University Of Chicago's New Free Speech Policy Actually Protects Free Speech

from the other-universities-encouraged-to-copy-and-paste-liberally dept

Free speech and higher education seem to be at odds. The notion of expanding minds, exposing prejudices and encouraging critical thinking has taken a backseat to a bizarre "offense-free" ideal in recent years, something that can partially be traced back to our own government's insertion into the (stunted) conversation. Tying federal funding to sexual harassment policies is definitely part of the problem. The other part appears to be a misguided thought process that equates inclusion with the elimination of any speech that might negatively affect someone. Rather than actually deal with speech issues on a case-by-case basis, universities have instead enacted broadly-written bans on campus speech.

The University of Chicago, however, isn't jumping on this particular bandwagon. Its new speech policy is more of manifesto than a policy. It's assertive and it's comprehensive -- not in its restrictions, but in its liberties. It's the outgrowth of a study performed by the school and the conclusions it reaches are decidedly contrary to the prevailing collegiate winds.

The committee behind the report and policy is chaired by Geoffrey Stone, a professor specializing in constitutional law (and member of the administration's intelligence review task force). Stone is a fierce defender of civil liberties, previously having taken Arizona legislators to task for their First Amendment-steamrolling cyberbullying/harassment bill.

The statement [pdf link] makes it clear from the outset that the University has many duties to its students, but ensuring them an offense-free environment isn't one of them.

Of course, the ideas of different members of the University community will often and quite naturally conflict. But it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Although the University greatly values civility, and although all members of the University community share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect, concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community.
There are exceptions, of course, but they are narrow and specific.
The freedom to debate and discuss the merits of competing ideas does not, of course, mean that individuals may say whatever they wish, wherever they wish. The University may restrict expression that violates the law, that falsely defames a specific individual, that constitutes a genuine threat or harassment, that unjustifiably invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests, or that is otherwise directly incompatible with the functioning of the University. In addition, the University may reasonably regulate the time, place, and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of the University.
After making the few exceptions clear, the committee's statement returns to championing the freedom of speech, reminding students that the correct response to controversial speech will always be more speech, rather than less.
[T[he University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose. Indeed, fostering the ability of members of the University community to engage in such debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of the University’s educational mission.
In other words, the hecklers among the student body have just been stripped of their veto power. Don't like what's being said? Use your own voice and say why. Attempts to shut down or shout down opposing views won't be tolerated.
Although members of the University community are free to criticize and contest the views expressed on campus, and to criticize and contest speakers who are invited to express their views on campus, they may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe.
TL; DR:
[T]he University has a solemn responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it.
If there's still any doubt as to the free speech protections contained in this statement, it can be dispelled by the fact that none other than FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) has offered its whole-hearted support of the University's new free speech policy. When you've made FIRE happy, you've done "free speech policy" correctly. None of this "free speech zone" crap or "free speech EXCEPT" followed by exceptions that neuter or completely obliterate the rule.

It's a rare thing to see a university tells it students that it won't protect them from others -- and that it will treat them adults. Life often isn't pretty and the best thing an institute of higher education can do is prepare its students for this inevitability. The over-protective parent route taken by so many others harms everyone involved by stunting their growth as humans and by punishing speech that is protected the First Amendment.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2015 @ 1:36am

    I'll give it a week...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 14 Jan 2015 @ 1:48am

    invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests, or that is otherwise directly incompatible with the functioning of the University. In addition, the University may reasonably regulate the time, place, and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of the University

    I have problems with the highlighted parts above. What is substantial? What constitutes a disruption of the ordinary activities? This is highly subjective.

