Thursday, May 15, 2014

Quotations Of The Day: College Commencement And Free Speech Edition

Last week, I had wanted to write a post about Condoleezza Rice's withdrawing as the commencement speaker at Rutgers. I opposed the Iraq War from the onset, but the idea that an accomplished woman who supported the war would have nothing valuable to say struck me as foolish stubbornness that college graduates should have tempered after four years. I guess I was stuck in 1979.

Via this Andrew Sullivan post, one sees that getting commencement speakers to withdraw is all the rage., so I will let a few other folk make my point. Greg Lukianoff provides alarming analysis about the depth of the problem:
Students and faculty have the right to protest speakers and to criticize their colleges for choosing speakers they dislike. Yet to function as a true “marketplace of ideas,” the university community must be open to hearing from people from different walks of life, professions, experiences and philosophical and political points of view. When students (or faculty, who should definitely know better) work to exclude a speaker from campus, they are thinking like censors, not scholars. A scholarly community should approach speakers with even radically different points of view as opportunities to be engaged, not as a political loss that must be avoided at all costs. Exercising a little intellectual humility might lead students and faculty away from asking “what can I do to get rid of the speaker?” and towards “what might I learn if I hear this person out?” After all, if you’re only willing to hear from people with whom you agree, it’s far less likely you will learn new things.
Universities have only themselves to blame for this mess—not just for caving to pressure, but for teaching students the wrong lessons about the value of free and robust discourse. The Foundation for Individual Rights inEducation (FIRE), of which I am the president, has found speech codes—policies that heavily restrict speech that is protected under the First Amendment—at 59%of the more than 400 colleges we survey, and deals every day with campus censorship of often even mildly offensive speech. Colleges have taught a generation of students that they have a “right not to be offended.” This belief has inevitably morphed into an expectation among students that they will be confirmed in their beliefs, not challenged. It’s no wonder, then, that they apply increasingly strict purity tests to potential campus speakers.[emphasis mine]
The best phrasing comes from Olivia Nuzzi:
Millennials have grown up in a world where you are never forced to see, hear or read anything that you haven’t personally selected. 7,000 TV channels, a DVR to skip commercials, millions of websites—we have been able to curate our own little worlds using technology, wherein nothing unpleasant or offensive can creep in. So when we’re forced to sit through a commercial or, heaven forbid, listen to someone talk who isn’t Mary-freakin’-Poppins, we can’t handle it.
The entire point of college is to be exposed to different things: Different types of people, different ideas—and maybe some of those people will hail from organizations that negatively impacted poor countries, or maybe they were partly responsible for a war that ate up the country’s resources and resulted in human rights abuses and lots of needless death. But if, at the end of your time as an undergrad, you haven’t learned that oftentimes you find great wisdom in shitty people, or just that there might be some value in hearing what someone you don’t like or respect might have to say, what on earth have you learned?[emphasis mine]
Read the Sullivan post and the articles he links to.

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