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Campus free-speech advocates are dupes of a vast right-wing conspiracy

Last updated on 09/04/2016

9/4/2016 update: Greg Lukianoff of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education points out the fallacies in Jim Sleeper’s NYT op-ed:

Of course, this isn’t the only thing that Sleeper gets wrong. As he has done before, Sleeper attempts to present FIRE as part of a vast right-wing conspiracy, conveniently ignoring the incredible political diversity of our staff and the many, many cases in which we have fought for speakers and expression popular on the left, as well as speech that’s popular with practically no one at all. An honest reading of our case archives attests to this. As FIRE’s Will Creeley wrote just last month:

To be clear: FIRE defends student and faculty speech regardless of the viewpoint expressed or the speaker’s identity. If expression is protected by the First Amendment, FIRE defends it—period. That means we defend Democrats,Republicans, Libertarians, Democratic Socialists, and those affiliated with no party at all; Muslims, Jews, Christians, and atheists; environmental activists, animal rights activists, pro-choice activists, anti-rape activists, anti-war activists, and LGBT activists;free market advocates, pro-life activists, anti-immigration activists, and anti-affirmative action activists; student reporters, student government members, adjunct faculty, and tenured professors; and many, many more. FIRE even stands ready to protect the expressive rights of those who call for censorship, though we flatly disagree with those advocates’ goals.

Sleeper also pretends that we never wrote anything positive about protests at Yale. That’s not true, either.

Lukianoff has a point. Here at UO, FIRE even fought for the UO Divest students’ right to keep their Divest Now banner up outside Johnson Hall. I’m guessing that the Koch Brothers are not big CO2 divestment fans, but they are paying to help maintain our students’ right to argue publicly for it.

9/3/2016: The NYT has the scoop here. The author, a political scientist from Yale, is shocked to learn that Republicans are supporting free-speech. I wonder how many Republicans he has met while teaching at Yale?

For the record, UO’s free-speech and academic freedom policies, which are as strong as any in the country – far stronger than Chicago’s, for example – were written by an overwhelmingly liberal faculty. UO’s United Academics faculty union has defended free-speech and academic freedom from the University administration during each contract negotiation, with the help of the AAUP.

So this Yalie thinks the UO faculty, our union, and the AAUP are the Koch brother’s “useful idiots”? Sure.


  1. just different 09/03/2016

    This is a gross mischaracterization of the NYT op-ed. Sleeper’s point was that the current conservative “free speech” flag-waving isn’t about free speech at all, just as the conservative opposition to “political correctness” is really coded whining about perceived loss of privilege. It’s disturbing to see people who should know better conflate the goal of these student protests with “suppressing free speech.”

    • uomatters Post author | 09/04/2016

      I like Ian Maitland’s comment in the NYT, in response to Mr. Sleeper:

      Pay no attention to that hysterical Yale student shouting down a professor. She is not “per se” a threat to free speech. No, pay attention to the person shooting the video of the student shouting the professor down. That person is the real threat to free speech. He harmed free speech by publishing the video. The harm wasn’t done by the student’s “frenzy,” but by the “the frenzied way” the Yale protest was “portrayed”.

      Wait; it gets better. The person shooting the video just happened to be Greg Lukianoff of FIRE, an organization that defends free speech on campus. He is obviously a card carrying member of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy. So the video is part of a nefarious plot to use free speech on campus as a Trojan Horse to impose market values on our society.

      Sleeper lashes out at some of the usual suspects of the left (casino-like financing, predatory lending, marketers of capitalism, Donald J. Trump…). No evidence is offered, nor does Sleeper explain what these interests stand to gain from suppressing free speech on campus.

      I didn’t make this up. Jim Sleeper did. Come on, Sleeper. It is no coincidence that Lukianoff happened to be on the scene to shoot the video of the dreadful ranting student protester. She and her fellow protesters were fresh from disrupting Lukianoff’s own free speech at an earlier meeting!

      Are you going to believe Sleeper, or are you going to believe your own eyes?

      Me: Fire’s video’s are at

      • just different 09/04/2016

        I’ve seen it. Setting aside the out-of-context nature of the video, the student’s behavior was extremely disrespectful, but cannot seriously be regarded as limiting the professor’s free speech. Furthermore, the student also had a right to free speech. If anything, the whole point of this debate is that respect–for students and faculty alike–and free speech are not in opposition. I admire FIRE, but their entire purpose is defending free-speech extremism, so like the ACLU they sometimes take bad positions from a pragmatic standpoint. On this particular issue, unfortunately, their fellow-travelers are people who are more interested in shutting down student dissent than in protecting anyone’s rights.

        I don’t think I buy Sleeper’s free-market connection, but I do think he’s correct about the selectivity and insincerity of right-wing free-speech posturing. They get bent out of shape over “microaggressions,” but where are these freedom fighters when people lose their jobs over tweets and blog posts?

    • Daffy duck 09/04/2016

      You are right, of course, but there is more than enough conflation to go around. See below.

    • Jim Sleeper 06/15/2024

      Thank you, “Just Different,” for defending my NY Times op ed about FIRE’s slippery mischaracterization of what was going on at Yale. Because the op ed was limited by Times editors to 900 words, a few days later I made the case against FIRE’s duplicity in two longer essays, linked below, including one that’s titled, “What the Campus ‘Free Speech’ Crusade Won’t Say.”
      What the Campus ‘Free Speech’ Crusade Won’t Say –

      And please read my “The Coddling of the Conservative Mind.”

      These essays describe how FIRE has operated and been funded under Greg Lukianoff’s leadership. FIRE’s claim that it defends free speech all across the ideological spectrum is misleading. It has occasionally defended left-leaning speakers against administrative and other repression, but not nearly as often and dramatically as it has highlighted politically correct offenses against freedom of expression. I remind readers of my “The Coddling of the Conservative Mind” that universities have long cracked down on speech and expression that challenges whatever their wealthy donors want to instill.
      Can Lukianoff show us a video that he may have shot against “white boys” harassing or demeaning a “social justice warrior”?

  2. Herman Newticks 09/09/2016

    My reading is more mixed sleeper actually acknowlwdges Lukianoffs chief complaint, explaining that his original submission did not have the same problem. sleeper rightly calls Lukianoff on inferring guilt by association, but then does the same to Lukianoff.

    • uomatters Post author | 09/09/2016

      Pseudonym of the week. Please contact our Associate Executive Assistant VP for Pseudonyms for your complimentary swag.

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