Cambridge University tries once again to enforce “respect” in its free-speech regulations

June 17, 2022 • 10:45 am

In September of last year I reported about the apparent resolution of a controversy about free speech at Cambridge University that had been going on for two years (see earlier posts here and here). The controversy was about the balance between free speech, which Cambridge purports to support, and “respect” for others which they wanted to mandate. Here’s one version of a resolution the university wanted to pass (my bolding):

The University of Cambridge, as a world-leading education and research institution, is fully committed to the principle, and to the promotion, of freedom of speech and expression. The University’s core values are ‘freedom of thought and expression’ and ‘freedom from discrimination’. The University fosters an environment in which all of its staff and students can participate fully in University life, and feel able to question and test received wisdom, and to express new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions within the law, without fear of disrespect or discrimination. In exercising their right to freedom of expression, the University expects its staff, students and visitors to be respectful of the differing opinions of others, in line with the University’s core value of freedom of expression. The University also expects its staff, students and visitors to be respectful of the diverse identities of others, in line with the University’s core value of freedom from discrimination. While debate and discussion may be robust and challenging, all speakers have a right to be heard when exercising their right to free speech within the law.

Many people including me opposed this bill because of the implied chilling of speech that might offend others (lack of “respect”). In the end, the University voted it down by a huge margin. A victory for free speech?

Not so fast! According to this article from Inside Higher Ed (click to read for free), Cambridge is back with a similar if not identical proposal

I haven’t found a copy of the new proposal, but the free-speech regulations already in place are here. An excerpt:

The University of Cambridge, as a world-leading education and research institution, is fully committed to the principle, and to the promotion, of freedom of speech and expression. The University’s core values are ‘freedom of thought and expression’ and ‘freedom from discrimination’. The University fosters an environment in which all of its staff and students can participate fully in University life, and feel able to question and test received wisdom, and to express new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions within the law, without fear of intolerance or discrimination. In exercising their right to freedom of expression, the University expects its staff, students and visitors to be tolerant of the differing opinions of others, in line with the University’s core value of freedom of expression.

Note the requested “tolerant,” which is okay by me so long as it means “don’t yell over other people or punch them if you disagree with them.” Note too that the University is FULLY COMMITTED to free speech and expression. The kerfuffle over the past two years was not about tolerance but about adding stuff about “respect”. That gives the regulations a completely different meaning, and was the pivot word that killed the revised resolution. Here are the two most relevant meanings of “respect” from the Oxford English Dictionary (their emphasis):

Deferential regard or esteem felt or shown towards a person, thing, or quality.

The condition or state of being esteemed, honoured, or highly thought of. Frequently with in, esp. in to hold in (high, etc.) respect.

There’s no way I can esteem, honor, or think highly of those who promulgate nonsense.

Clearly, though, Cambridge just can’t give up the idea that free speech and “respect” are compatible. But there’s no reason I should respect Donald Trump or the Proud Boys, even if I do defend their right to promulgate stupidity. Here’s what Inside Higher Ed reported yesterday

The University of Cambridge’s incoming leader could become immediately embroiled in a free speech row, with a number of academics opposing a new “mutual respect” policy.

A consultation has been held on a second draft of the document that aims to “prevent inappropriate behavior in the workplace” alongside a new grievance policy that outlines how complaints will be dealt with.

While both documents stress that they should be read in conjunction with the university’s free speech statement, critics said they represent management trying to restrict speech beyond its legal responsibilities.

And, for crying out loud, they’re back two years later trying to change “tolerate” to “respect” again!

The policy’s aim is to create “a safe, welcoming and inclusive community which nurtures a culture of mutual respect and courtesy,” and it states, “There is no place for any form of bullying, harassment, discrimination, sexual misconduct, or victimization in our community.”

That’s fine, but that’s not the same thing as showing “disrespect”.

But Ross Anderson, professor of security engineering at Cambridge, said “respect” was the wrong choice of word, particularly as this terminology was removed from the free speech statement in favor of “tolerate” after a vote in the university’s governing body, Regent House.

“It is unreasonable to expect atheists to respect the views of religious believers, or to expect climate change activists to respect the work of earth scientists who are trying to make mining or oil drilling more efficient, or to expect campaigners for social justice to respect law professors who advise banks how to avoid regulation. What is reasonable is to expect members of the university to treat each other with tolerance and courtesy,” Anderson said.

He added that the draft policy “reads as if it has been adapted from a corporate HR manual” and does not consider the complexity of the university’s structures, which includes emeritus staff and visiting professors as well as those who work directly for the colleges.

I can’t help but put in a quote here from Mencken:

We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.

But it gets worse: there appears to be some “compulsory training” that goes along with this proposal (my emphasis):

Visitors, suppliers and others will be expected to behave in a manner that is consistent with the code of behavior outlined in the policy, but Anderson said it was unclear how this would be enforced in reality.

Ahmed added that he had “grave concerns” about the compulsory training element that would be introduced for all staff on areas such as diversity, which he claimed had “proven to be useless.”

There’s new leadership at Cambridge, and they apparently haven’t learned from the big failure two years ago (my emphasis):

A previous version of the same document was withdrawn in May 2021, and shortly afterward, Vice Chancellor Stephen Toope announced his early departure from his position. He will be replaced on an interim basis starting in October by Anthony Freeling, outgoing president of Hughes Hall, Cambridge, just as the final versions of the new policies are likely to come to Regent House for a vote.

Free speech concerns are likely to be a key feature of Freeling’s brief six-month tenure, with the government looking to pass its Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill.

A Cambridge spokesman said the policy was clear that it could not be used to undermine the university’s statement on freedom of speech, and this point had been emphasized to those concerned.

Why can’t the Cambridge administration just give up on this? Opposition to the previous “respect” replacement was said to be between four to one and seven to one. Nobody wants this change, and nevertheless the admin persists. They need to learn that enforcing “respect” in discourse cannot be harmonized with Cambridge’s free speech policy, for if you give someone offense with your words, they can and will claim that you’re not respecting them.

But saying that “you don’t respect me” is no more of an argument than “I’m offended”, and doesn’t belong in any regulations about free speech.

The Atlantic ponders the tension between freedom of speech and inclusivity

June 14, 2022 • 12:45 pm

Conor Friedersdorf has a new piece in The Atlantic that tackles a question that vexes many:  what happens if a university or institution has a free-speech policy but at the same time guarantees an “inclusive and welcoming environment” for everyone?  Now we already know that these two policies will be incompatible in some cases, for some critical speech, say criticizing the tenets of Islam, the “colonialist” policies of Israel, or the principles of Black Lives Matter, will inevitably be perceived as “unwelcoming”—indeed, as “hate speech.” What happens then?