    Still it's a pretty straightforward 'manifesto' and I do hope more educational institution adopt it including earlier ones such as high schools and even before that. We must not create a bubble around children to deflect reality from them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2015 @ 3:50am

      Re:

      I'm not too bothered by those because you will always have those general limitations in there. They are needed. It's not all right to block any lecture or class on a subject you do not like by invading the lecture hall and shouting it down. It's not all right to grab the Student records and read them aloud via the speaker system. I guess those activities are more explicitly barred and defined somewhere else, be it other policies or data protection laws and similar.
      The mentions in this policy are just acknowledgements of those Limits, embedded in a context that is overwhelmingly pro free speech and exactly what it should be.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Ninja (profile), 14 Jan 2015 @ 5:18am

        Re: Re:

        I just think that may be abused due to how subjective such things are but I also believe it's almost impossible to produce anything better than that. Specially because after a few years any objectivity you add to the text now may be outdated in the future (see the CFAA).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2015 @ 3:18am

    What Are You Arguing Against?

    This entire article seems to be an argument against something but it doesn't bother to explain what you are arguing against. Just some sort of nebulous "heckler's veto." What does that even mean?

    Are you complaining about hecklers who shout down speakers? In that case I have to ask why do the speakers get more speech than the hecklers? Particularly in the case of lectures and speeches where there is no opportunity for debate, just a single speaker on stage with no one also on stage to present any other perspectives? How might that one-sided presentation "promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation?"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2015 @ 3:37am

      Re: What Are You Arguing Against?

      Heckling is anti free-speech, as its basic premise is to shout down another persons speech. Debate over the content of a lecture is something to be carried out at the invitation of the lecture, or in some other venue at some other time. When someone says come and hear me speck, it is an invitation for other to come and listen. Free speech just means you cannot be silenced when you arrange your own venue for delivery of your opposing view, or when involved in discussion in outside of formal delivery of speech.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2015 @ 3:53am

        Re: Re: What Are You Arguing Against?

        So, what I am taking away from your response is that universities should be required to provide a venue for anyone to voice their opinions uninterrupted without any contradictory views expressed. And are there are no restrictions? Any opinion qualifies for such a platform? Do these guarantees apply to cases where attendance may not be mandatory but serves a dual purpose like commencement addresses?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2015 @ 4:12am

          Re: Re: Re: What Are You Arguing Against?

          So, what I am taking away from your response is that universities should be required to provide a venue for anyone to voice their opinions uninterrupted without any contradictory views expressed

          Not at all, the University is saying that it will not restrict speech where and when people gather outside f formal lectures, or other organized occasion for speakers to deliver a speech. They are also saying that they will not limit speakers where students, or others have arranged for the use of University property to deliver a speech, hold a debate etc. They are not obligated to make such facilities available, but where they do the will do so under some rule governing who gains the use that is not predicated on what will be said, such as first come first served.
          A promise not to prohibit speech is not a promise to enable its delivery.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2015 @ 5:00am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: What Are You Arguing Against?

            So "organized" occasions are subject to censorship.

            Just want to make that clear.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2015 @ 5:18am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: What Are You Arguing Against?

              It is not censorship to require people to listen, when the meeting is for someone to speak, but heckling them to prevent them speaking is. Freedom of speech does not mean that you can insist on you view being heard at all occasions, and it certainly does not mean you can insist on being heard when the occasion was arranged for someone else to speak.
              Free speech only means that you are allowed to try and find a venue and audience for you speech, and is not a license to hijack someone else's. What you seem to be demanding is that only your speech is heard, by being able to shout down someone else, which is antithesis of free speech.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2015 @ 5:54am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: What Are You Arguing Against?

                I do not understand the point of your response.

                Are you trying to backtrack on the fact that "organized occasions" are subject to censorship? That the university is permitted to pick and choose which views qualify for access to "organized occasions?" That, for example, it is perfectly fine to dis-invite a commencement speaker if enough students complain?

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • identicon
                  Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2015 @ 7:53am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: What Are You Arguing Against?

                  The organizer of an event is entitled to decide who can speak and under what rules. Anybody else trying to exercise control over who can speak at the same event is trying to censor speech. Therefore in your example, the students, not the university, would be the ones trying to censor speech. For the university to be censors, they would have to be prevent someone speaking at a student organized event.
                  Heckling a speaker is not exercising free speech, but rather trying to censor speech. Being forced to obey the rules of an organized event, or being ejected is not censorship, having the event you organized, or that was organized for you to address disrupted by a member of the audience is censorship.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                  • identicon
                    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2015 @ 10:00am

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: What Are You Arguing Against?

