for students throughout the University to be ready to participate in and get the most from the robust give and take of ideas during their time here.

Below the Alivisatos describes another event occurring a month after school starts (we’re on the quarter system, so classes begin in October).  It’s a discussion about the effects of social media on free expression:

In November, at the inaugural event of the new campus-wide Zell Event Series on free expression, the University hosted a live interrogation of how to practice free expression in today’s social and political environment. The featured speaker was Anthony Julius, a barrister, celebrated author, and professor of law at University College London, and he engaged UChicago Law School professor Genevieve Lakier in a spirited conversation. In discussion, they examined the vast implications of what is enabled by the unprecedented scale and velocity of communication across social media. Free expression in social media both informs—and sometimes disrupts—the quality of open discourse within universities, and it is a central challenge for both our and all institutions of higher education today. I invite all of you to participate directly in future events in this series. In the coming years, our culture of free expression will be enhanced by research, colloquia, seminars, and events that help elevate our understanding of the full range of topics related to free expression.

In the bit below, Alivisatos talks about the disruption of free expression by “the few”, and here, I think, he’s referring mostly to “progressive” Leftists trying to cancel speech they don’t like. As far as I know, he’s referring to this incident in which a journalist critical of the Iranian regime was “deplatformed” after reported threats, with her talk having to be moved to and broadcast virtually.  I myself was asked by anonymous people to help deplatform the speaker, and now I’m convinced that those who didn’t wish Negar Mortazavi to speak were pro-Iranian activists. (How somebody can be pro-Iran these days defies me.)

A healthy culture of free expression arises from the acts of many. Yet the actions of a few, when left unchecked, could disrupt that culture and thus significantly harm our community. For this reason, the protection of free expression is critical for it to thrive. I am committed to protecting free expression whenever there are efforts to quash it. This includes our clear commitment to hosting invited speakers, however controversial they may be. We saw this tested on one occasion just last fall, when we persisted in featuring an Institute of Politics-hosted event online despite an outpouring of social media-fueled calls for cancellation. Within the University, we have a clear set of policies on disruptive conduct that will guide our decision making regarding penalties and sanctions. Beyond the University, our civil polity has the tools to prosecute those who issue threats of violence, which all too often arise from the fray of heated discourse. Such actions cannot be minimized or ignored, and the University will work with law enforcement when applicable.

Note the promise to prosecute those who issue threats (there were reports of threats issued to the Institute of Politics) or disrupt speeches, and I’m sure that this will be enforced. Alivisatos is serious.

In the post I reported above about the IoP disruption, I wrote that there have been several attempts to protest speakers before (those included calls to forbid Steve Bannon from speaking here, which he never did). Those who oppose free speech on campus are not the faculty but the students and some community members. Even the student newspaper is basically against free speech if it’s “hate speech”. A newspaper!

And students have protested IoP speakers before, like former Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Some IoP speakers have even been shut down by both student and non-student disruption, including Cook County attorney Anita Alvarez, criticized for “state violence against brown and Black people” (their capitalization) and deplatformed by, among others, Black Lives Matter protestors.  Some speakers, like Natalie Jaresko, executive director of the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico, were subject to attempted student disruption, but protestors were kicked out by the cops. Note that all these protests came from the Left, like most recent disruptions and deplatformings in American colleges.

Finally, an op-ed at the Chicago Maroon, our student newspaper, has called for disbanding the IoP as a whole, dubbing it “an institution that encourages and enables new drones to enter a career in politics and spend a lifetime getting paid to manufacture the illusion of progress and problem-solving—the Institute of Politics.” That’s just bizarre. Are we not to have politics at all?

Back to the President’s statement:

I have called for an engaged University of Chicago, one where our creation of new fields of knowledge and our transformative educational experiences for students are also tied directly to our efforts to help societies address their greatest challenges. For an institution widely celebrated for developing the Chicago Principles, we should recognize that we occupy a distinct place in the higher education landscape; with it comes an obligation to model the tough work of practicing free expression.

Democracies depend critically on free expression. For this reason, today, we must do more to engage externally to educate about and model the healthy practice of free expression, specifically to advocate for its advancement across academia and throughout the world. At current count, more than 90 universities have adopted or endorsed the Chicago Principles, and in the coming months, I will be reporting more on how we can expand our efforts to advance freedom of expression beyond the University.

I invite you to consider the opportunity that this inflection point poses to our community. Whatever your role may be, before each of us are avenues to enrich our knowledge and understanding through the work, research, and learning that arises from our collective culture of free expression.

One of the things I like about this statement is, as I said, that it doesn’t try to temper free expression on campus with the false promise that “We can have both free expression and civility and respect towards each other.” Nor does he imply that free expression must be tempered when it offends people or could cause “harm”.  Alivisatos has issued a hard-nosed, straight up call for free expression, and a strong reaffirmation of the Chicago Principles. Ceiling Cat bless him!

Finally, remember that we are a private university and needn’t abide by the First Amendment’s strictures. We have done so by choice, not because we have to. And we’ve gone farther than almost any University i America in creating a culture of free speech.

College students afraid of speaking out about controversial issues: the U.S. versus New Zealand

January 17, 2023 • 12:30 pm

This piece is from the blog of the Heterodox Academy (HA), a group founded by Jon Haidt, Chris Martin, and Nicholas Rosenkranz to promote viewpoint diversity an counteract academic and ideological conformity, especially of the authoritarian sort. They regularly publish articles, and have several discussion groups, including one about STEM matters.

Last year I wrote about the HA’s “Campus Expression Survey“, in which they surveyed U.S. college stuents for their willingness to discuss controversial topics. Students were generally unwilling to talk about controversial subjects, but not the majority of them. This is what they found, summarized in the article below as well as in a recently-published paper (click on screenshot below to read the former):

Between September and November 2021, Heterodox Academy (HxA) surveyed 1,495 full-time college students ages 18–24 across the United States as to how comfortable or reluctant they were to speak their views in the classroom on five core controversial topics — politics, race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender — as well as one specific controversial topic (the COVID-19 pandemic). Students also reported their comfort or reluctance to speak their views about noncontroversial topics for comparison. The HxA researchers found that 60% of US participants expressed reluctance to discuss at least one controversial topic. Students who reported having low interaction quality with classmates (i.e., not much opportunity to get to know other students) also reported higher reluctance to discuss all five of the core controversial topics.

