Journalism prof Kyu Ho Youm in the Oregonian on UO’s Bias Response Team

More on Professor Youm, who came to the US as a student from Korea when it was still a military dictatorship, here. He’s been a longtime advocate for free speech and government transparency. His full Op-Ed is here. (Now in the RG too here.) The ending:

… It gets worse.

As a media law teacher-scholar and a former campus newspaper adviser, I was stunned by another case that has made UO a laughingstock in the national press: “An anonymous student reported that a newspaper gave less press coverage to trans students and students of color,” the BRT report stated. “Response: A BRT Case Manager held an educational conversation with the newspaper reporter and editor.”

The BRT’s ham-handed way of dealing with a student’s complaint about the Daily Emerald’s coverage was embarrassingly misguided. And it was a lost teachable moment for the BRT.

First Amendment attorney Charles Glasser adjures the BRT to take a more enlightening approach: “Students need to learn that living in a vibrant democracy requires being able to hear upsetting ideas without losing your mind. The same democracy allows — even encourages — responsible counter-speech. You could even teach them to write a coherent letter to the editor.”

The University of Chicago’s widely praised report of 2015 on freedom of expression offers good guidance about encouraging, not discouraging, free speech in academia: “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 wrongheaded.”

UO ought to join other schools, including Princeton University, in adapting and adopting the University of Chicago’s free-speech statement as its framework for campus expression. As a Supreme Court justice once opined, the best corrective for bad speech is good speech, not censorship or punishment.

I have engaged with my journalism and law colleagues on the BRT in recent weeks. Few have been eager to step forward and express their thoughts on the BRT. And I have been advised to be more “politically astute” in taking issue with the BRT and its impact on the UO faculty, staff and students.

A discerning UO colleague, who has endured a real-life chilling experience with the BRT, has told me: “Now that we have become a laughingstock to the entire nation due to our relationship with the BRT, nothing could be more important than discussing this issue with the entire faculty and staff.”

I agree.

Those of us who understand that free speech versus cultural sensitivity is not a zero-sum game should scrutinize the BRT in an uninhibited, robust and wide-open way. As Professors Jeffrey Aaron Snyder and Amna Khalid at Carleton College cogently noted in their New Republic article: “BRTs are fatally flawed” and that “BRTs will turn the genuine, transformative educational power of diverse voices into a farce.”

I’d like to applaud my journalism and communication colleagues for leading the UO conversations on the BRT. The BRT has been entrenched in the UO community as part of its institutional machinery for the past 17 years, but it has been subject to little scrutiny throughout its entire history.

The Bias Response Team has received little scrutiny because university professors are in general terrified of being accused of bias. Fortunately Prof Youm is not.

For the record, UO’s Academic Freedom and Free Speech and Inquiry policies are stronger than the University of Chicago’s policy. See here for the UO language and some history on how hard we had to fight former UO GC Randy Geller, former President Mike Gottfredson, and Sharon Rudnick, Tim Gleason, and Doug Blandy to get the Academic Freedom Policy passed and signed.

That fight’s not over – GC Kevin Reed is probably going to bring “time and place” restrictions to the UO Senate this year. Here’s hoping they’re not as ridiculous as Randy Geller’s anti-chalk efforts. And of course having a policy is the easy part. The hard part is following it. Has the BRT broken UO’s policy?

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12 Responses to Journalism prof Kyu Ho Youm in the Oregonian on UO’s Bias Response Team

  1. honest Uncle Bernie says:

    Professor Youm and the others are to be commended for speaking out publicly. The BRT has indeed made UO a laughingstock nationally in a variety of circles. UO may have a strong formal policy on freedom of speech, but in practice, people are afraid to say what they think about many things, even to mention the topics on which they have “incorrect” opinions or even musings. The notion that the University (or the university generally) is a place for the free exchange of ideas has become laughable to many people on the outside, and even the inside. It is affecting public support, at least at some places, see the recent experience at Mizzou. The UO has put itself high on the list with the antics of its BRT.

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    • Dog says:

      In what context or setting are people “afraid to say what they think about many things” ?

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      • honest Uncle Bernie says:

        I’ve had a good many students tell me — rightly or wrongly — that they feel coerced by their professors to regurgitate things in class that they don’t think or believe, mostly in general education courses where they regard themselves as captives.

        Faculty members have told me similar things — in matters relating to race or gender or relations with former colonial countries, to name just a few hot issues, they are absolutely terrified to go against the perceived tolerated opinions.

        Just today, I was talking with a colleague about Schill’s supposed plan to bring more black students to campus, to make UO a more hospitable place.

        And he said “they’ve been trying to do this for the thirty years I’ve been here, and nothing works. The black enrollment is as small as ever, and so it seems is the black faculty representation. I doubt that anything Schill does is going to change things. But of course I wouldn’t dream of saying this in public, even to most of my colleagues, it might get me crucified, and it would accomplish nothing.”

        Maybe my colleague is paranoid, maybe he’s a coward, but this is what he thinks. And his “thought crime” — saying that a campaign in response to black student “demands” is futile — is pretty tame on the scale of thoughts that must be supressed. So it seems to me.

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        • Dog says:

          Brief response:

          1. I think that student attitude toward coercion is not unique to the UO. As a faculty member I too perceive GE is producing captives, but I don’t believe the students think that way.

