A look at the book, Free Speech on Campus.
May 16, 2001 12:18 PM   Subscribe

A look at the book, Free Speech on Campus.
A yet more important achievement, however, is learning how not to take offense. Successful inquiry requires not only a hard head but also thick skin. Like other knacks, maintaining one’s intellectual cool under duress is a talent acquired through experience.
It's about universities, but there are some good points that could apply here.
posted by john (13 comments total)
Interesting story (I hope): my college's school newspaper printed a letter from a student that just totally bashed homosexuals: they're evil, they're perverts, they're going to hell... you know, every stereotypical fundie thing to say about homosexuality (and bashing a coffeeshop for supporting a homosexual group on campus). This generated a lot of discussion: most of what I heard was opposed to the writer of the letter. Well, a girl from this club I'm in said that people in her intro to Gay and Lesbian studies class were outraged at it (ok) and saying the paper shouldn't be allowed to print it (not ok). What she pointed out was very good: hey, it's provoked discussion, which you wouldn't have otherwise, and if you're in a position like theirs, discussion is useful. The paper reflects the views of the students who choose to write something, if you care so much, write something yourself telling your position.
posted by dagnyscott at 1:13 PM on May 16, 2001

We've had a similar discussion in our Daily. Our paper seemed a little slow to jump on or off the Horowitz/reparations thing, but still, it stirred a lot of controversy when it was printed last week. We've also had some discussion on our Letters to the Editor page about our two political cartoonists, who are both liberal, and illustrate Bush looking stupid all the time.

I think the publicity generated was overwhelmingly against Horowitz, and promoted diversity and ripped the Horowitz ad to shreds. It presents an interesting dilemma--the newspaper's right to print what it wants, versus its "need" to allow freedom of speech.

Interestingly, our president was nominated for the Sheldon Award a few years back for "stifling free speech" by allowing our conservative newspaper to be de-recognized as a student group. (It's not because it's a conservative paper, however. The paper is just poor quality. I don't mind a conservative voice on our campus, but the paper has frequent spelling and grammatical errors, poor writing, and a columnist who once used his space to write about how drunk he was.) Charlton Heston, an alum, stepped in, and caused a ruckus, helping the paper regain student group recognition.

There's an electrical engineering prof that thinks the Holocaust never happened, and he's allowed freely to state his opinion on the matter (but nobody listens.)
posted by gramcracker at 1:44 PM on May 16, 2001

A couple years ago I was in a graduate class that featured weekly lecture given by academics, professionals, artists, and numerous combos of these. The class proper (12 students) would then discuss the speaker and the topic at hand. At first, I thought this would be a great class, especially as it was "taught" by a prominent "celebrity" author. What it became was sometimes amusing, sometimes infuriating - I was the devil's advocate who each week debated (to them, faught) the class.

One of the more discouraging debates ended when I was referencing Ishmael re: overpopulation. Several students stood up enraged and hurled various epithets at me, as well as calling me a "liar". There was even a time when I was asked for "my" definition of logic. When I gave the definition, the response was, in effect, that they had never taken a class (or read a book, or...) on logic, and so could not recognize it, believing it to be opinion, or at the very least science, and so not applicable to anything outside a math class.

Debate and Logic need to be taught at all levels. It would help highschoolers in their daily interactions, and should be absolutely mandatory for college students. You shouldn't show up for grad school if you don't recognize Logic as a system.
posted by J. R. Hughto at 1:51 PM on May 16, 2001

There's an electrical engineering prof that thinks the Holocaust never happened, and he's allowed freely to state his opinion on the matter (but nobody listens.)

