Speech is about power
Jeannie Suk Gersen relates below some rather appalling stories of aggressive authoritarianism on the part of Leftist students. As a reflection of that, she says that the battle for free speech on campuses has become a battle about power.
In that she echoes what the Left-Fascist student "protesters" themselves say. They say that they are waging a power battle. They are as power-mad as any Nazi. Ms Suk however fails to deplore that. She thinks the students have a point. She thinks it is reasonable that Leftist students have made a battle for free speech into a battle about power
We conservatives however deplore the fact that the Left have made campus speech about power. A pox on power! What is wrong with a sober, respectful and balanced discussion of the issues? Is that not what universities are for?
I know what is wrong with it from a Leftist viewpoint. It's pretty obvious. A sober discussion of the issues that explores all sides of the argument generally results in a conclusion that clashes with dreamy Leftist fantasies. They cannot afford free speech. They are afraid of it. With free speech conservatives would win most of the arguments. Leftists display hysterical resistance to hearing conservative argumentation for good reason. It undermines them
So in the end, conservatives -- in the person of Mr Trump -- have to use power to combat the lawless and coercive power to censor that campus Leftists constantly exercise
Note: In case anyone thinks my use of the name Suk is satirical, I think I should note that Jeannie is Korean. Suk is a common Korean name. It is the surname of her father. She is married to Prof. Gersen
In September, 2017, a month after the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, student protesters at the College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg, shut down a speaker—Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, the executive director of the A.C.L.U. of Virginia. A student group had invited Gastañaga to campus to give a talk on the importance of free speech, but, because of the students’ persistent disruptions, she could not proceed. “Blood on your hands,” the protesters shouted, and “Shame! Shame! Shame!” and “You protect Hitler.”
The activities of universities and colleges would be worth little without some basic commitment to free thought, inquiry, and discourse among students, teachers, and researchers. But on many liberal campuses today students emphasize the downsides and limits to free speech. The William and Mary students’ refrains—which included “Your free speech hides beneath white sheets” and “Liberalism is white supremacy”—captured the notion that invocations of “free speech” most often enable domination, oppression, and hate. For some, the idea that free speech can be weaponized to harm the vulnerable not only justifies shutting down speech they hate but also makes free speech itself deeply suspect.
The more that free speech is denounced by the left, the more it is embraced by the right. Two years ago, the University of California, Berkeley, cancelled a lecture by the far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, after protests of the event turned violent; President Trump then threatened, in a tweet, to withdraw federal funds from the school. At the time, the President’s suggestion appeared to lack a legal basis. Now he has created one, in the form of an executive order issued last month, in defense of free speech. The order, which warns colleges and universities to “avoid creating environments that stifle competing perspectives,” commands public institutions to comply with the First Amendment (which they are already required to do) and requires private institutions (which are not subject to the First Amendment) to comply with their own free-speech policies. It directs twelve federal agencies, including the Department of Education, to insure that schools that receive federal funding—virtually all colleges and universities—“promote free inquiry.”
But, with liberal and left politics dominant on most campuses, Trump can feel confident that his order serves as a partisan attack. The signing ceremony, which featured conservative students telling their stories of being censored on campus, was an opportunity to bash liberals for shutting down free speech. At first glance the order simply seems to reiterate existing legal requirements. But the instruction that agencies “take appropriate steps” to insure that institutions promote free inquiry contains an implied defunding threat. Even if no schools are ever actually defunded because of this order, it may induce them to stay in the government’s good graces on the issue.
The conscripting of the federal bureaucracy to monitor whether schools are sufficiently promoting free speech seems like unusual executive overreach, until we recall that the Obama Administration leveraged Title IX’s anti-sex-discrimination mandate to regulate schools’ handling of sexual assault. That federal executive strategy undoubtedly transformed student discipline, by threatening schools’ funding if they did not use discipline procedures to address allegations of assault. And so it may well be that schools are obligated to use their disciplinary powers against students who undermine others’ speech on campus . But that depends on whether the Trump Administration follows through as aggressively as the Obama Administration did in investigating and shaming schools for noncompliance.
Just this month, Harvard (where I am a professor of law) joined the ranks of schools where protesters have recently managed to shout down speakers, when students demanding divestment from fossil fuels and prisons successfully disrupted a forum at which the university’s president, Lawrence Bacow, was speaking. Bacow had said he would respond to reasons, not to pressure, and protesters were at the ready with a sign mocking him as “Larry ‘Reasons not demands’ Bacow.” “Who shut it down? We shut it down,” the students chanted.
Just before signing the order, Trump urged students to “get that point of view across. And listen to the other point of view. Maybe you can be changed and maybe not. I doubt it. But maybe. You never know.” He had a point. But his combatting of illiberal forces on campus also lent support to their central premise––that free speech is all about power.