          2. I went to high school in Salem OR – I was valedictorian (who the hell cares) – but I was banned from giving my graduation speech since it was all about how insular Oregon was and that apparently, as I was learning in high school, only white people contributed to the successful history of the US. For the record, my graduation class had 620 students in it, and precisely 18 of us went to college out of state.

          Oregon is mostly a lily-white and redneck state and has not changed that much over the last few decades. We are not overtly racist or prejudicial and I don’t think we even mean to be closet ones, but we are and I think most of this is because this state is just resistant to change of any kind.

          There are not all that many academic reasons for persons of color to come to the UO – we need evolved academic programs and evolution, in Oregon, seems to happen on the same kind of glacial timescale that produced the fertile willamette valley in the first place (Missoula floods).

          But my main question goes mostly unanswered. I have not felt in any forum at the UO the need to suppress “saying things in public” and I have had no experience being crucified or being persecuted as a result. Instead, people just shake their heads as I further their impression that I am just an egotistical, self-centered asshole in all dimensions which helps them talk to me behind my back.

          But that is typical in institutions in which one’s opinions are being view as being disruptive. Institutional inertia does not tolerate disruption – I don’t think there is anything unique here about the UO. What I do find to be typical at the UO is that most of my experience shows that people talk around issues trying to please everyone at the same time, and this is not the way to solve problems- but what do I know, I am just a fucking dog making characters on this Internet thang …

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        • Dog says:

          Oh yeah, one good example of the way the UO community “functions” is the one again off again ridiculous assertion that this blog “undermines” the UO. That’s immature, even for dogs.

          I hope someday this blog archive forms the PHD thesis of some sociology student that is focused on critical thinking and discussion in Academia – because the comments in this blog, surely reveals such critical thinking , … (apologies to the few or you that I do believe are academic, reflective and thoughtful in your postings)

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      • Publius says:

        “A discerning UO colleague, who has endured a real-life chilling experience with the BRT … ”

        I too live in mortal fear of that late night phone from the assistant assistant to the assistant in the Office of Student Affairs, asking to meet with me about a student concern. We’re truly one step away from the Gulag! It’s a good thing we have a professor of first amendment rights looking out for us–who obviously has no idea what his own university’s first amendment policy is. I don’t know what’s more ridiculous–the BRT or uninformed hysterical responses to it like this.

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        • just different says:

          The second one is definitely more ridiculous. At least there really do exist legitimate concerns about biased treatment of students and staff and its consequences.

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          • Publius says:

            Here is what the New Republic article states, that Youm cites approvingly:

            “Let us be clear: Bias and discrimination are real and pressing concerns on campuses across the country. There must be channels for students, especially those from historically underrepresented populations, to communicate their concerns to administrators and their peers.”

            If Youm and others want to be constructive, instead of just rehearsing their fears of the Office of Student Affairs, why don’t they suggest what the alternatives to things like the BRT would be that would provide such channels for student concerns. Freedom of speech means being constructive, not just whining.

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            • uomatters says:

              The article also says:

              … Students and faculty occasionally serve on BRTs, but they are largely composed of administrators, with sizable representation from Residential Life and Dean of Students offices. As committees with unelected members that meet behind closed doors, they lack both transparency and accountability.

              BRTs are rapidly becoming part of the institutional machinery of higher education, but have yet to face any real scrutiny. As Carleton College faculty members committed to “rigorous studies in the liberal arts disciplines” and the vitality of diverse campus communities, we believe that the proliferation of BRTs is a grave mistake. They degrade education by encouraging silence instead of dialogue, the fragmentation of campuses into groups of like-minded people, and the deliberate avoidance of many of the most important—and controversial—topics across all academic disciplines. They are inherently anti-intellectual enterprises, fundamentally at odds with the mission of higher education. And ultimately they will undermine a bedrock principle of the modern university: that more diversity leads to better learning.

              I don’t know that those claims are true or that they apply to what UO’s BRT does, but I’d certainly like to know more. The J-School had a very interesting panel about UO’s BRT Monday. VPSA Robin Holmes said during her comments that she was looking into changing BRT policies/procedures. So it seems that the sorts of questions Youm and others have raised have already had a presumably constructive impact on UO’s BRT.

              https://newrepublic.com/article/132195/rise-bias-response-teams-campus

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  2. Anonymous says:

    “Students need to learn that living in a vibrant democracy requires being able to hear upsetting ideas without losing your mind. The same democracy allows — even encourages — responsible counter-speech.”

    Hear, hear!

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  3. Anon says:

    Yuom states, “The University of Chicago’s widely praised report of 2015 on freedom of expression offers good guidance about encouraging, not discouraging, free speech in academia: ““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 wrongheaded.””

    UO ought to join other schools, including Princeton University, in adapting and adopting the University of Chicago’s free-speech statement as its framework for campus expression.”

    This from the UO Freedom of Inquiry and Free Speech Policy (http://policies.uoregon.edu/policy/by/1/01-administration-and-governance/freedom-inquiry-and-free-speech):

    “Free inquiry and free speech are the cornerstones of an academic institution committed to the creation and transfer of knowledge. Expression of diverse points of view is of the highest importance, not solely for those who present and defend some view but for those who would hear, disagree, and pass judgment on those views. The belief that an opinion is pernicious, false, and in any other way despicable, detestable, offensive or “just plain wrong” cannot be grounds for its suppression.”

    That seems every bit as strong as Chicago’s statement. So, it seems we have conflicting policies/practices and need to have a serious debate at all levels about what we really mean here, and how we uphold that in our practices and institutional structures.

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