Arthur Butz, professor of engineering at my alma mater, Northwestern University. He wrote a book years ago about how the Holocaust could never have happened, and has been a darling of the neo-Nazis ever since. There have been many protests over the years from the students demanding that he be fired, but the University's position is that accepting free spech as a principle means that you have to be willing to put up with speech you don't like.
posted by briank at 1:52 PM on May 16, 2001

er, free speech, not free spech. As we all know, spech is never free.
posted by briank at 1:53 PM on May 16, 2001

briank: There is a big difference between exercising one's free speech rights and being a lousy professor. If he's conducting biased research, or just poor and unethical research in general, he can have his tenure revoked. Then he can go out and yell about how the Holocaust never happened all live long day, as it were.
posted by raysmj at 2:40 PM on May 16, 2001

I serve as a contributing editor at a college newspaper. Every issue, we ran a column on the advantages and disadvantages of taking a certain drug. We didn't receive any complaints about the idea of the column but rather an attack against the writer's use of the term "shitheaded cocksucker," describing someone who cuts drugs with harmful substances.

The complaint stated that several women on campus had told the letter-writer that they were upset by the phrasing and wondered what they could do to our paper.

At first I apologized over the use of the term. It hadn't offended anyone on our staff but I could see how maybe it would offend someone. After being berated by other editors and a consultation with a dictionary, I wrote back pointing out that the writer had used both terms correctly since both translate to "despicable person."

Should we have printed a written apology? Were we write in standing by the word choice of our writer? I believe that from a free speech perspective we were.

After all "I disagree with what you say... but will defend to the death your right to say it." regards.
posted by drezdn at 2:48 PM on May 16, 2001

just to be sure here: I'm not saying that firing a professor for his reserach should be considered anything but serious in the extreme, mainly due to the potential 1st Amendment issues. There should be no limits. But I had to wonder in the Holocaust case,which sounds beyond the pale: Did anyone bother to look at his book? Is he totally getting away with murder?
posted by raysmj at 2:52 PM on May 16, 2001

You got it right, briank. Were you in Tech?

Anyway, I think the official position is that Professor Butz's teaching field is electrical engineering. So, he has academic freedom in that area, and can say whatever he wants about electrical engineering matters. However, he is not a psychology, sociology, or history professor, so he cannot say what he wants about the Holocaust, since he does not have the academic freedom to say it. He's not allowed to mention anything about his personal beliefs about the Holocaust to his classes, but he is allowed (just as we all are) to state his beliefs as a private citizen.

It's a twisted and unfortunate belief, but as far as I know, he's a talented electrical engineer, and he can't lose tenure if he's doing his electrical engineering job well.
posted by gramcracker at 3:23 PM on May 16, 2001

Gram -- no, I was in Speech, but Butz was a cause celebre even then (early 80s)

raysmj -- gramcracker is on the money here. NU's attitude is that he can say whatever he wants to in his books because they are outside of his academic discipline, as long as he continues to be professional in his duties as an engineering prof.

Believe me, I am certainly not defending Butz, nor do I necessarily agree 100% with NU. Friends of mine were very active in the effort to remove him from his tenure. The Voltairean ideal of "I'll defend your right to say it" becomes somewhat murky when it comes to people like Butz.
posted by briank at 5:10 PM on May 16, 2001

The Voltairean ideal of "I'll defend your right to say it" becomes somewhat murky when it comes to people like Butz.

Yet another person who thinks they understand free speech, but has utterly missed the point.

"I defend your right to say it, unless I really *really* don't like it."
posted by straight at 6:57 AM on May 17, 2001

You've missed my point, straight. The murkiness does not stem from my own approval or disapproval of Prof. Butz, but from the rather awkward position he puts the university in by sidestepping the boundaries of his own discipline to engage in what can be called "historical research" only in the most charitable sense. The university has chosen the strictest interpretation of that notion simply because they cannot apply more traditional definitions of academic rigor to his objectionable material.

Do not presume to speak for me or my sentiments again, if you please.
posted by briank at 8:06 AM on May 17, 2001

Just remember, there's always the Free Speech Area in Monterey, California!
posted by crog at 10:06 AM on May 17, 2001

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