That’s a reasonable sample, but in general about 25-40% of students were unwilling to share their reluctance to discuss each topic in the classroom, with 60% unwilling to discuss at least one topic.  Some of this surely reflects chilled speech and fear of not sharing “tribal views”, but some of it must be general shyness. It’s not clear what the percentage would be if nobody was afraid of demonization, for even in that case some students would be reticent to speak about stuff!

Now the HA took its survey to New Zealand, and the comparison is given in the following short piece. Overall, NZ students aren’t that much different from American ones:

The rationale for studying New Zealand students:

These trends from the US campuses may seem worrying. It is possible, though, that these views reflect only the United States, with its two-party system and high rate of polarization. How similar is the situation in British Commonwealth countries like New Zealand?

Unlike the United States, New Zealand has a progressive parliamentary democracy, although the country is of course not free of political disagreement. The political system of New Zealand grapples with issues that drive political divisions in the United States as well, including racial prejudice, gun laws, vaccination, taxation, and climate change. However, on the whole, New Zealand society does not display the deep partisan mistrust that characterizes American society.

. . . Bradley Wendel has written about significant differences in the notion of fairness and trust in the government that separate the American and the New Zealand political systems.

. . . New Zealand is also a good comparison as the country has similar issues around political disagreements as the United States and shares the same social issues, including prejudice, inequality, vaccination, taxation, and climate change, that drive political divisions in the United States. At the same time, it is free of the partisan mistrust that characterizes much of American society. It is quite possible that the pattern of responses by New Zealand students would differ from their US counterparts. To find out if this is true, we replicated the US survey with 792 undergraduate students across three of New Zealand’s largest universities.

The answer is simple: yes, Kiwi students are just as wary as American students are of sharing their views in the classroom.  The new survey involved 792 undergrads in 3 New Zealand universities.  In this case, race wasn’t surveyed as a “hot topic.” Though New Zealand doesn’t have the black-white divisions that we do in America, they do have their own racial issues, with the Māori people citing pervasive racism and oppression.  The failure to ask about this is not explained.

Though there are nuances of the data that are explained in the text, like differences between the sexes, religious vs. nonreligious, and liberal vs. conservatives, here’s the one important plot from the published summary paper in the journal Social Sciences:

The overall figures are about the same. (Curiously, they didn’t ask what percentage of students would be reluctant to discuss at least one of these topics.)

The authors of the Soc. Sci. paper conclude this way:

The results are clear: chilled campus speech is not unique to the United States. The results do not, however, support a universal phenomenon. Like any country, New Zealand is quite distinct from the United States on some dimensions, but very similar on others. It is not possible from an analysis of New Zealand alone to tell which dimensions are relevant to campus expression or the extent to which results are the consequence of American cultural exportation. Our results ultimately represent just one, albeit significant, dataset, and we encourage other researchers to administer their own versions of the survey to their own students—and academic staff—to create a more accurate picture of the international situation on university campuses.
It’s clear that the differences among topics don’t reflect simple shyness or reticence, as the values would be more equal if that were true. But it’s also not clear how much of the reluctance to speak is due to fear of opprobrium (“chilling”) as opposed to simple shyness or unwilliness to speak in general. At least the figures don’t go above 50%—but remember that this is self-report. I would expect the true figures to be a bit higher than this.

Minnesota art-history faculty, as well as a Muslim organization, support fired instructor who showed her class a painting with Muhammad’s face (and a new video with the instructor)

January 14, 2023 • 10:45 am

As I’ve written about several times, Erika López Prater, an instructor at Hamline University in Minnesota, was fired by the school for showing a 14th-century image of Muhammad’s face in her art-history survey course. (She also showed a painting of the Prophet with his face veiled but rest of his body complete). The instructor warned the students, both in the syllabus and before the class, that they didn’t have to go to the class or look at the image of this famous painting (TRIGGER WARNING: MUHAMMAD FACE):

López Prater’s warning didn’t matter: some offended Muslim students (mostly black Muslims but probably not from the Nation of Islam) complained, and the instructor’s contract was not renewed. The story made the NYT and Hamline got some severely bad publicity, but their President, Fayneese S. Miller, signed a statement that prioritized student comfort over academic freedom, and argued that the instructor was not “fired”—her contract simply wasn’t renewed. That is a distinction without a difference.

FIRE reproduces Miller’s statement, which includes this (scroll down on the FIRE page to see it):

Prioritizing the well-being of our students does not in any way negate or minimize the rights and privileges assured by academic freedom. But the concepts do intersect. Faculty have the right to teach and research subjects of importance to them, and to publish their work under the purview of their peers.

At the same time, academic freedom does not operate in a vacuum. It is subject to the dictates of society and the laws governing certain types of behavior. Imara Scott, in an April 2022 article published in Inside Higher Ed, noted that “academic freedom, like so many ideological principles, can be manipulated, misunderstood, and misrepresented…academic freedom can become a weapon to be used against vulnerable populations. Why? Because on the other end of a professor claiming academic freedom may be a student — a student who lacks tenure, who must rely on that professor for a grade and who may be emotionally, intellectually, or professionally harmed by the professor’s exercise of the power they hold.”

Well, clearly López Prater was not using her academic freedom as a weapon to demonize Muslims or make fun of Islam. Miller was simply out to lunch here, trying to confect reasons for violating the instructor’s acemic freedom.

According to the NYT, Miller also said that “respect for the Muslim students ‘should have superseded academic freedom.’ ” Clearly Miller (below) has no idea what academic freedom really means, and now I do think she should be fired—for complete cluelessness. Nobody should be President of a university if they think that student complaints like the ones leveled against López Prater are grounds for dismissal.

As FIRE said, Miller has “tripled down,” refusing to reconsider her decision and making even more extreme statements defending the firing (i.e., not renewing a contract). FIRE wrote Miller asking her to reconsider (she didn’t respond), and then reported Hamline University to its accrediting agency.  Fortunately, López Prater seems to have several other job offers.

President Fayneese Miller

Another reason Miller should go is that she’s lost the confidence of the entire Art History faculty of the University of Minnesota, which issue a unanimous statement (with an emeritus signing on) supporting the right of López Prater to have taught about that painting. Here’s the statement.