Such a policy used to be in effect at Georgetown University, and resulted in the resignation of legal scholar Ilya Shapiro, who made some hamhanded tweets about Biden’s new pick for Supreme Court justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, a black woman. These tweets were issued before Shapiro was appointed at Georgetown (which does profess a free-speech policy), so shouldn’t have caused him trouble, but I have to say that they were pretty dire. And yes, offensive.

This is the one that caused all the trouble (he’s since taken it down):

It’s not clear whether Shapiro meant by “lesser” whether black women are inherently poor choices, or that Srinivasan was simply a “greater” choice. Anyway, Shapiro rightfully was called out for it, and apologized:

This is free speech, particularly because the tweets preceded Shapiro’s demonization by Georgetown, which nevertheless launched an investigation of his conduct after he was hired. He was ultimately exculpated, but only on the grounds that he wasn’t a professor when he made the tweets. Still, the university made dark threats that things might be different if Shapiro tweeted like that again.  So he quit, announcing in The Wall Street Journal that he didn’t want to work in a hostile atmosphere. So that was the end of that; he now has a job at the Manhattan Institute, a right-wing think tank.

Well, it’s not quite the end, because in the a new piece in The Atlantic (click to read), Conors Friedersdorf analyzes two aspects of the case that remain.


A. What happens when free speech conflicts with “inclusivity”?  To me the answer is obvious, especially at a school like Georgetown that professes to adhere to free speech principles. Unless the speech is not protected by the First Amendment because of the exceptions carved out by the courts (harassment, production of imminent, predictable violence, defamation, etc.), speech takes priority over people’s offense. (This doesn’t necessarily hold in private universities or corporations, but in most cases it should.)

Further, such discipline isn’t really known to further inclusivity; that’s just an assumption. Any punishment then would be either a deterrent or a form of retribution, neither of which is justifiable. Friedersdorf says:

In recent years, diversity, equity, and inclusion administrators have proliferated across colleges as the “kindly inquisitors” of the “Great Awokening.” These officials are supposed to make sure that people from underrepresented groups feel included on campus. Yet in practice, DEI offices and the deans who supervise them have taken on a dubious enterprise: enforcing leftist speech norms most familiar to highly educated cultural elites. The unspoken assumption is that disciplining a scholar for, say, an offensive tweet will help young people from marginalized backgrounds. It’s an assumption that too many universities simply accept and too few feel any need to study or measure, let alone prove.

The conflict was addressed by Georgetown, but the resolution was ambiguous:

Georgetown Law Dean William M. Treanor declared in a statement that he was guided in the Shapiro matter “by two overarching principles.” The first was the law school’s “dedication to speech and expression,” while “the second and equally important principle was our dedication to building a culture of equity and inclusion.” When free speech and “building a culture of equity and inclusion” are on equal footing, the implication is that, when they conflict, free speech can sometimes lose. Treanor’s formulation leaves employees without any way of knowing exactly where the lines are. If even one ambiguously worded tweet can ostensibly surpass Georgetown’s threshold for harassment—or is deemed to violate professional-conduct policies against offensive or inclusionary speech—an employee risks being disciplined or fired over almost any statement that might offend others.

The ambiguity is deliberate, for it allows the University to do what it wants.

Fortunately, the Foundation for Individual Right and Expression (FIRE) have just announced that Georgetown has resolved the conflict, and—hallelujah!—has given precedence to speech over feelings. It’s done so by adopting a version of the University of Chicago’s Principles of Free Expression—making it the 87th college to do so. From FIRE:

Here is how the new policy statement begins:

The ideas of different members of the University community will often and naturally conflict. It is not the proper role of a University to insulate individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Deliberation or debate may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or ill conceived.

The statement continues:

It is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution, to judge the value of ideas, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting those arguments and ideas that they oppose.

If this language sounds familiar, it should. Georgetown is just the latest institution to adopt a policy that closely mirrors the Chicago Statement. Since its introduction in 2015, FIRE has touted the Chicago Statement as a model free speech policy for universities and colleges across the country.

Taking cues from the Chicago Statement, Georgetown’s new policy goes on to say:

Although members of the University community are free to criticize and contest the views expressed by other members of the community, or by individuals who are invited to campus, they may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe. To this end, the University has a solemn responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of deliberation and debate, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it.

So good for Georgetown, even though FIRE has still given it a “red light” for its speech-code policies since it still has rules in place that inhibit free expression.

Finally, and to Friedersdorf’s main point:

B. Who should formulate the rules for speech and behavior? As the subtitle says above, “overzealous administrators” often make the rules and punish faculty and students, while Friedersdorf says that the faculty should drive out the “overzealous administrators,” which include the DEI bureaucracy and all the other administrators involved in making arcane rules designed to create an atmosphere of in loco parentis. As we know, this group is growing far faster than the number of faculty or students. Friedersdorf’s recommendation, which is really only a small part of his story, is this:

Universities should operate according to scholars’ values, not bureaucrats’ subjective judgments. And my correspondence with Georgetown professors indicates both significant disagreement with administrators and a dearth of clarity about what speech—in practice—might get them investigated or punished.

To fix this problem at Georgetown and elsewhere, faculty need power to protect free speech. At present, sanctions in higher education flow in one direction: Diversity bureaucrats exert control over faculty members whose speech allegedly undermines inclusion. I propose giving faculty the power to investigate, sanction, and fire diversity officials if they undermine free speech. Administrative abuses will continue as long as bureaucrats can punish speech, even in flagrant violation of university policy, without any consequences.

This is pretty much the situation at the University of Chicago, but we still suffer from administrative bloat.  Now I don’t think we should do away with DEI administrators completely, for, after all, they have a job that’s vital for the university, and one that no professor would want to do. Diversity needs to be both promoted and protected. That said, I agree with Friedersdorf that the faculty and not the administration should make the rules relevant to education, which includes speech and diversity issues. The rest of the administration should be running the institution, making sure it functions physically and financially. While DEI can investigate cases, the rules by which they do this, or regulate speech, must be made by the faculty itself. After all, the purpose of the university is teaching and learning, a purpose summed up by the University of Chicago’s famously young President:

The object of the educational system, taken as a whole, is not to produce hands for industry or to teach the young how to make a living. It is to produce responsible citizens. — Robert Hutchins
These aims are best achieved by having the academic, speech, and behavior rules made by faculty, not administrators.  Why? Because, I think, the faculty ponders these issues more deeply than the administration, and have been trained in law, philosophy, and ethics, not “critical studies”. After all, Chicago’s foundational principles of the Kalven Report and the Chicago Principles of Free Expression, regarded as the gold standards for college speech regulation, were both concocted by faculty committees, not administrators.

