10.10.18

TEMPERING PRINCIPLE WITH PRACTICALITY?

Inside Higher Ed's Colleen Flaherty looks at Colgate (better known for hockey) University's attempt to square continuing and fearless sifting and winnowing with the niceties of contemporary identity politics.
Some have long argued that rigorous inquiry and respectful debate do not stand in opposition. Indeed, the American Council on Education, backed by survey data, has stressed the importance of not “pitting” inclusion and speech against each other. Yet many if not most conversations about campus speech still revolve around two poles: absolute freedom of expression and the importance of creating an inclusive environment.
That last sentence poses a false choice. By construction, isn't an institution of higher education there to test truth claims, which means, to pick an extreme example, there's no reason to offer a platform to an advocate for astrology or a flat earth.

Thus, yes, I'm not enthusiastic about efforts by freedom of expression advocates to show universities up as censorious by inviting provocateurs with the intention of bringing out the worst in opposition.  Credentials, up to a point, matter.

The committee drafting the policy appears to understand matters similarly.
Colgate -- as a liberal arts institution -- should support “the rights of all community members to voice their views, even if unpopular, while helping them to likewise cultivate the habits of mind and skills necessary to respond effectively to views that they may find wrong or offensive.”

Colgate should endeavor to establish and maintain a “culture and community that will inspire its members to pursue knowledge with rigor and curiosity, speak and listen with care, and work so that even the quietest or most underrepresented voices among us are heard,” the committee wrote. And the university should educate all its members about its goals and values, in addition to “the importance of exercising our right of freedom of expression in a manner” that furthers those goals and values, “remembering that the exercise of intellectual freedom without consideration of these other values may cause needless harm to our community.”

Faculty, administrators, staff and students also should be encouraged to “model the civic behavior that forms the basis for the exercise of freedom of expression” within Colgate’s community. Consistent with the emphasis on free expression, the report doesn't call for those who lack in civility or respect to be punished.
There used to be such a thing as manners, but I suppose those are a hegemonic bourgeois convention. Among those manners: not encouraging people who say foolish things to continue, sometimes by offering refutations, sometimes by shunning.

Deliberations continue in a similar form, hinting at bourgeois convention without quite saying so.
Spencer Kelly, task force chair and a professor of psychological and brain sciences, said that both Colgate’s and Chicago’s statements affirm academic freedom and freedom of expression as “foundational” for achieving the educational mission.

The key difference between the two documents, Kelly continued, is that “we recognize that while these principles are essential, they are not sufficient by themselves. They need help.”

A “healthy educational community” embraces the values of humility, good listening, empathy, curiosity and tolerance, Kelly said. And “we believe these values encourage speakers to think critically about what they say -- and how they say it -- in a way that ultimately encourages a more robust, insightful and productive discourse.”

Kelly said the following became something of a “mantra” to the task force: “With the freedom to express comes the responsibility to listen.”

The most effective communicators “don’t just open their mouths and haphazardly spill out whatever is on their minds,” he added. “They carefully listen to, or do their best to imagine, where their audience is coming from before they start speaking.”
That noted, there's still a lot of room for the kind of censorious virtue-signalling that sails under the rubric of political correctness.
Kelly reiterated that the statements are similar in their embrace of freedom of expression. But he noted that his committee intentionally avoided references to civility because the word is “often used by majority groups to suppress marginalized voices.” It instead outlined “community values,” to promote civility “organically, from the bottom up,” he said. Free speech is not just a market of competing ideas, but also “a way for a community to act cooperatively to accomplish shared goals.”

Colgate’s task force also acknowledged the “dangers of unfettered free speech,” Kelly said, in that historically marginalized groups may not have equal access to it, and “speech that harms is different than speech that offends.”
Dear reader, do you put "competitive markets allocate resources efficiently" or "institutions are civilization" on that continuum, and if so, where on the scale of harm or offense do you put them?

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