You can read it for yourself, so I’ll provide just one excerpt. Note the sarcastic subtitle, as the statement shows a painting of Jonah, a big fish, and the angel that resembles the Muslim painting above:

Jonah and the Whale,” Folio from a Jami al-Tavarikh (Compendium of Chronicles), ca. 1400, Metropolitan Museum of Art (https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/453683)

The big support is here:

In its removal of Dr. López Prater from its teaching roster, Hamline’s administration took an explicit stand against higher education’s longstanding tradition of instructional prerogative, compromising the freedom of college-level instructors to make individual selections and decisions in presenting expert knowledge of all stripes (factual, theoretical, interpretive, editorial). This prerogative goes by the term “academic freedom” and it is an extraordinary privilege. As faculty, we cherish this privilege as necessary to our scholarly enterprise and earned through our pursuit of scholarly inquiry, knowledge, and insight. We take the responsibility that comes with this privilege seriously, practicing it within the social contract of the university classroom and the responsive learning communities we seek to forge there. Academic freedom, too, is a privilege we fear is currently under threat, a precarity made worse specifically by the casualization of academic labor via the underpaid adjunct gig economy and the disposability of expertise in pursuit of rising revenues.

In response to Dr. López Prater’s non-renewal, we speak strongly against Hamline’s intertwined attacks on academic freedom, on the integrity and dedication of faculty (especially those vulnerable to dismissal), and on the related enterprises of knowledge dissemination and debate. We strongly urge Hamline’s administrative leadership to examine critically its approach to this instance and its broader policies and procedures, not only regarding student complaints and controversies, but also with respect to hiring, training, setting expectations for, and listening to adjunct faculty.

And kudos to the faculty who signed it (below):

The Tenure-Stream Faculty of the UMN Department of Art History
Dr. Jane Blocker, Professor
Dr. Emily Ruth Capper, Assistant Professor
Dr. Sinem Casale, Assistant Professor
Dr. Michael Gaudio, Professor
Dr. Daniel Greenberg, Assistant Professor
Dr. Laura Kalba, Associate Professor
Dr. Jennifer Jane Marshall, Professor & Chair
Dr. Steven Ostrow, Professor
Dr. Anna Lise Seastrand, Assistant Professor
Dr. Robert Silberman, Associate Professor

Co-signed by Dr. Catherine Asher, Emerita Professor, in her capacity as an expert in Islamic art

Wouldn’t it be lovely if the HAMLINE faculty issued a statement of support? One professor in another department has spoken out, but I suspect most of the faculty are cowed and chilled.

And, if you click below, you’ll see an additional statement of support from the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which seems to be a mainstream organization advocating for tolerance and understansing of  Muslims—much like the anti-Defamation League. And it’s firmly on the side of the fired non-renewed instructor.

Brief excerpt. The message comes right at the beginning rather than at the end:

It is with great concern that the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) views the firing of an art professor, Erika López Prater, from Hamline University on the grounds of showing a fourteenth-century painting depicting the Prophet Muḥammad. We issue this statement of support for the professor and urge the university to reverse its decision and to take compensatory action to ameliorate the situation.

. . . As a Muslim organization, we recognize the validity and ubiquity of an Islamic viewpoint that discourages or forbids any depictions of the Prophet, especially if done in a distasteful or disrespectful manner. However, we also recognize the historical reality that other viewpoints have existed and that there have been some Muslims, including and especially Shīʿī Muslims,  who have felt no qualms in pictorially representing the Prophet (although often veiling his face out of respect). All this is a testament to the great internal diversity within the Islamic tradition, which should be celebrated.

This, it seems, was the exact point that Dr. Prater was trying to convey to her students. She empathetically prepared them in advance for the image, which was part of an optional exercise and prefaced with a content warning. “I am showing you this image for a reason,” stressed the professor:

. . . The painting was not Islamophobic. In fact, it was commissioned by a fourteenth-century Muslim king in order to honor the Prophet, depicting the first Quranic revelation from the angel Gabriel.

Here’s a video that was just posted involving a discussion with López Prater, Christine Gruber (a Michigan art-history professor who defended her in an eloquent statement at New Lines), and several others (Mr. Salam Al-Marayati from MPAC, and Dr. Hyder Khan) who have also defended López Prater. The moderator is Muqtedar Khan, a professor at the University of Delaware. I found the video while looking for images of López Prater, which don’t seem to appear on the Internet. In the YouTube image below, she’s on the upper right. But she talks at length below, and do listen to hear her story.

The You-Tube statement:

Dr. Erika López Prater was fired from Hamline university after she showed classical paintings of Prophet Muhammad in her Art History class. She discusses the sequence of events, her syllabus, and her pedagogy. Dr. Christine Gruber explains that Islamic tradition is diverse and sheds light on the practice of painting Prophet Muhammad specially from the 13th to the 16th century in Iran and Turkey. MPAC President Salam al-Marayati shares the concerns that prompted MPAC to make the statement in support of Dr. Prater. Dr. Hyder Khan discusses the diversity of opinion in the Muslim Community of Minnesota. He feels the issue is not over and once the internal debates are over the community will take a more deliberated position on the matter.

And the video.  López Prater acquits herself well, and it’s outrageous that she was let go. Well, Hamline’s loss is some other university’s gain.

h/t: Luana, Colin

USC’s highlighting of “field” as a racist word perplexes the students

January 13, 2023 • 9:15 am

Two days ago I reported that the University of Southern California’s (USC’s) School of Social Work had highlighted the word “field” as a racist term, for it was used in the phrase “field hand”, referring to enslaved people forced to do agricultural labor. Below is part of the memorandum issued by the School’s “Practicum Education Department”:

This is about as arrant an example of changing language for no good reason that I can think of, for who would think of the phrase “my field is psychiatric social work” as racist? And if you use “practicum”, which isn’t even technically correct, nobody would understand what you meant.

As readers here also noted, the phrase “field” in the agricultural sense goes back centuries, and, further, “field” has many other uses that can’t in one’s wildest imagination be seen as racist—like “field work” for ecologists. This is an example of an action that did not need to be taken, but also an example of how crazy the language policing has become. Words are getting deemed racist so fast that a good ideologue can’t keep up with the changes.

The memorandum has also confused USC students, too, as this article from Wednesday’s USC student newspaper, The Daily Trojan, notes (click to read):

The paper notes that the word’s earliest usage antedates its use in American slavery:

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the term “field work” can be traced back to 1767 in uses meaning “gathering statistics or doing research out-of-doors or on-site.” Merriam-Webster’s website says the term’s first-known use was in 1686, to mean “a temporary fortification thrown up by an army in the field.”