 

h/t: Carl

FIRE broadens its scope

June 7, 2022 • 10:00 am

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has been a very valuable resource in documenting and correcting violations of free speech on college campuses, whether those campuses are private or public. Now, however, FIRE has expanded its mission and renamed itself, and in a very good way. Read about it by clicking on the screenshot:

From FIRE:

Today, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education becomes the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.

America’s leading defender of free speech, due process, and academic freedom in higher education is expanding its free speech mission beyond campus. The $75 million expansion initiative will focus on three main areas of programming: litigation, public education, and research.

“America needs a new nonpartisan defender of free speech that will advocate unapologetically for this fundamental human right in both the court of law and the court of public opinion,” said FIRE President & CEO Greg Lukianoff. “FIRE has a proven track record of defeating censorship on campus. We are excited to now bring that same tireless advocacy to fighting censorship off campus.”

As part of its expansion initiative, FIRE is also launching a $10 million nationwide advertising campaign to promote a culture of free expression. The campaign, Faces of Free Speech, launches today and will last throughout the remainder of 2022. The campaign will initially reach Americans through robust national cable television, digital, and billboard advertising.

There will be billboards in 15 cities, all listed in the piece.

This expansion of its mission can only be to the good. The more sites fostering free expression, whether on or off campus, the better, for the more voices are raised in defense of open discourse.

The “new” FIRE describes its mission:

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression’s (FIRE’s) mission is to defend and sustain the individual rights of all Americans to free speech and free thought—the most essential qualities of liberty. FIRE educates Americans about the importance of these inalienable rights, promotes a culture of respect for these rights, and provides the means to preserve them.

FIRE recognizes that colleges and universities play a vital role in preserving free thought within a free society. To this end, we place a special emphasis on defending the individual rights of students and faculty members on our nation’s campuses, including freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience.

In other words, it’s taking the place of the American Civil Liberties Union (with a concentration on speech) since the ACLU has more or less abandoned its historical mission.

Remember that although the First Amendment applies legally only to public universities, many private schools (like Princeton) have avowed a policy of free speech, and endorsed the Chicago Principles of Free Expression, which more or less follow the First Amendment. And any school, even a private one that avows principles of free speech (and more than eighty have supported the Chicago version) can be sued for violating them.

Remember too that the classical rationales for free speech said virtually nothing about the First Amendment or government censorship. If you read John Stuart Mill’s classic On Liberty, as you should, you’ll see that his many arguments for free speech rest on the merits of free speech itself, regardless of its context or who the potential censors might be. In fact, he seems to have been most worried about “social censorship”—disapprobation that could lead to chilling of speech.

Yes, burning the Qur’an can violate the First Amendment

May 17, 2022 • 10:00 am

Yesterday I described the mayhem that ensued in Sweden and Denmark when a nativist right-wing politician, Rasmus Paludan, head of Denmark’s anti-immigrant Hard Line Party, set fire to a Qur’an live on Facebook last month. He then announced that he was going to tour Sweden over Easter weekend burning Qurans: a tour with burnings in different Swedish cities. This caused the expected consequences: public ire and violent protests that included overturning buses and throwing Molotov cocktails. (The Muslims, of course, were irate over the burning of their scripture, and perpetrated the violence.) Paludan is continuing his Burn The Qur’an Tour and continues to create mayhem.

However, the Swedish and Danish police protected Paludan, and several readers noted that his acts are not prohibited in Sweden and Denmark, even when they could cause damage to people and property.

The question I posed to readers was this:  could burning a Qur’an in the U.S. under some circumstances not be considered Constitutionally protected speech if it led to foreseeable and imminent harm, and if that harm was intended?

Like most readers, I see no issue with burning Qur’ans, but I was posing a hypothetical legal question.

Most readers argued that this “speech” (burning the Qur’an) would be protected in the U.S. even if it was likely to lead to foreseeable and intended violence. You can see readers’ comments here.

However, I wanted a definitive legal opinion, so I consulted a very well known law professor specializing in free-speech and First Amendment issues.  His/her answer was that, yes, under some circumstances burning the Qur’an might NOT be protected speech, in which case the burner could be prosecuted. The prof’s response (I’ve added the link), quoted with permission:

According to the Court’s 1969 decision in Brandenburg v. Ohio, which remains a leading precedent, the government cannot punish an individual for engaging in expressive conduct that causes others to engage in violence unless the individual specifically intended to cause that reaction and his speech caused likely and imminent violence. So, whether the right wing Swedish politician could be punished for his conduct would depend on whether the government could prove that causing the violence was his specific intent in burning the Muslim [book] and that the violent response was likely and imminent (and grave).

Now these circumstances may not obtain in the case of Paludan, and proving intent is of course quite difficult. Nevertheless, it is not beyond possibility that someone burning the Qur’an could be punished by the U.S. government for that act under the “imminent violence” provision.

I consider this opinion definitive.

Here’s a recent video of Paludin burning the Qur’an under police protection, and some of the reaction:

Would burning a Qur’an in public violate the First Amendment?

May 16, 2022 • 9:00 am

Here’s one of those hard free-speech cases, and it’s hard for even a diehard free-speecher like me.  It comes from the Wall Street Journal (a news piece, not an op-ed); click to read:

This bears on freedom of speech, although Sweden has no U.S.-style First Amendment and I don’t know how they’d regard a case like this. Instead, I’d like readers to weigh in as if this case were in the U.S.

The skinny: Swedish/Danish right-wing politician Rasmus Paludan, head of Denmark’s anti-immigrant Hard Line Party, set fire to a Qur’an live on Facebook last month. He then announced that he was going to tour Sweden over Easter Weekend burning Qurans: a tour with burnings in different Swedish cities.

Now this is clearly a provocation and, if anything qualifies as “Islamophobia,” this does. It’s not that he has theological disagreements with Muslims, but is simply trying to provoke them by burning their sacred book. He is anti-immigrant, and most immigrants in Sweden are Muslim.

