Challenging ideas and being challenged are essential to the campus experience
Civil liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate is to be commended for his superb op-ed in defense of free speech and his call for the next generation of college presidents to respect and empower free thinking and dissent on the part of students and faculty, and visiting scholars and speakers to campus (”Public support for campus free speech is an essential qualification for college presidents,” Opinion, July 25). Often, if higher education is true to its mission, contentious speakers bring to the campus “controversial” ideas and differences of opinion about our human and academic experience. Indeed, campus leaders’ compliance with censorship and with the banning of controversial speakers betray the university’s avowed commitment to critical thinking and freedom of expression.
The shortest and surest route to upholding once avowed free expression and inquiry values on campus is for trustees and appointing authorities at our colleges and universities to make all seekers of college leadership positions unapologetic defenders of academic freedom and free inquiry, the very values that undergird and strengthen inquiry and debate so essential to the campus experience. Silverglate has hit on a hard truth — too many academic leaders have abandoned those critical, almost sacred, values of higher education — by their accommodating censorship of controversial ideas and speakers in the guise of protecting minority students from racial calumny and hurt feelings.
Now, in the guise of showing sensitivity for the hurt feelings of racial minorities on our campuses, leading intellectuals and especially college presidents not only urge but choose censorship — the very opposite of free inquiry and open discussion of controversial ideas. Yes, on some campuses so-called “controversial” speakers have been un-invited or outright banned. Never was that the course advocated by such civil rights activists as Martin L. King Jr., or Dick Gregory, or Stokely Carmichael, or Malcolm X. Indeed, under the regime of the new campus censors, today’s civil rights advocates could be banned or kept outside the academy’s gates because of societal opinions that seek to protect thin-skinned students from disputatious speech.
A hostile campus is one that devalues free thinking and free speech; it’s one that chills the expression of ideas and opinions contrary to the madding crowd’s. When I was a student at college and law school, I deplored all those who sought to shield me, a Black man, from the expressions of bigotry that emanated from my fellow students or from our so-called “betters” on the faculty. Their candid expression of bigotry and resort to racial tropes in actuality exposed their betrayal of critical thinking and the open scrutiny of false concepts. Confronting false ideas and refuting them are as American as apple pie ever was.
New York Civil Rights Coalition
New York, N.Y.
Life can be tough for the untenured
Harvey Silverglate and Rob Henderson’s (”A welcome alternative to the lack of academic freedom on college campuses,” Opinion, July 25) arguments for universities to do more to defend freedom of expression seem sensible.
It may be, however, that students are sensitive because the threats they perceive as a result of certain arguments and points of view are not simply academic.
Many earlier graduates of these elite institutions in their more recent roles as congressmen, justices, governors, and religious leaders have engaged in far more egregious suppressions of speech and behavior related to reproductive health care, LGBTQ rights, and COVID vaccines than that which takes place on any of the mentioned campuses.
So boo hoo for any professor who claims to be unable to bring up certain topics. We’ve got a lot more to worry about than their feelings. Life can be tough for the untenured.