But what’s doubly confusing is that the school administration walked back what the School of Social work declared:

Twitter pundits quickly seized on the announcement, decrying it as “woke” virtue signaling.

“The university does not maintain a list of banned or discouraged words,” wrote Interim Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Elizabeth Graddy in a statement to the Daily Trojan Wednesday. We will continue to use words — including ‘field’ — that accurately encompass and describe our work and research.”

If that’s the case, then the School of Social Work is at odds with USC’s administration. When, then, is the word “field” to be seen as racist? I look forward to clarification from the Practicum Education Department.

What’s curious but predictable is that only a few students interviewed were willing to criticize the announcement about “field”. It looks like some were puzzled, but others thought that because “field” was declared racist, it must be racist.

Students — interviewed by the Daily Trojan on Tuesday both at random on the University Park Campus and specifically in the school of social work — seemed largely split on the school’s decision.

“I’ve never been in a conversation with another Black person that has had a problem with the word ‘field,’” said Leka Mpigi, a graduate student studying architecture. “But I don’t know if that’s because I’m of African descent; I’m not African American.”

Mpigi said she could see why the terms would be taken the way the memo characterized them, but suggested that USC might have “bigger problems” to focus on, specifically admitting more students of color.

“At this point, it looks like we’re fishing for something of relevance,” Mpigi said. “It feels like a stretch.”

Kudos to Mpigi for at least saying the obvious. She’s clearly savvier than the factotums in the School of Social Work.

Here’s a student bowing to authority and dissing free speech as well:

Paloma Williams, a junior majoring in design, said that if the phrases being replaced originated from slavery or have an offensive origin, she supports the decision.

“Free speech doesn’t make saying offensive things OK,” Williams said.

That last statement is wrong if by “OK” she meant “legal.”  Notice the revival of the old critique of free speech: it should be curbed when that free speech is deemed offensive.

Three other students who will go along to get along:

“I have no issue with [the change],” said Maya Borenstein, a graduate student studying social work. “The title of my courses doesn’t really affect me. I’m all for changing language if it’s what they think is correct.”

Borenstein said she doesn’t feel like the change is limiting her own speech. David Lerman, another graduate student studying social work, said he thinks it isn’t his place to judge whether a term is harmful or offensive because he’s white.

“Coming from a background where I had family members that grew up working fields, I don’t think that they themselves would find it particularly offensive,” said Rylan Jimenez, a freshman majoring in engineering. “It just seems a little ridiculous to me.”

Jimenez said he can’t speak for people whose families have been through slavery.

“I feel like I can see both sides of the argument,” said Rozheen Barekatein, a graduate student studying social work. “But at the same time, why are we calling it a ‘master’s program?’”

Barekatein sees the hypocrisy of expunging some words but not others. (After all “master” has been thoroughly demonized, as in the removal of the term “master bedroom” from real estate descriptions.)

But clearly the students aren’t as willing to take as hard a line against the term’s elimination as did readers here. That could be for three reasons:

a. The students are more woke than our readers and willing to accept changes in words deemed offensive.

b. The students are, as the paper notes in its headline, somewhat confused, and so are ambiguous in their thoughts and responses.

c. Many of the students think it’s dumb to eliminate the word “field,” but are too intimidated to say so.

I think the answer involves all three factors, but I hope that a.) is a minor one. But make no mistake about it. The School of Social Work may USE the word “practicum”, but I strongly doubt that it will catch on.


h/t: Anna


McGill protestors shut down a talk on sex versus gender as a “transphobic” presentation

January 12, 2023 • 10:45 am

This is from the CBC (click to read), and reports how a spate of activists shut down a scheduled talk at McGill University by alumnus Robert Wintemute, a professor of human rights law at King’s College London.

Now Wintemute may bot be someone whose views I’d want to endorse wholeheartedly, as I don’t know anything about the LGB Alliance. Some of the readers below have commented that I’m wrong to characterize the LGB Alliance’s take on “conversion therapy” in the way I understood conversion therapy.  Here’s what the CBC says

Wintemute’s work inspired the foundation of the LGB Alliance, a British group that advocates against transgender rights in the United Kingdom. Several British officials and LGBTQ+ groups have publicly called the LGB Alliance a hate group.

The group has opposed progressive gender affirmation bills in the U.K., like the Scottish Gender Recognition Act, which improves the system by which transgender people can apply for legal recognition.

A Canadian chapter of the LGB Alliance lobbied against Bill C-4, which put an end to conversion therapy, demanding it remove the term “gender identity” from the offence.

I’m against conversion therapy if it’s construed as therapy with a predetermined therapeutic outcome that doesn’t really want to explore the patient’s feelings. But again, I don’t know much about the LGB Alliance’s views on this issue. On the other hand, they do assert that “sex is binary” and “sex is observed at birth” (indeed, it’s not a subjective judgment made by doctors), so I’m on board with at least some of Wintemute’s organization’s views. But I’m not passing judgement on Wintermute’s organization here, for this post is about freedom of speech, which the man didn’t get.

And Wintemute should hve freedom of speech (at least in the US, and I hope in Canada), and his talk, described with the title “Sex vs Gender (Identity)”, was worthy of being held and being heard (see more about it below).  Presumably it was about whether there’s a disparity between rights based on biological sex and rights based on declared gender: surely an issue worth debating.

Or so you would think. But it’s not worth debating to those trans activists who declare that “trans women are women” and “trans men are men”, completely conflating gender identity and biological sex. There is no room for dissent or discussion with people like that, and so the activists simply shut down Wintemute’s talk:

Trans rights advocates stormed into a talk Tuesday afternoon at McGill University led by a speaker associated with a group they say is “notoriously transphobic and trans-exclusionary.”

The talk was ultimately cancelled shortly after it started.

McGill University’s Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism (CHRLP) hosted the event, titled Sex vs. Gender (Identity) Debate In the United Kingdom and the Divorce of LGB from T. It was led by McGill alumnus Robert Wintemute.

The CHRLP’s website describes the event as a conversation around whether the law should make it easier for a transgender person to change their legal sex, “and about exceptional situations, such as women-only spaces and sports, in which the individual’s birth sex should take priority over their gender identity, regardless of their legal sex.”