And provoke them he did: the April 18 WSJ reports just the threat of such a tour incited violence:

Police in Sweden said Monday they have arrested dozens of people following clashes over plans by a far-right Scandinavian politician to burn a Quran over Easter weekend.

Over the weekend, people rioted in several cities, throwing Molotov cocktails at emergency vehicles and burning trash cans and a municipal bus.

Four people were injured Sunday when police fired what they said were warning shots above the crowd. One of the people was a police officer who was lightly injured during the clash, said Asa Willsund, spokeswoman for the police department in the East Sweden region.

. . . .Since Thursday [April 14], there have been recurring protests and counterprotests on the stops of his tour, several of which have turned violent.

The riots turned the country’s political attention back onto longstanding tensions between Sweden’s immigrant population, which is largely Muslim, and nationalist parties opposed to Muslim immigration into the country. Sweden’s leadership has been largely focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as the country considers renouncing centuries of neutrality to join the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

On Friday evening, Mr. Paludan’s supporters clashed with protesters in the central city of Orebro. The clashes spread into a broader riot, with 12 police officers injured and four emergency vehicles set on fire. On Saturday, hundreds of mostly young male protesters rioted in the cities of Malmo and Landskrona in southern Sweden, burning trash cans and throwing Molotov cocktails at police vehicles.

The riots prompted Mr. Paludan to cancel his stop in Landskrona, his party said on Facebook, saying the Swedish state could no longer guarantee his safety.

“We have seen violent riots before. But this is something else,” said National Police Chief Anders Thornberg. “It is serious violence against life and property, especially against police officers. It is very worrying and we will take strong countermeasures. This should not continue.”

I note that in a report from May 13 in The Daily Sabah, Paludan is continuing the Burning Tour—under police protection:

The leader of the far-right Danish party Stram Kurs (Hard Line) burned another copy of the Holy Quran on Thursday under police protection in Sweden.

Rasmus Paludan, who has dual Danish and Swedish citizenship, recently burned copies of the Quran in the Frolunda, Boras and Trollhattan regions of the southwestern province of Vastergotland, which has a large population of Muslim residents.

Around 100 police officers, as well as 10 plainclothes officers from the Swedish intelligence agency SAPO, accompanied Paludan to protect him against counter-demonstrators.

. . .Paludan has burnt the holy book in various cities in Denmark since 2017.

He continued his provocations under police protection during the holy Islamic month of Ramadan this year near neighborhoods home to Muslims and mosques.

Riots broke out in the cities Malmo, Norrkoping and Jonkoping as well as in the capital Stockholm, leaving 125 police vehicles damaged and 34 officers injured, while 13 people were detained.

Now it’s clear from these reports that burning the Qur’an is not a criminal offense in either Sweden or Denmark, for the police protect the burners from the rioters. And I know that burning the Bible is not a violation of the First Amendment in the U.S., either. Here it’s usually done not to provoke, but to make a statement about Christianity. But intent doesn’t matter: what matters to the First Amendment is the likely outcome if violence could be imminent.

Because Muslims are far more easily inflamed by the burning of their sacred scriptures than are Christians, one could argue that burning a Qur’an in front of a group of Muslims in the U.S. violates the First Amendment because it will provoke predictable and imminent violence. As the Brittanica notes, this is “incitement,” and could be construed as one of the exceptions to the First Amendment (the short article on “permissible restrictions on expression” is a good primer on what speech is not protected):

As the Supreme Court held in Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), the government may forbid “incitement”—speech “directed at inciting or producing imminent lawless action” and “likely to incite or produce such action” (such as a speech to a mob urging it to attack a nearby building). But speech urging action at some unspecified future time may not be forbidden.

But this raises a First-Amendment problem.  Perhaps it’s legal to burn the Qur’an on the Internet or in front of a group of like-minded bigots (see this article for that opinion), but is it permissible to burn it in front of a group of Muslims leaving the mosque on Friday? The latter is almost guaranteed to produce imminent lawless action, as it did in Sweden and Denmark. Would that make such public burnings illegal in America, but only those burnings that will inflame a certain group of religious people?

This may already have been adjudicated in the courts, but I don’t know. and can’t be arsed to find out.  I tend to side with Sweden and Denmark here, as I think that no holy books are off limits from criticism, and that includes burning. But on the other hand, burning the Qur’an may be inciting imminent and predictable lawless action while burning the Bible or the Bhagavad Gita will not.

Of course burning the Qur’an the way Paludan did is an expression of bigotry, but even bigotry is permitted under the First Amendment. Here we have a situation in which, in principle, the same action may be either permitted speech or impermissible speech, depending on the religious group at hand. I suspect that what Paludin did would be legal in the U.S., but I don’t know.

Do weigh in with your opinion: Does an act like Paludan’s constitute impermissible speech when performed in front of one group of believers, but not another (Christians)?

h/t: Williams

Musk says he’ll reverse Twitter ban on Trump

May 10, 2022 • 2:32 pm

According to the Washington Post, Elon Musk, who will be the new boss of Twitter, has announced that he’ll reverse Twitter’s ban on the lucubrations of former Lunatic-in-Chief Donald Trump.

Twitter’s decision to ban Trump from the platform early last year was a mistake, the Tesla CEO said during a virtual event Tuesday. The decision to do so alienated much of the country, and Trump still has a voice. And Trump has launched his own social media platform in the meantime, potentially prompting even greater problems, he added.

“I think it was a morally bad decision to be clear and foolish in the extreme,” he said at the event hosted by the Financial Times.

Twitter banned Trump in the wake of the Jan. 6 riots, citing the risk of further violence.

. . . [Musk] has seized on the platform’s importance to democracy and global debate and criticized what he has described as a left-wing bias in moderation decisions. Twitter has countered that its efforts have been aimed at minimizing harm and improving the user experience by limiting exposure to hate speech and harassment.

I am on Musk’s side in this one. If he truly wants to adhere to the courts’ First Amendment construal of free speech on Twitter, as he said he does, then there’s no reason to ban Trump. If Trump abrogates First Amendment principles in the future, he can go. You might say that his behavior on January 6 constituted the promulgation of predictable and imminent harm, though he’s not been convicted of that, but even if it did, I favor giving him a fresh start. After all, doesn’t America deserve the spectacle of seeing the man fulminate? And remember, half of America loves him.

Of course now people will hate Musk even more, though I don’t think he deserves it. This was a proper decision, and can be rescinded if Trump violates any of the forms of speech not protected by the First Amendment.

I suspect many readers will disagree with me.

