We do not live in a sane world.
Among the many responses to President Trump’s executive order on campus free speech last week, some of the lamest came from the major groups representing colleges and universities. Flipping open their “Intro to Corporate PR Crises” textbooks to page one, they did what many large and powerful institutions do when faced with an embarrassing, obvious, and public problem: Deny there’s a problem at all.We can concede that "free speech" is a Complex Proposition, with "standing to address the ekklesia" differing from "spouting off in the agora" and "respecting disciplinary discourse practices" is different from either.
Few people with any knowledge or experience of higher ed actually believe there’s no free speech problem on campus. FIRE’s 20-year history defending students and faculty across the political and ideological spectrum is a testament to the existence of the problem. So is the more than a decade FIRE has spent reading and rating the speech-related policies of more than 400 of our nation’s largest and most prestigious schools. 90 percent continue to feature speech codes that are either unconstitutional (on public campuses) or violate their own promises of free speech (on private campuses), with nearly 30 percent of them doing so egregiously. These are among the reasons FIRE gets approximately 1,000 case submissions per year from students and faculty asking for our help defending their rights.
That's not what Robert Shibley is seeing.
The higher ed lobbying organizations are, of course, free to criticize the executive order and to predict any number of dire consequences that might stem from it. But prefacing those predictions with (sometimes identical) forms of “move along, there’s nothing to see here” is so transparently erroneous that it can’t help but undermine their credibility when they talk about the potential downsides.But wait, there's more!
FIRE’s own position on President Trump’s executive order is that, while asking schools to follow the law or their own promises should not be controversial, it’s too soon to tell whether these steps will have a positive (or negative) effect. Much depends on how agencies put the order into practice. We will watch, wait, and continue helping campus communities defend their expressive rights. Because regardless of what the higher ed establishment tells you, students and faculty do not enjoy robust expressive freedoms at every school required to provide them.
Inside Higher Ed gives Trinity Washington president Patricia McGuire a platform to attempt to invalidate Our President's action by invoking ... a lack of viewpoint diversity.
Valentines with religious messages. Tiny crosses on the university lawn. An activities table on the campus plaza. President Donald J. Trump chose the softest of human props as the backdrop for his executive order on campus free speech. As he brought each alleged victim of collegiate “political indoctrination” to the podium at the White House, the audience erupted in cheers for these hapless students martyred by “speech codes, safe spaces and trigger warnings.”Snarking, whataboutism, question-begging. There are diversity offices with the power to hector or to expel students who commit bias crimes, and there are diversity hustlers who apparently have to make up their own bias crimes as the "myriad displays" aren't sufficient.
The three speakers at Trump’s ceremony were all young white women. As the camera panned the room, the overwhelming whiteness of the audience was clear. Certainly, some people of color were present for the occasion, but they were not featured prominently. Where were all of the African American students who suffer racial slurs and horrific threats on campuses every day? Where were the Latinos, the Dreamers, the LGBTQ students who often endure egregious hostility and intimidation during their college years?
A suspicious odor wafts through Trump’s executive order that only one kind of student is worthy of protection -- namely, the student whose political views he favors. He said at the ceremony that this order is the beginning of a more aggressive stance to protect student rights. Has the president spoken as boldly about protecting the rights of students of color on campus? Does his freedom of speech order cover the myriad displays of nooses, bananas, swastikas, blackfaces, N-word scrawls and other racially offensive expressions that some students suffer regularly?
That appears to be Ms McGuire's preference.
Freedom of speech is essential to our work at colleges and universities -- but it’s not the only right or value in play on a campus. Higher education institutions have a distinct obligation to ensure the safety and security of all students; one person’s free expression can, quite often, come across to others as offensive, intimidating, even threatening.That sounds enough like liberating tolerance at work to make the case for the executive order. Note the code-words: "offensive, intimidating, threatening." Furthermore, "ugly expression" is not free speech. It is a lack of manners, but that's probably too bourgeois a concept for a university president in good standing.
It’s certainly true that conservative students sometimes suffer harsh and inappropriate reactions. One of Trump’s guests was a student from the University of Nebraska who set up an information table for a conservative group, Turning Point USA, and she was understandably offended by a graduate student lecturer screaming at her while waving a middle finger -- but that ugly expression, too, is free speech. It’s also true that students of many different political, religious and cultural identities suffer insults, bullying and worse -- especially when they become visible activists for their cause on a campus. Booing, heckling and ringing cowbells to express disagreement with a speaker is certainly offensive, but it is also part of free speech. To manage the campus for peace and productive exchange of ideas, administrators must exercise continuous care to understand how listeners hear what speakers are saying, how offensive and insulting speech might provoke a reaction that can easily become violent.
Pink pussyhats good, red MAGA hats bad!
It gets better.
We cannot protect students from feeling hurt or angry because of someone’s expression, but we have a serious obligation to protect everyone from harm. One of the students at Trump’s ceremony said, “Speech is not free when university officials put conditions on student speech.” In fact, we can and do have reasonable regulations for the time, manner and place of speech so that we can manage the daily life of the institution. Respect for freedom of speech requires that we exercise prudence in the management of those regulations, allowing as much expression as is reasonably possible, neither favoring nor inhibiting any speech because of its content.Without irony, she pivots from the protected status of the heckler's cowbell to an expectation of civility! Plus "dialogue." Then she has the chutzpah to suggest it's all right-wing snowflakery.
The university is, first and foremost, a teacher, and our teaching extends to developing in students the ability to listen, learn and grow beyond narrow personal biases, to develop a worldview based on knowledge and critical reasoning. Rather than girding for political combat over the distribution of religious valentines, a more productive educational response would have fostered dialogue among the valentine maker, those who objected to her messages and the administrators trying to manage the myriad points of view. Learning can only occur in constant dialogue, not by presidential edict or political interference. Dismissing a college or university’s expectations for civility, respect and inclusiveness as mere “political correctness” insults the teaching mission and undermines opportunities for learning among all students -- liberal, moderate, conservative and politically agnostic alike.
Trump’s own words make it clear that the executive order is all about protecting one kind of speaker -- those toward the right side of the political spectrum. He said he was “delivering a clear message to the professors and power structures trying to suppress dissent and keep young Americans … from challenging rigid far-left ideology.”I read the rest of her essay, searching in vain for any refutation of Our President's claim that the universities -- their Student Affairs types and area studies faculties in particular -- weren't engaging in left indoctrination. There is this. "Controlling language and speech is a big part of the authoritarian formula."
By the voices he chose to lift up, the president’s ideological agenda is very clear. Trump gave a big shout-out to Charlie Kirk of Turning Point USA, sitting in the front row, and Kirk put out this statement after the ceremony: “Today’s executive order is the culmination of Turning Point USA’s tireless work to break the left’s stranglehold on campus, a grip that has suffocated the free exchange of ideas and helped indoctrinate an entire generation to hate America.”
OK, Patty, get rid of your speech codes.
Our universities are being run by terminally stupid people.