                    Got it. The university gets to pick and choose the speech they approve of, but the students who pay the university must choose between attending graduation ceremonies and implicitly endorsing speech they disagree with or losing out on recognition of their four years of work just because someone else decided to force them to listen.

                    In your version of the world freedom of speech means freedom to blackmail people to listen.

                    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                    • icon
                      John Fenderson (profile), 14 Jan 2015 @ 10:24am

                      Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: What Are You Arguing Against?

                      That's a massive distortion of the situation.

                      Universities pick and choose which speakers they're going to pay to speak, but they aren't the only ones that can do so. Professors, teachers, student organizations and even individual students can bring in any speaker they like, rent the speaking space, and pay them to speak out of their own pockets.

                      "just because someone else decided to force them to listen."

                      Nobody is forcing anybody to listen.

                      "In your version of the world freedom of speech means freedom to blackmail people to listen."

                      Likewise, nobody is being blackmailed to listen.

                      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                      • identicon
                        Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2015 @ 10:32am

                        Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: What Are You Arguing Against?

                        > Nobody is forcing anybody to listen.

                        Either you are denying reality or you are a pedant. They are not technically forced to listen, they are forced to choose between listening or forfeiting their graduation ceremony. If you are a pedant, feel free to use the word 'coerce' instead.

                        Either way, it is nothing that resembles freedom.

                        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                        • icon
                          John Fenderson (profile), 14 Jan 2015 @ 10:41am

                          Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: What Are You Arguing Against?

                          "they are forced to choose between listening or forfeiting their graduation ceremony."

                          No, they're not, unless you're claiming that it's impossible to both attend the ceremony and ignore the speaker. Graduation ceremonies tend to be stuffed full of things that are of no interest to most of the attendees (starting with the lengthy reading of the names), and people seem to be able to ignore that stuff just fine.

                          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                          • identicon
                            Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2015 @ 10:49am

                            Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: What Are You Arguing Against?

                            No, they're not, unless you're claiming that it's impossible to both attend the ceremony and ignore the speaker.

                            I like it when the other guy is reduced to silly arguments like that, it means you've painted him into a corner.

                            Graduation ceremonies tend to be stuffed full of things that are of no interest to most of the attendees

                            Trying to move the goal posts from speech you disagree with to speech you have no interest in is also a sign of having been painted into a corner.

                            I'm going to declare victory and move on. You are welcome make another ridiculous misstatement in order to feel like you are in the right here.

                            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                            • identicon
                              Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2015 @ 10:52pm

                              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: What Are You Arguing Against?

                              I'm not sure... are you deliberately trolling?

                              With what you are advocating here you would either have a completely bland, censored public life where no one ever says anything that anyone could object to - which would probably mean silence - or one where everyone shouted everyone else down constantly and no one was heard at all.

                              It's almost impossible to make any inspiring or thought provoking speech on such occasions without colliding with someones views. That is often the case in a free democracy. The speaker gets chosen either by the university *you* chose, or by a student committee you probably had a choice in via election.

                              If you want to present opposing views, you could try to arrange for a second speaker - but because that would probably lead to speaker inflation rather quick, you could only realize that method in exceptional circumstances. You could arrange for your own venue to have a speaker of your choice on stage - concurrent with the other speech or following it. You could choose non-disruptive means of drawing attention to your objections: inviting people to a discussion on the subject in a nearby forum, distributing flyers, discussing it individually with interested parties at the ceremony. You can try to find a big enough majority beforehand to change the minds of those inviting the speaker - but it really had to be a majority of people, not just the loudest yelling minority. Because of that, this probably will be rather difficult.

                              All those are viable ways to use your freedom of speech without infringing on the same freedom of others. Because this is kinda fundamental to the whole rights business: Your freedoms have to end where the freedom of others begins.

                              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                            • icon
                              John Fenderson (profile), 15 Jan 2015 @ 8:28am

                              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: What Are You Arguing Against?