Time Magazine goes full stupid: “free speech has become an obsession of the mostly white, male members of the tech elite”

May 8, 2022 • 12:45 pm

Now that Elon Musk has bought Twitter, which he claims to have done to promulgage legal free speech (i.e., speech permitted by the First Amendment), we see a lot of people suddenly finding reasons to oppose free speech. One reason that many people simply despise Elon Musk and will criticize anything he does.

But support for free speech all over America is waning for several reasons. First, because free speech—even that allowed by the Constitution—is said to permit “hate speech” and “offense”. My response to that is that one person’s free speech is another’s hate speech, and that “offense” is not an excuse for censorship. And who is going to parse the First Amendment so that it no longer allows “hate speech”?

Another reason is that the “hate speech” is said to “erase” the speech of minorities and promote white supremacy. But in the past years, since the death of George Floyd, I’ve seen a huge upwelling of speech, both public and on social media, by members of minority groups. What I see, and favor, is that they have a bigger megaphone, not a smaller one. Nobody has been “erased” or had their megaphone taken away.

Third, freedom of speech is said to promote “disinformation”—deliberate lies promulgated to further an agenda.  Well, yes, it does that, but it’s been doing that for centuries, as pointed out by Jon Zobenica and Ben Schwarz in an excellent essay from the Free Voice called “Who Will Watch the Watchmen?

Both Left and Right have engaged in disinformation, and, although the argument goes that social media magnifies it, that argument also was made against printing presses and yellow newspapers. Frankly, I am not much bothered by “disinformation”, as eventually the truth always comes out (because of free speech!); it’s not illegal except for false advertising;  and, most important, who will decide what “disinformation” is? That is the point of Zobenica and Schwarz’s essay and of much writing and speecifying by Christopher Hitchens. Remember that the Hunter Biden laptop fracas was pushed out of the liberal press as “disinformation”, but turned out to have substance. Both Left and Right do this—remember Bush’s “weapons of mass destruction” disinformation?

But now, according to Time Magazine, we have yet another reason to ban free speech: it’s a tool of white technocratic males (Musk, Zuckerberg) who are insensitive to the “nuances” of free speech and are pushing it so they can use their platforms to broadcast disinformation and suppress minorities.

This is a new combination of the “hate speech” and “disinformation” arguments, but with opprobrium towards white males tacked on.  But this argument fares no better than the previous ones. Sure, any commercial platform need not abide by the First Amendment, which is about the government censoring speech, but I am pretty much a free speech hard-liner, and think that the courts’ interpretation of the First Amendment (and its exceptions) should hold pretty much everywhere, including colleges and social media.

Time seems not to agree, though its op-ed is confusing and a bit incoherent. Click to read: I”ll give a few quotes:

Here’s the male-bashing:

“Freedom of speech” has become a paramount concern of the techno-moral universe. The issue has anchored nearly every digital media debate for the last two years, from the dustup over Joe Rogan at Spotify to vaccine misinformation on Facebook. Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg gave a major speech at Georgetown in 2019 about the importance of “free expression” and has consistently relied on the theme when explaining why Facebook has struggled to curb disinformation on the platform.

“It does seem to be a dominant obsession with the most elite, the most driven Elon Musks of the world,” says Fred Turner, professor of communication at Stanford University and author of several books about Silicon Valley culture, who argues that “free speech seems to be much more of an obsession among men.” Turner says the drive to harness and define the culture around online speech is related to “the entrepreneurial push: I did it in business, I did it in space, and now I’m going to do it in the world.”

And here’s the implicit accusation of racism in the “tech bros” favoring free speech:

Jason Goldman, who was on the founding team at Twitter and served on the company’s board from 2007 to 2010 before joining the Obama Administration, says the tech rhetoric around free speech has become an obsession of the mostly white, male members of the tech elite, who made their billions in the decades before a rapidly diversifying workforce changed the culture at many of the biggest companies in Silicon Valley.

They “would rather go back to the way things were,” Goldman says, “and are couching that in terms of ‘free speech’ or ‘we’re not going to allow politics to be part of the conversation.’”

The “going back to the way things were,” to me at least, implies the good old days when white men ruled the world. And so white supremacy becomes another motivation for pushing free speech. This is underscored when author Charlotte Alter argues this:

Tech titans often have a different understanding of speech than the rest of the world because most trained as engineers, not as writers or readers, and a lack of a humanities education might make them less attuned to the social and political nuances of speech.

“Tech culture is grounded in engineering culture, which imagines itself as apolitical,” says Turner. Engineers, he adds, often see the world in terms of problems and solutions, and in that context, speech becomes a series of data points that get circulated through a data system, rather than expressions of social or political ideas.

Again, this sounds like an accusation that the white tech-bros’ construal of free speech allows them to offend people more freely. Either that or they’re oblivious to “hate speech” and thus don’t oppose it.

Well, I can’t say that nobody has these motivations, but you have to be pretty much steeped in wokeism to argue that these are the reasons that people like Musk want more free speech. In fact, Alter argues that free speech is no longer what it used to be:

But “free speech” in the 21st century means something very different than it did in the 18th, when the Founders enshrined it in the Constitution. The right to say what you want without being imprisoned is not the same as the right to broadcast disinformation to millions of people on a corporate platform. This nuance seems to be lost on some techno-wizards who see any restriction as the enemy of innovation.

The question, though, is not one of “rights” but of “benefits”. And the benefits of First Amendment free speech devolve widely, not just in speech that the government can’t censor, but in speech that private colleges like mine can’t censor. This is why over 80 colleges, many of them private, have signed on to the Chicago Principles of Free Expression.

To oppose free speech because Elon Musk favors it is stupid; it’s not an argument at all. To oppose free speech because it causes offense or “hate speech” is misguided. And to oppose free speech because it could promote “disinformation” raises the unanswerable question “who will watch the watchmen?” (See Zobenica and Schwarz’s essay.)

Finally, to oppose free speech because it applies only to government censorship is to completely overlook the reasons why America wrote it into the constitution: largely because of Mill’s idea that it’s the best way to test your own arguments and find the truth. What other way is there?

Or do you want to go the censorship route? If so, and I suspect a few readers will, then tell us, please, who is going to monitor speech for “offense” and “disinformation”? Do you want the people at Twitter doing it, whose double standards about acceptable speech are well known?

As Jonathan Turley wrote:

Alter is confusing free speech values with the rationale for the First Amendment. For years, anti-free-speech figures have dismissed free speech objections to social media censorship by stressing that the First Amendment applies only to the government, not private companies. The distinction was always a dishonest effort to evade the implications of speech controls, whether implemented by the government or corporations.