Regardless of whether you agree with Wintemute, is that not a conversation worth having? Apparently the activists who shut it down think that such debate is counterproductive. But how will they ever convince their opponents if their opponents don’t at least get to air their views? For it is surely correct to say that some “rights” claimed by transsexual or transgender people are indeed at odds with “rights” claimed by others, others like biological women athletes and women receiving rape counseling.

In response to that, a letter signed by McGill people simply deny it:

An open letter signed by McGill students, professors, alumni and others from the Montreal LGBTQ+ community says trans rights are not at odds with the rights of others.

“Undermining the human rights of trans people does not benefit any member of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, nor the feminist movement,” it says.

The whole question of “rights” is a sticky one, but to assert that “trans rights are not at odds with the rights of others” simply misses the reason for a lot of pushback against trans activism by people who aren’t transphobic. (“Transphobic” is a slur often used to shut down debate by stigmatizing your opponents.)

To end, I’ll quote with permission reader Diana MacPherson, who sent me the link to this report (h/t Paul as well), and added this comment:

I really hate that the adults won’t stop this refusal to debate anything. This all would go away if everyone stood up and said “enough, free discussion of ideas is not something you shut down”.

The Popehat on Free Speech

December 27, 2022 • 10:45 am

I didn’t know that “Popehat” (real name Ken White, a criminal defense attorney and author) has a Substack site, but then again, who doesn’t these days? What makes this all so annoying is that there’s no way to know who has such sites and who doesn’t.

At any rate, I use to read Popehat’s site for free-speech commentary, and now you can go to his site, “The Popehat Report,” which appears to be free. I can’t remember how I found the two articles below, but they’re both worth reading, and you can do that by clicking on the screenshot. I’ll give a brief summary of each.

The article above was written because the quotation in the title is often used to justify new ways to shut down First Amendment speech. In it, White makes two points. First, the exceptions to the First Amendment are well known and haven’t changed in years. Second, the Supreme Court, in its last modification of the First Amendment, said clearly that further changes are unlikely.  In other words, there will be no future amendment that bars hate speech—the subject of much debate these days.


Let’s review the exceptions to government-protected speech, first through the cases and then through a summary:

The Supreme Court has repeatedly listed the First Amendment exceptions. In 2010, in a very important but not particularly well known case called United States v. Stevens, the Supreme Court offered one of its periodic summaries:

“From 1791 to the present,” however, the First Amendment has “permitted restrictions upon the content of speech in a few limited areas,” and has never “include[d] a freedom to disregard these traditional limitations.” Id., at 382–383. These “historic and traditional categories long familiar to the bar,” Simon & Schuster, Inc. v. Members of N. Y. State Crime Victims Bd.502 U. S. 105, 127 (1991) (Kennedy, J., concurring in judgment)—including obscenity, Roth v. United States354 U. S. 476, 483 (1957), defamation, Beauharnais v. Illinois343 U. S. 250, 254–255 (1952), fraud, Virginia Bd. of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, Inc.425 U. S. 748, 771 (1976), incitement, Brandenburg v. Ohio395 U. S. 444, 447–449 (1969) (per curiam), and speech integral to criminal conduct, Giboney v. Empire Storage & Ice Co.336 U. S. 490, 498 (1949)—are “well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any Constitutional problem.” Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire315 U. S. 568, 571–572 (1942).

So, there you have it: obscenity, defamation, fraud, incitement, and speech integral to criminal conduct. Throw in true threats – which was left out of this list for some reason – and child pornography, and you’ve got the categories. Note that the Court specifically identifies them as well-known and historic, not as in flux.

I was going to add, “What about false advertising?”, but I suspect that it falls under the aegis of “fraud”. Note, too, that “incitement” is not flexible, for it’s been specified this way:

Incitement is a First Amendment exception. But incitement means “speech that is intended, and likely, to cause imminent lawless action.” All of those words mean things, things defined by decades of court decisions. They don’t mean whatever you want them to mean — they specifically don’t mean “saying things that are bad for America on TV.” Might the courts gradually develop their understanding of one of these words – for instance, by developing a broader understanding of “imminence” based on an internet culture? Yes, over time, through a familiar process. But the point is that you must engage the existing law on what “incitement” means to be accurate — you can’t just declare it to mean whatever you want, and expect that to matter in court. The Supreme Court has been saying for almost a century that First Amendment exceptions are “well-defined and narrowly limited.” The fact that the words in the names of the exceptions — like “incitement,” or “threat” — have flexible colloquial meanings does not signify that the legal meaning of those exceptions is flexible. It isn’t.

Note that “fighting words” or “hate speech” do not constitute incitement.  As far as creating new categories, in the U.S. v. Stevens case, the government asked the Supreme Court to carve out a new exception to the First Amendment that prohibits depictions of animal cruelty. The government’s justification was that the court had already created an exception in the form of banning child pornography, so why not another?.  But the Court responded that it didn’t really create an exception, but merely codified what was already a crime—child abuse, seen as inherent in child pornography. The court then said, in an 8-1 decision, that it couldn’t envision any new exceptions:

Our decisions in Ferber and other cases cannot be taken as establishing a freewheeling authority to declare new categories of speech outside the scope of the First Amendment. Maybe there are some categories of speech that have been historically unprotected, but have not yet been specifically identified or discussed as such in our case law. But if so, there is no evidence that “depictions of animal cruelty” is among them.

As for why this matters, it’s because of what I said above: courts are always under pressure to tighten the rules of free speech (“hate speech” is the latest proposed restriction), but that won’t happen. As White says,

[This] matters because it’s good for Americans to know, and understand, our civil rights and the powers and limitations of our government. We’re bitterly divided as a nation. Much speech is controversial, much speech is despised by someone. We’re under constant pressure to accept new limits on speech. It’s good to argue about these things. But the argument should be reality-based. “The First Amendment isn’t absolute,” used as a justification for new exceptions, and untethered from the law, isn’t reality-based.

And read this one, too (both are fairly short):


Here White distinguishes between three construals of “free speech”, which I’ll characterize in my own words (quotes from White are indented).

a.) Free Speech Rights (“FSR”). These are the rights conferred by the First Amendment—that is, all the speech that isn’t prohibited by law (see above). White emphasizes that the exceptions are likely to be pretty much set in stone and will not be modified to include “hate speech”. He argues—and I agree—that knowing some of the history of the courts’ construal of free speech is useful in keeping your arguments on the rails. And it’s useful to be mindful of the philosophy behind FSR, as outlined in the Stevens case ruling mentioned above:

The First Amendment ’s guarantee of free speech does not extend only to categories of speech that survive an ad hoc balancing of relative social costs and benefits. The First Amendment itself reflects a judgment by the American people that the benefits of its restrictions on the Government outweigh the costs. Our Constitution forecloses any attempt to revise that judgment simply on the basis that some speech is not worth it. The Constitution is not a document “prescribing limits, and declaring that those limits may be passed at pleasure.” Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 178 (1803).

You can’t just argue on utilitarian grounds, then, that new types of speech should be considered violations. The First Amendment is based on deontological principles, not utilitarian ones.

b.) Free Speech Culture (“FSC”). This is the principle that, regardless of the First Amendment, speech venues such as private universities and widespread social-media outfits like Twitter and Facebook would be best served by adhering to First Amendment principles even if they’re not obliged to do so. This is is a utilitarian application of FSR:

The next category is “Free Speech Culture,” or “FSC,” sometimes called “free speech values” or “free speech principles.” An appeal to FSC is based on history, philosophy, and political science. It presumes that it’s a social good to have wide-ranging, robust, uninhibited debate on important issues, though it might reach that conclusion by different roads. Some believe that a “marketplace of ideas” inevitably produces the conclusions best for society, some believe that all speech has inherent value, and some (like me) believe that as a matter of humility and consciousness of our limits we should be should be careful deciding that we are so clearly right that contrary ideas shouldn’t be heard. Ultimately FSC is utilitarian — we use it to debate how we ought to act collectively for the healthiest society and the optimal pursuit of knowledge.

Here’s where we debate not whether a private school has a right to disinvite a controversial speaker, but whether as a matter of academic culture it should. Here’s where most debates about “cancel culture” will fall. Carefully separating out the legal “may” from the philosophical “should” helps clarify the argument.

As White notes, FSC can contradict FSR, as when students shout down a speaker. In most places they have the right to do so, just as the speaker has a right to speak, but application of FSC would mandate that the students shut up, let the speaker talk, and then protest either in the Q&A section or by offering non-disruptive counterspeech. That’s what White argues, and again I agree.

c.) Speech Decency (“SD”).  This is speech that truly is hateful, and while it is legal, and even allowed under FSR and FSC, can still be reprehensible—reprehensible enough that the speaker should be called out on decency grounds. White gives one example involving the n-word:

Finally, some debates about speech are about human decency — Speech Decency, or “SD.” I think sometimes that familiar phrase “hate speech is not free speech” is an appeal to SD. It’s a way of saying that there’s an idealized set of speech that may be controversial or disagreeable but ultimately is not cruel and contemptible, and that racist speech is outside of that set.

This is a perfectly legitimate debate. It’s fine to say that using a racial epithet is usually protected by FSR, that in some circumstances it ought to be protected as a matter of FSC (for instance, in allowing “Huckleberry Finn” to be taught to high school children notwithstanding its use of epithets), and that people who use it to belittle and demean ought to be called out as a matter of SD.

Once again, clarity about values helps illuminate the different rights and different interests in play.

In this case the speaker’s intent is usually vital in determining whether he/she has violated SD and should be called out. Using the n-word didactically, as when teaching Huckleberry Finn, or, as Don McNeil of the NYT did, asking a question about what somebody else said (this led to his firing), is not reprehensible and should not be offensive.  In such cases the language doesn’t violate any of the three construals of speech given above.

Another example is “hate speech”, which can be truly hateful rather than offensive. I would defend your legal right to call me a “Dirty Jew who should be gassed”, and even defend the idea that you should be able to say that on Twitter. But I would find it reprehensible, hateful, and deem you a bigot and an anti-Semite.

White justifies parsing speech into the three distinctions mentioned above, and I agree:

Debates that clearly identify FSR, FSC, and SD are useful and sometimes even illuminating. They have the potential to teach people about their civil rights and about American government. They can persuade our fellow citizens about how to balance different interests, or at least clarify how we reach our personal outcomes on difficult social and cultural questions.

Debates that sloppily conflate FSR, FSC, and SD are counterproductive. They tend to misinform people about American civil rights, especially if the listener is not already sophisticated on the subject. They produce some of the most persistent delusions of free speech discourse — like the imagined right not to be offended or the supposed right not to be criticized.

Progressive professors: the root of all evil

December 23, 2022 • 11:00 am

. . . or so says Russell Jacoby, author and Professor Emeritus, Department of History, UCLA. What seems weird to me in his Wikipedia bio is this:

In 2009, he was appointed to the Moishe Gonzales Folding Chair of Critical Theory.

That cannot be true (I used to say that I occupied a “folding chair of biology,” but Moishe Gonzales? No way! Is that a mockery of intersectionalism?).

Anyway, folding chair or not, Jacoby has a good piece at Tablet, a piece that blames the woes of the world on “progressive” (i.e., woke) professors, who are no longer professors because they can’t get university jobs.  In a long-form piece at Tablet, though, Jacoby indicts them because they’ve created the culture-wars in which we’re now embroiled.

Click below to read it for free.

Jacoby first provides a canned history of “public intellectuals,” a position that once existed outside of academia and was remunerative (e.g., Edmund Wilson and Lewis Mumford), but disappeared as inflation outpaced the fees paid to journalists. After that, intellectuals were forced to take jobs at universities. Most of them weren’t explicitly political, but by 1980 most academic “intellectuals” had not only moved to the Left, but began to write in incomprehensible prose that made their “radical” lucubrations inaccessible to the public—ergo not influential. Who in the public has read Judith Butler or Homi Bhabha?  Jacoby reproduces the famous sentence by Butler (below) that won her a Bad Writing Award (a prize that sadly has disappeared). If you can tell me what this Butlerian sentence means, you’re a better person than I:

The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.

This is the reason why, for a long period, professors had almost no influence on public culture.

But then. . . but then Leftist professors began to metastasize into the public, and the trouble began. I’ll give a few excerpts from the piece, which is well written:

But my critics and I both missed something that might not have been obvious 30 years ago. By the late 1990s the rapid expansion of the universities came to a halt, especially in the humanities. Faculty openings slowed or stopped in many fields. Graduate enrollment cratered. In my own department in 10 years we went from accepting over a hundred students for graduate study to under 20 for a simple reason. We could not place our students. The hordes who took courses in critical pedagogy, insurgent sociology, gender studies, radical anthropology, Marxist cinema theory, and postmodernism could no longer hope for university careers.

What became of them? No single answer is possible. They joined the work force. Some became baristas, tech supporters, Amazon staffers and real estate agents. Others with intellectual ambitions found positions with the remaining newspapers and online periodicals, but most often they landed jobs as writers or researchers with liberal government agencies, foundations, or NGOs. In all these capacities they brought along the sensibilities and jargon they learned on campus.

It is the exodus from the universities that explains what is happening in the larger culture. The leftists who would have vanished as assistant professors in conferences on narratology and gender fluidity or disappeared as law professors with unreadable essays on misogynist hegemony and intersectionality have been pushed out into the larger culture. They staff the ballooning diversity and inclusion commissariats that assault us with vapid statements and inane programs couched in the language they learned in school. We are witnessing the invasion of the public square by the campus, an intrusion of academic terms and sensibilities that has leaped the ivy-covered walls aided by social media. The buzz words of the campus—diversity, inclusion, microaggression, power differential, white privilege, group safety—have become the buzz words in public life. Already confusing on campus, they become noxious off campus. “The slovenliness of our language,” declared Orwell in his classic 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language,” makes it “easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”

Orwell targeted language that defended “the indefensible” such as the British rule of India, Soviet purges and the bombing of Hiroshima. He offered examples of corrupt language. “The Soviet press is the freest in the world.” The use of euphemisms or lies to defend the indefensible has hardly disappeared: Putin called the invasion of Ukraine “a special military operation,” and anyone calling it a “war” or “invasion” has been arrested.

Yes, this is correct, and I’ve recently discussed the euphemisms that are afflicting everything, with an example from Stanford University’s IT group. Now, of course, we know what the “takeover is”: it’s what happens when “progressive” academics who have taught or taken “studies” courses moves out into society and ensure that we can’t have nice things:

When employees protest that they feel unsafe because their company is publishing an offensive article or book, we know what university courses they have taken. When the ACLU drops any mention of the First Amendment from its annual reports; when one of its directors declares, “First Amendment protections are disproportionately enjoyed by people of power and privilege”; and when its counsels its own lawyers to balance free speech and “offense to marginalized groups,” we know they studied critical race theory. When women are dropped from Planned Parenthood literature with the explanation, “It’s time to retire the terms ‘women’s health care’ and ‘a woman’s right to choose’ … these phrases erase the trans and non-binary people who have abortions.” Or when the NARL (National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws) announces it is replacing the phrase pregnant women with “birthing people” and declares, “We use gender neutral language when talking about pregnancy, because it is not just cis-gender women who get pregnant”; we know those who authored these changes majored in gender studies and critical blather.

We know this, but we have to suffer the consequences. The self-righteous professors have spawned self-righteous students who filter into the public square. The former prospered in their campus enclaves by plumping each other’s brilliance, but they left the rest of us alone. The latter, their students, however, constitute an unmitigated disaster, intellectually and politically, as they enter the workforce. They might be the American version of the old Soviet apparatchiks, functionaries who carry out party policies. Intellectually, they fetishize buzz words (diversity, marginality, power differential, white privilege, group safety, hegemony, gender fluidity and the rest) that they plaster over everything.

Politically, they mark a self-immolation of progressives; they flaunt their exquisite sensibilities and openness, and display exquisite narcissism and insularity. Once upon a time leftists sought to enlarge their constituency by reaching out to the uninitiated. This characterized a left during its most salient phase of popular front politics. No longer. With a credo of group safety the newest generation of leftists does not reach out but reaches in. It operates more like a club for members only than a politics for everyone.

One of the reason Jacoby mentions “harm” and “safety” is because when the NYT published an op-ed by Republican Senator Tom Cotton saying that perhaps the military should intervene if protestors started creating damage, the paper’s staffers said they felt that the piece put them “in danger”. (It still baffles me that nobody laughed out loud at this ludicrous claim. Did they think that Cotton would come to New York and start shooting at them?) And the op-ed editor, James Bennett, was fired.

Jacoby gives several similar examples, but it’s Christmas and you have time to read the piece for yourself. It has a fair amount of good snark, too, including this slap at law professor Catherian MacKinnon, a feminist who became famous for opposing pornography. And again this rings true, and also underscores Jacoby’s point that opposition to freedom of speech now comes almost exclusively from the Left. That is shameful given that free expression was once a hallmark of that shade of the political spectrum.

The first sentence of an article by Catharine A. MacKinnon, a chaired professor at the University of Michigan and Harvard Law schools, who is the leading anti-pornography feminist, runs: “The First Amendment over the last hundred years has mainly become a weapon of the powerful.” She specifies: “A First Amendment appeal is often used to support dominant status and power, backing white supremacy and masculinist misogynistic attacks.” It is a means for “dominant groups to impose and exploit their hegemony.” Note all the buzz words: dominant power, white supremacy, hegemony. The position marks a sharp shift from the traditional civil libertarians, who prized free speech as protection for dissenters. These civil libertarians are now dismissed as misguided First Amendment absolutists or worse, right-wingers, even Fox viewers.

A problem emerges from the half-baked Marxism of the law professors and their students, who toil and tweet in NGO land. Marx did declare that the ideas of the ruling class are the ruling ideas, but qualified that both cleavages exist in the ruling class and that a new revolutionary class challenges the dominant ideas. Perhaps he was wrong, but at least he posited movement and conflict. It could also be noted that the term “hegemony,” a favorite of campus leftists, derives from the work of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci. For all his subtlety and inconsistencies, the imprisoned Gramsci saw social antagonisms as ever-present. As one commentator has put it, “Gramsci’s concept of hegemony” provides the basis for an intellectual elite to engage in a “war of position” that will prepare the way “to overthrow the existing order.”

War of position? Nothing could be further from the minds of these professors, who portray power as omnipresent and static. That the First Amendment is a tool of the powerful, professor MacKinnon’s pathbreaking insight, comes right out of hackneyed Marxism; it could be said with equal truth about any sector of society. “Housing is a weapon of the powerful.” “The media is a weapon of the powerful.” “Education is a weapon of the powerful.” For that matter professor MacKinnon, who teaches to the most privileged at the most elite schools, is a weapon of the powerful.