                              "Trying to move the goal posts from speech you disagree with to speech you have no interest in is also a sign of having been painted into a corner."

                              I moved no goalposts. Therefore I'm just going to declare victory and move on. You are welcome make another ridiculous misstatement in order to feel like you are in the right here.

                              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                        • icon
                          John Fenderson (profile), 14 Jan 2015 @ 10:42am

                          Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: What Are You Arguing Against?

                          Oh, also, the speakers at graduation ceremonies are not usually selected by the university in the first place. They're usually selected by a student committee where all students have a say.

                          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                        • identicon
                          Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2015 @ 10:44am

                          Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: What Are You Arguing Against?

                          It sounds like that only speech you would allow is that which you approve of. Free speech means that you will sometimes hear speech that you disagree with or find offensive, which the University pointed out in its policy, deal with it like a grown up, and not a petulant spoiled brat.

                          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 14 Jan 2015 @ 9:04am

      Re: What Are You Arguing Against?

      "This entire article seems to be an argument against something but it doesn't bother to explain what you are arguing against."

      That's funny, I didn't read this article that way at all. I read it as a positive analysis of their new free speech policy.

      "I have to ask why do the speakers get more speech than the hecklers?"

      Is this a serious question?? Here's the answer: because nobody is required to give a platform to anyone else. The only people who have a right to speak at these sorts of events are those that have been given the right.

      If the hecklers want to actually be heard (and heckling certainly doesn't accomplish that anyway), they can do so in a number of ways, including holding their own talk where they are the speaker.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    AJ, 14 Jan 2015 @ 3:39am

    Whoops...

    "It's a rare thing to see a university tells it students that it won't protect them from others -- and that it will treat them adults."

    Not a big deal, the point is clear, but I think you missed the word "like".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      cypherspace (profile), 14 Jan 2015 @ 4:03am

      Re: Whoops...

      I think the most accurate correction would be to write it as "...and that it will treat them as adults."

      Most university students are old enough to legally be considered adults in this country. I'd rather treat them as what they already are.

      Sorry for the nitpicking about language. But here is one of the few times I think the choice in language makes a difference.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    saulgoode (profile), 14 Jan 2015 @ 5:25am

    50th Anniversary of FSM

    It is perhaps worth mentioning that it was fifty years ago that the Free Speech Movement student protests took place at the University of California's Berkeley campus. Here is an interesting chronological description of events that appeared in the student newspaper soon after the event.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    J. R., 14 Jan 2015 @ 7:13am

    What can one say but ... hurray!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2015 @ 7:21am

    Just Had to Include "Harassment"

    By merely mentioning "harassment" they have opened the floodgates for all manner of social justice warrior doublespeak. SJWs are professionals at abusing freedom of speech to stifle what they find offensive (see also: everything under the sun).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2015 @ 8:38am

    Beware the Staff

    Many years ago I attended the University of Chicago. It's a very conservative place. But even though I tend towards the liberal side of things, I always felt free to speak my mind.

    Later, I attended a liberal California school. Political Correctness was everywhere and I always felt I had to be very careful about what I said. What wrong word, and the PC people would be all over you.

    One caveat, based on what happened to a friend, the way the University of Chicago handle disciplinary things was basically guilty when accused and they would go through the motions of their process before suspending or expelling you. In fact, the staff member who turned in my friend apologized when it was all over and said had he know how things really worked, he would just have looked the other way.

    So unless things have changed, you have to be very careful not to say anything some minor functionary will take as harassment and get you expelled.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Sheogorath (profile), 14 Jan 2015 @ 12:21pm

    It's a rare thing to see a university tell its students that it won't protect them from others -- and that it will treat them as adults.
    FTFY, YW.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    sophisticatedjanedoe (profile), 14 Jan 2015 @ 2:17pm

    Like a sculptor works his magic by removing unnecessary mass, Tim crafted this peace by carefully removing any mentions of an infamous misguided editorial posted in the Chicago Maroon (University of Chicago student newspaper).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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