The First Amendment was never the exclusive definition of free speech. Free speech is viewed by many of us as a human right; the First Amendment only deals with one source for limiting it. Free speech can be undermined by private corporations as well as government agencies. This threat is even greater when politicians openly use corporations to achieve indirectly what they cannot achieve directly.

Amen!

Discussion: Elon Musk, Twitter, and free speech

April 28, 2022 • 11:30 am

I am really isolated from the news on this trip: we get no newspapers and I have no time to either read the papers online or listen to news on television. But I gather that Elon Musk has now acquired Twitter.

I also gather that he wants to turn it into a “free speech” platform, and, as he tweeted below, his intention is to allow “free speech” that is simply speech permitted by the First Amendment as adjudicated by the courts (i.e., no personal harassment, false advertising, child pornography, speech that incites imminent lawless action such as violence, and so on).

I see no immediate problem with this, even though Twitter, as a private company, need not abide by the First Amendment. In my view, the closer institutions like Twitter get to construing “free speech” as the courts have construed the First Amendment, the better. The same goes for universities.

Yet there are cries I see online that if Musk acquires Twitter, he will allow “hate speech” (see one example of these objections here.) God forbid, he might allow Donald Trump to tweet again! Thus people are saying that “moderation” will be needed. If that’s the case, who will be the moderator, and who will be moderated? What will be “hate speech” that should be banned, and what will be controversial speech that will not be banned?

I ask readers to discuss this issue. Is Musk’s First-Amendment policy, which will of course lead to “hate speech” (i.e., any speech some people find offensive) an execrable policy, or is it what Twitter needs? Should some people like Trump (who’s already banned from Twitter) be allowed back? Is it bad to have a Twitter policy that allows First-Amendment-permitted speech? As Hitchens asked, who would you trust to decide which speech to allow?

I’ll be reading the discussion, and am seeking edification. I have to say that I’m upset that the opponents of Musk’s “free speech” policy seem to be mostly on the Left, but I may be wrong.

The hard case for free speech: Amy Wax

April 18, 2022 • 12:30 pm

As John Stuart Mill emphasized, free speech must protect words we find odious and offensive, for it is only by honing our own beliefs against such words that we can truly examine how well we can defend our beliefs. And in some cases what we find offensive might actually cause us to reconsider or views, or even change our minds.

Amy Wax, the Robert Mundheim Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, seems to fall largely into the first class: those who say repugnant things that most reasonable person can only oppose. I haven’t followed her statements closely, but she does seem to have a racist bent, and the Wikipedia article on her cites a number of racist statements she’s made along with other statements that have offended people (and me). The thing is, however, that she’s made them all outside of class, and “extramural speech” like that is protected by the First Amendment as well as by the consonant policies of the University of Pennsylvania (a private school). So long as Wax doesn’t import bigotry into the classroom, creating an atmosphere that harasses students, she is protected by tenure and her school’s avowed policies.

That doesn’t cut any ice with people like Hana M. Kiros, a black Harvard student who wrote an editorial in the Crimson (the Harvard student newspaper) calling for Wax to be fired.  Click to read:

Kiros cites a number of Wax’s statements that she finds racist, white supremacist, and offensive. Here are a few:

Put plainly, Wax favors non-white people being kept out of leadership positions and, ideally, the country. That’s in America’s best interest, she argues, because “countries ruled by white Europeans” simply have values that are “superior.”

“The third world, although mixed, contains a lot of non-white people,” she warns.

Tracking Wax’s declarations of white supremacy is genuinely dizzying. This month’s iteration is a viral clip of her on Tucker Carlson Today, in which Wax described her Indian colleagues at Penn as coming from a “shithole.” She then complains that “non-Western people,” particularly “American Blacks,” feel a “tremendous amount of resentment and shame” towards “Western peoples” because of their “outsized achievements and contributions.” Wax scrunches her face. “I mean it’s this unholy brew of sentiments.”

Wax’s April interview with Carlson, who hosts America’s most-watched cable news show, has led to a resurgence in calls for her firing — a cause that last surged this January when Wax said the U.S. was “better off with fewer Asians.”

And Wax was punished by Penn for one of her statements.

Kiros:

Wax was barred from teaching required classes in 2018 after implying, falsely, that Black Penn Law students never graduated in the top quarter of their class. [JAC correction; the linked article says top half of their class, but that statement was also false.] This January, Penn Law Dean Tedd Ruger initiated the University’s process for formally sanctioning tenured faculty “to address Professor Wax’s escalating conduct.” Ruger declined to comment for this article to “preserve the integrity of this process.” He wrote, however, that “[t]he Law School has previously made clear on multiple occasions that Professor Wax’s views do not reflect our values or practices.”

I haven’t seen Wax’s quotes in context, but I’ll take Kiros’s word that Wax is a bigot towards non-white people. But whether she should be sanctioned for that, given that these statements were made outside class, seems to me doubtful under the First-Amendment-modeled speech principles of her university. In fact, the Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA) has called for rescinding the sanctions against Wax (see their letter to Penn here). They are not defending her views, but are vigorously defending her right to express them—extramurally.  Here’s an excerpt from the AFA letter written to Penn by Keith Whittington, chair of the organization’s Academic Committee. (Note again that Penn is not a state university, and therefore punishing her is not punishment by the government, but, as Whittington notes, the school has embraced First Amendment principles vis-à-vis extramural speech. Further, any good school, even if private, should fully embrace the First Amendment.)

Whittington to Penn:

This call for the university to take formal action against Professor Wax is a clear threat to her freedom of speech. Such a public interview is a form of what the American Association of University Professors calls “extramural speech.” Extramural speech is a protected form of freedom of expression. When professors “speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline.” As the AAUP has emphasized, “The controlling principle is that a faculty member’s expression of opinion as a citizen cannot constitute grounds for dismissal unless it clearly demonstrates the faculty member’s unfitness for the position.” The University of Pennsylvania has explicitly embraced those principles in Article 11 of the Statutes of the Trustees. The university has stated clearly that faculty members have the right to express their personal opinions as citizens and “when speaking or writing as an individual, the teacher should be free from institutional censorship or discipline.” Professor Wax was acting well within those rights in commenting on American immigration policy. It is quite clear that her public comments as a private individual on matters of public concern cannot, consistent with Article 11 and general understandings of free speech in the United States, be understood to constitute a “flagrant disregard of the standards, rules, or mission of the University or the customs of scholarly communities” that might give rise to disciplinary action under the Faculty Handbook, and the list of major infractions provided in the Handbook in no way resemble the actions at issue here.