There’s no solution offered by Jacoby, just a big kvetch about how things are. And, indeed, given that the “studies mills” are still grinding out students who can’t get academic jobs and will thus infest university administrations and the media for years to come, I’ll have been long underground when and if this movement dies out. But before we become one with the clay, we can at least laugh at the people who call us out for saying words like “Hispanic” or “American,” or tell us that free speech causes them “harm” and makes them “unsafe.”


h/t: Barry

MIT adopts a slightly hedged “free expression” statement

December 22, 2022 • 9:15 am

The Massachusetts Institute of technology (MIT) was badly burned over the Dorian Abbot affair after it rescinded an invitation to University of Chicago geosciences professor Dorian Abbot to give a prestigious lecture. The invitation was withdrawn after MIT found out that Abbot posted YouTube videos in which he criticized DEI initiatives. It was not good for MIT: Abbot’s disinvitation (his speech was not at all about DEI) was seen as a breach of academic freedom.  This is why, I think, MIT’s faculty just voted to expand and clarify its principles of free expression. The statement below, passed by the MIT faculty yesterday, appears on the freespeech@mit website. The statement is indented, and my comments are flush left.

In general it’s a good statement, for it allows all speech that the First Amendment allows as well—even speech that is “offensive and injurious”.  And it contains a bit that is clearly meant to affirm that MIT’s deplatforming of Abbot was wrong. That deplatforming could no longer occur under MIT’s new principles.

The only objection I have is to the bolded bit in the fifth paragraph, calling for “civility and mutual respect”, as well as “considering the possibility of offense and injury”.  You simply cannot have free speech without offense and injury. Abbot’s invitation provoked precisely such offense and injury, with many people supporting his deplatforming. As the NYT wrote:

Then a swell of angry resistance arose. Some faculty members and graduate students argued that Dr. Abbot, a professor at the University of Chicago, had created harm by speaking out against aspects of affirmative action and diversity programs.

HARM! HARM!  You can’t have free speech without harm, much though the word is much overused by the faux offended.  One of the most vociferous offended was the noisome Phoebe Cohen of Williams College, who managed to argue that free speech and intellectual debate are [bad] characteristics of “white men.” Clearly, she was grievously harmed!

Dr. Cohen agreed that Dr. Abbot’s views reflect a broad current in American society. Ideally, she said, a university should not invite speakers who do not share its values on diversity and affirmative action. Nor was she enamored of M.I.T.’s offer to let him speak at a later date to the M.I.T. professors. “Honestly, I don’t know that I agree with that choice,” she said. “To me, the professional consequences are extremely minimal.”

“This idea of intellectual debate and rigor as the pinnacle of intellectualism comes from a world in which white men dominated,” she replied.

Fortunately, there was more support for Abbot than mushbrained opposition like that of Cohen, and alumni let MIT know they were not happy. L’affaire Abbot wound up giving MIT somewhat of a black eye, and I suspect that’s why they issued the statement below.

Bolding is mine.


The influential 1949 Lewis Report observed that MIT’s mission was “to encourage initiative, to promote the spirit of free and objective inquiry, to recognize and provide opportunities for unusual interests and aptitudes,” and to develop “individuals who will contribute creatively to our society.” With a tradition of celebrating provocative thinking, controversial views, and nonconformity, MIT unequivocally endorses the principles of freedom of expression and academic freedom.

Free expression is a necessary, though not sufficient, condition of a diverse and inclusive community. We cannot have a truly free community of expression if some perspectives can be heard and others cannot. Learning from a diversity of viewpoints, and from the deliberation, debate, and dissent that accompany them, are essential ingredients of academic excellence.

Free expression promotes creativity by affirming the ability to exchange ideas without constraints. It not only facilitates individual autonomy and self-fulfillment, it provides for participation in collective decision-making and is essential to the search for truth and justice. Free expression is enhanced by the doctrine of academic freedom, which protects both intramural and extramural expression without institutional censorship or discipline. Academic freedom promotes scholarly rigor and the testing of ideas by protecting research, publication, and teaching from interference.

MIT does not protect direct threats, harassment, plagiarism, or other speech that falls outside the boundaries of the First Amendment. Moreover, the time, place, and manner of protected expression, including organized protests, may be restrained so as not to disrupt the essential activities of the Institute.


At the intersection of the ideal of free expression and MIT community values lies the expectation of a collegial and respectful learning and working environment. We cannot prohibit speech that some experience as offensive or injurious. At the same time, MIT deeply values civility, mutual respect, and uninhibited, wide-open debate. In fostering such debate, we have a responsibility to express ourselves in ways that consider the prospect of offense and injury and the risk of discouraging others from expressing their own views. This responsibility complements, and does not conflict with, the right to free expression. Even robust disagreements shall not be liable to official censure or disciplinary action.

Here we see that the MIT “leaders” can speak out officially on “matters of public interest”, which they should not be doing. This is prohibited by the University of Chicago’s Kalven report, and has the effect of chilling speech. Rather than issuing the caveat “this should be understood as being open to debate,” the leader simply should not be speaking officially about matters of public interest unless they affect the mission and/or workings of the university.

This applies broadly. For example, when MIT leaders speak on matters of public interest, whether in their own voice or in the name of MIT, this should always be understood as being open to debate by the broader MIT community.

A commitment to free expression includes hearing and hosting speakers, including those whose views or opinions may not be shared by many members of the MIT community and may be harmful to some. This commitment includes the freedom to criticize and peacefully protest speakers to whom one may object, but it does not extend to suppressing or restricting such speakers from expressing their views. Debate and deliberation of controversial ideas are hallmarks of the Institute’s educational and research missions and are essential to the pursuit of truth, knowledge, equity, and justice.

The bold bit above is clearly an expression of the faculty’s disapproval of how MIT deplatformed Dorian Abbot.

MIT has played a leading role in the continuing transformation of communication technology, and recent digital and networked modes of speech make our campus more accessible to all. At the same time, those technologies make our campus more disembodied and more vulnerable to the pull of ideological extremes. Although new modes of speech change the character of expression, such technologies need not and should not lessen our commitment to the values underlying free speech, even as we adapt creatively to meet the needs of our physical and virtual landscapes.

h/t: Allen