Politicians and members of the campus community are free to disagree with Professor Wax and to publicly express those disagreements, but the university must stand firm when those disagreements turn into demands that members of the faculty be sanctioned or terminated for expressing their political opinions in public. The AFA calls upon the leadership of the University of Pennsylvania to reaffirm and adhere to its free speech principles by making clear that Professor Wax will not be sanctioned in any way for her constitutionally protected speech.

I think Whittington’s argument is sound. Wax is being punished for extramural speech, which violates the the stated principles of Penn. It doesn’t matter that it is offensive and vile; the First Amendment (and Penn’s own policy) is there to protect all speech, and of course almost all political speech is considered offensive and vile by some people. (Again, I am not agreeing with what Wax said!).

Kiros (and apparently Penn) is trying to circumvent the AFA’s argument with her own novel response: Wax’s extramural speech makes students so uncomfortable that they have been rendered incapable of learning from her. Wax’s bigotry has, it’s claimed, rendered her ineffectual as a teacher. Kiros echoes the charges against Wax that Penn is now “investigating”:

First: “That her conduct is having an adverse and discernable [sic] impact on her teaching and classroom activities.”

Second: That Wax’s “pervasive and recurring vitriol and promotion of white supremacy” made it “impossible for students to take classes from her without a reasonable belief that they are being treated with discriminatory animus.”

These charges are a bit conflated. If Wax’s teaching and behavior in the classroom is impaired by how she acts in the classroom, or if she makes statements intended to offend students in her class because of their race, then yes, she is violating her duties as a professor and should be sanctioned. But if her teaching is “impaired” solely because of bigoted statements that she makes outside of class, then the students must try to ignore that and concentrate on what she says in class. If they can’t ignore that, then they should not take her classes. But in this second case Whittington is right: sanctions are not appropriate given Penn’s own policies.

Kiros doesn’t support the first accusation, but it’s clear that she herself would find it hard to learn from Wax (she is at Harvard and doesn’t take Wax’s classes, which are given at Penn):

If a student knows their professor views them as inherently inferior, how can learning proceed?

I attended a majority Black high school but, during senior year, was the only Black student in my physics and math class. In them, I learned to shrink myself: never speaking unless cold-called or daring to ask questions, even when I desperately needed to. In those classes, Black students not on our school’s “advanced” track (teachers and students called them “the general kids”) only existed as the butt of cruel jokes — mocking, relentlessly, how they dressed. Spoke. Existed. So I chose to never say a word, terrified that if I did, I might slip up and confirm the worst I knew some assumed of me. My learning — which, ideally, should’ve allowed for fearless inquiry — undeniably suffered.

That, however, isn’t a very good parallel to the Wax situation, because Kiros is simply assuming that her teachers were bigots and looked down on her. But Kiros continues:

If Penn’s process rules that Wax’s public comments are un-sanctionable, it will be a depressing day. Such a decision would signal to all of academia that clean-cut advocacy for white supremacy is employable conduct if you have tenure — something unfathomable in nearly any other profession. Under such a system, it’s students that lose.

Again: the argument is that some “free extramural speech” by professors should be prohibited because it offends people to the degree that it makes them unable to learn. Ergo, it impairs the professor’s ability to teach. I am not sympathetic to this argument, and would tell the students to leave their offense at the classroom door.

If, on the other hand, Wax is indeed violating normal expectations for what she teaches and what atmosphere she creates in her classroom, then she should be investigated. I have seen no evidence for that, but I suppose it will be sorted out by Penn. And if she’s sanctioned illegally, lawsuits will settle it, as the courts have a pretty settled concept of “free speech” and Penn has clear policies about it.

Yes, this is a hard case, but it’s the hard cases that make good law, at least when free speech is concerned.

h/t: Scott

Princeton University punishes professor for exercising free speech, shows it doesn’t understand what “free speech” really is.

April 13, 2022 • 10:45 am

I’m always surprised by the high quality of reporting in Tablet, as it doesn’t seem to be a site many people read.  It also has the reputation of being a “Jewish magazine,” which of course puts off some people, but if you look at its articles, you’ll find many of them that don’t have anything to do with Jews or Judaism. One example is the article below. It’s about the increasingly bizarre behavior of Princeton University, which is in the process of “canceling” a professor for some remarks he made about a black student group. Because the remarks were deemed racist by some, the school decided to permanently place Classics Professor Joshua Katz on a list of racist professors and actions—an official site that’s made available to incoming Princeton students as a “teaching document”.

Even if you think Katz’s remarks were unwise (I do, though I don’t see them as racist), they still constitute free speech and an exercise of academic freedom. For the University to demonize Katz for his statement, and to parade him before students as an exemplar of a racist, is a violation of the viewpoint neutrality that Princeton claims it has. Worse, when Katz fought back, supported by many of his fellow professors, Princeton claimed a “right” to add him to the List of Bad People because that was Princeton exercising its freedom of speech. (The President of Princeton also issued a statement officially denouncing Katz.)

Befuddled as Princeton and its president (Christopher Eisgruber) are, they can’t distinguish between free speech and the chilling of speech enacted by making official statements of what is politically unacceptable. That is, they are mixing up the strictures of our University of Chicago’s Principles of Free Speech with our University’s Kalven Report, with the latter mandating that the University and its constituent units make no official statements about ideology, morality, or politics unless they have to do with the functioning and purpose of the university: teaching and learning.  Princeton was in fact the first University to adopt Chicago’s Principles of Free Expression (about 80 universities have now done so). But Princeton doesn’t really understand these principles, and so, as its head goes up its fundament, has decided to make an example of Katz by consigning him to academic perdition.

Click the screenshot to read:

The scenario in short (statements from the Tablet are indented). First, though, I’d ignore Tablet‘s opening screed about what “social justice” is.  To me it’s a confusing discussion and not really relevant to this story except insofar as Katz is accused of being anti-social justice..

1.) Katz made a comment in an article he wrote in Quillette about the “Black Justice League” and about a faculty letter describing pervasive structural racism at Princeton. Here’s part of Katz’s a response to the faculty demands made in their letter (the first quote is from the letter):

“Acknowledge, credit, and incentivize anti-racist student activism. Such acknowledgment should, at a minimum, take the form of reparative action, beginning with a formal public University apology to the members of the Black Justice League and their allies.” The Black Justice League, which was active on campus from 2014 until 2016, was a small local terrorist organization that made life miserable for the many (including the many black students) who did not agree with its members’ demands. Recently I watched an “Instagram Live” of one of its alumni leaders, who—emboldened by recent events and egged on by over 200 supporters who were baying for blood—presided over what was effectively a Struggle Session against one of his former classmates. It was one of the most evil things I have ever witnessed, and I do not say this lightly.

The bit in bold was Katz’s undoing, particularly the phrase “terrorist group”, though the “struggle session” was against a black student and other witnesses say that that usage is accurate.

2.) Princeton put Katz’s statement—missing a crucial bit—on an official document, “To Be Known and Heard“, which recounts the racist background and nature of Princeton. This document is used didactically for new students. Also, via President Eisgruber, Princeton issued statements assailing Katz’s piece in Quillette. Again, this would be a violation of my own University’s Kalven Report: an official damning of a professor for his/her political views.

3.) In the “To Be Known and Heard” document, Princeton left out, in their quote, the parenthetical “(including many black students)”. As Tablet notes,

In order to damage Katz’s reputation as much as possible, the creators of Princeton’s rogues’ gallery of racists, an official document that bears the copyright of the university’s Board of Trustees, omitted the parenthetical words “(including the many black students).” Keep in mind that any student who had doctored a quotation, especially intentionally and with malice, would likely have been suspended.

The gallery omits any mention of Katz’s response when he was asked by The Daily Princetonian to clarify what he meant by “terrorist” and “Struggle Session,” or what he has said about these matters elsewhere. This is what Katz wrote:

… the BJL went after one fellow black student with particular vigor, verbally vilifying her in public at every possible opportunity, calling her all sorts of unsavory epithets and accusing her of “performing white supremacy.” Other students, as well as faculty and administrators, were accused, without evidence, of being “racists” and “white supremacists.”

4.) Katz is thus now a permanent part of an official Princeton “rogue gallery” of racists and racist acts. That gallery would not be allowed at the University of Chicago because it’s an official university document containing arguable contentions as well as implicitly punishing out a university professor for his speech.

5.) Respected organizations defending academic freedom called on Princeton and Eisgruber to rescind Katz’s treatment. From Tablet:

The treatment of Katz in the mandatory freshmen orientation has generated a lot of criticism, most notably from the three most prestigious American organizations dedicated to academic freedom: the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) and the Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA). (I am a founding member of the AFA, as is Katz.) In his letter to Eisgruber, Keith Whittington, the chair of the academic committee of the AFA and a professor of Politics at Princeton, writes, “We are not aware of any other example of a university systematically denouncing a sitting member of its own faculty in such a way. … We call on the university to refrain from using its administrative resources to target Professor Katz or other members of the faculty in its official activities and programming.”

The AFA letter (pdf here) is especially good. A quote from it:

The university climate would quickly become poisonous and intolerable if administrative units on campus made it a practice to hold up dissenting members of the faculty for ritual condemnation and if the precedent now being set were followed in the future. If the Office of the Vice President for Campus Life uses its administrative position on campus to organize official university programming for the purpose of heaping opprobrium on faculty for expressing disfavored personal political opinions, the risks of chilling speech on campus are severe. The university can hardly create a climate welcoming of heterodox opinions if it creates an administrative apparatus to target the heterodox and stamp them as campus pariahs.

. . . Professors expressing controversial political opinions should expect criticism from members of the campus community, and if those views are unpopular then no doubt such criticism will be loud. However, professors should not have to anticipate that the university administration will adopt those criticisms as its own and place members of its faculty in the pillory as an object lesson for each class of entering students to learn where the boundaries of acceptable speech can be found.

6.) Did Princeton give any credence to any of these letters? It did not. In fact, it accused these organizations of demanding that Princeton violate its own freedom of speech by withholding official criticism of Katz. This is unbelievable:

The university has not yet responded to the accusations—the latter two of which are especially broad—of FIRE, ACTA, or PFS. Eisgruber did, however, reply speedily to Whittington, feigning concern that what the AFA is asking for is contrary to academic freedom and amounts to censorship.

“Are you asking that I censor the website?” Eisgruber inquired. “If so, I find that request” (which is similar to the requests of FIRE, ACTA, and PFS) ”troubling, and I would need to understand better how you reconcile it with the principles of academic freedom and free speech that you champion. I am certain that you would agree that, on a University campus, censorship, including via the compelled removal of information from a website, is a strongly disfavored response to controversial speech.”

In defending the shameful treatment of Katz though such scholastic gymnastics, Princeton’s president seems to be advancing the bizarre notion that somehow the free speech protections enshrined in the university’s rules and regulations extend to administrators in situations where they exercise their official power in order to denounce, harass, and otherwise discredit and threaten individual members of the academic community.

This is a bit like saying that, in denouncing would-be traitors of the Soviet Union on trumped-up charges, Andrey Vyshinsky, the main prosecutor of Stalin’s Moscow trials in the 1930s, was simply exercising his freedom of speech. Or that Joseph McCarthy was merely exercising his right to free speech when he launched his campaign in the 1950s to unearth hidden Communists in Hollywood. Or that the Cultural Revolutionaries in China who denounced their countrymen for imaginary crimes were free speech heroes.

A University has no “freedom of speech” to officially punish a professor who exercises his own freedom of speech.

7.) Complaints to other Princeton administrators have met with the same kind of pushback. The Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity, Michele Minter, argued that the “To Be Known and Heard” website “is not an official university document” (it is; it’s on a princeton.edu site and has been called “teaching material” by President Eisgruber). Further, Minter claims that Katz isn’t a member of a “protected class”, which is irrelevant, though I think he’s probably Jewish.

And so Princeton, while espousing free speech, has created a climate in which a professor who exercises that right is officially damned by the the University and held up to the students as an example of racism. If that’s not punishment for speech, I don’t know what is.

Two comments. First, Princeton’s twisted construal of free speech appears to be a form espoused by one faculty member quoted in the Tablet article (the professor turns out to be Padilla Peralta, whom we’ve met before):

Instead, freshmen were informed by a professor that he “envision[s] a free speech and academic discourse that is flexed to one specific aim, and that aim is the promotion of social justice, and an anti-racist social justice at that.”

And here’s a reaction to the Princeton mishigass by a fellow academic:

[Eisgruber] is a spineless toady to the woke mob that has taken over Princeton.

You ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie!