University presidents act to protect hate speech

FIRE has the report here:

At the University of Maryland (UMD), President Wallace Loh issued a statement yesterday in response to a set of 64 demands from ProtectUMD, a coalition of 25 student groups. The demands, issued in late November, include calls for punishing speech protected by the First Amendment. Specifically, the coalition demands an “[i]mmediate response to hate speech or actions from the University including a consequence (e.g. mark on transcript, potential suspension).” Tellingly, “hate speech” is left undefined.

The University of Maryland has an obligation under federal law to respond to discriminatory harassment, which is unprotected by the First Amendment, as is speech that constitutes incitement or a true threat. But there is no First Amendment exception for “hate speech,” an inherently subjective concept that has no legal definition; one person’s “hate speech” is another’s political manifesto. The vast majority of speech that some or even most might consider “hate speech” is protected by the First Amendment, and for good reason. ProtectUMD’s call for punishing “hate speech” runs headlong into UMD’s legal and moral obligation as a public institution to uphold the First Amendment.

In response, President Loh’s statement—titled “True to Our Values”—explains why freedom of expression must remain at the core of the university’s commitments. While acknowledging “the rise of angst, hurt, and anger in fraught times,” President Loh writes that UMD community members “cannot learn, teach, pursue truth, and advance knowledge without academic freedom and freedom of expression, civility and respect, diversity and inclusion, openness and shared governance.” Instead of censorship, President Loh embraces the challenge of free speech and its necessity for our democracy:

No anodyne will heal the divisions in our country today, nor should it. At the University of Maryland, we do not fear the clash of ideas and values. I ask every member of our academic community to help us move forward with an open mind, consider different perspectives, and debate with respect and civility. These are the qualities that make trust, collaboration, and progress possible in a democracy.

…  University of California, Berkeley

Meanwhile, 2,800 miles to the west, UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks also recognized the necessity of free speech in a statement to the campus community. Chancellor Dirks’ letter was prompted by an upcoming visit from Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, planned for next Wednesday and sponsored by the Berkeley College Republicans. Responding to calls for censorship and disinvitation, Chancellor Dirks wrote:

Since the announcement of Mr. Yiannopoulos’s visit, we have received many requests that we ban him from campus and cancel the event. Although we have responded to these requests directly, we would like to explain to the entire campus community why the event will be held as planned. First, from a legal perspective, the U.S. Constitution prohibits UC Berkeley, as a public institution, from banning expression based on its content or viewpoints, even when those viewpoints are hateful or discriminatory.

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6 Responses to University presidents act to protect hate speech

  1. honest Uncle Bernie says:

    Perhaps the universities, especially the publics, are beginning to come to their senses, just as a vast swath of the public seems about ready to write them off as expensive, repressive, out of touch looney bins. (See UOM post below about restoring trust in public universities.)

  2. Conservative Duck says:

    Reset the code all you want, leave the first amendment alone! Good on UMD and UC Berkeley both.

  3. Anas clypeata says:

    As always, the answer to bad speech is more speech, not censorship.

  4. just different says:

    While I don’t think Yiannopoulos should be disinvited, the Berkeley College Republicans are doing themselves a real disservice by sponsoring total pieces of shit like Milo Yiannopoulos to introduce some “diversity of thought.”

  5. just different says:

    Well, it seems that President Thumbo has weighed in with his own personal take on free speech: Protests against “other points of view” need to shut up or else.

  6. the robust exchange of ideas says:

    Interview with Professor Nadine Strossen, NYU Law School, former ACLU President (1991-2008). In The Content and Context of Hate Speech: Rethinking Regulation and Responses. Edited by Michael Herz and Peter Molnar (Cambridge University Press, 2012)

    Peter Molnar (PM): One of the most common justifications for regulating “hate speech” is to prevent grave harms to marginalized groups. According to this argument such speech stigmatizes and demoralizes members of such groups and prevents them from achieving full equality in society. Do you agree?

    Nadine Strossen (NS): I totally disagree with the factual premise. And even if I agreed with the premise, I still think that suppressing hate speech would not be an effective solution to the alleged problem.


    PM: The counterargument is that different groups might have different capacity to respond, and often the groups who are the targets of racist or other “hate” speech, precisely because of the systemic racism or another sort of prejudice that oft-times underlies such speech, will be in less of a position to respond effectively. Someone might put this counterargument especially provocatively by saying that not everyone has the education and, as a result, the critical capacity of, say, a white lawyer.

    NS: That’s such an elitist statement. Unbelievable! That position suggests that only a white, liberal lawyer has the capacity (a) to reject a biased idea and (b) to respond to it. I think that’s one of the most insulting ideas that I’ve ever heard. Of course, though, I defend anyone’s right to make that point! * * * Now, if the point is that it takes a certain amount of education to be able to respond effectively to hate speech with counterspeech, that would suggest a different understanding of which targets of hate speech must be protected, one that I would totally reject as well.


    PM: But is there not reason to be concerned about the silencing effect of “hate speech”? Even if we don’t assume that many members of discriminated-against minorities are less able to respond to such speech, members of these groups may feel some uncertainty, reinforced also by ongoing discrimination, as to whether they are equal members of their society….

    NS: They are not equal members of the society. But not because people are saying things about them. Because they lack equal opportunity for education, equal opportunity for employment, and so on.


    PM: Though some…argue that if banning “hate speech” drive racists and others with similar prejudices underground, so much the better; that is the place they belong.

    NS: It makes them into free-speech martyrs, and everybody comes to their defense in terms of free-speech principles, as opposed to emphasizing to them: Your message is wrong, you have a right to think and say these things, but we’re going to explain to you why you shouldn’t. Perhaps most important, if speech is suppressed, there is no opportunity for a public response. We have seen that an episode of hate speech on a campus, especially on a campus that prides itself on being liberal and open-minded and tolerant, is a very traumatic but ultimately cathartic and empowering experience. In particular, the responsive outpourings – which to the best of my knowledge, always occur – both from the grassroots up and the top down, galvanize people, who otherwise would never have addressed these issues, to speak out against racism, against homophobia. I’ve seen all kinds of creative, constructive responses on college campuses… And on the other hand, assuming that it was desirable to suppress expressions of hatred, you can’t do it. Even the most ardent proponent of ant-hate speech laws would not say that you could outlaw the subtlety, the nuance, the innuendo. I don’t know anybody that would go that far… would any of the advocates of suppressing hate speech go so far as to punish that kind of expression? As Henry Louis Gates memorably put it, it is a mistake “to spend more time worrying about speech codes than coded speech.”


    PM: There’s a strong argument that in a free debate – even if we are skeptical about the outcome depending on the context – in a Millian way, “hate speech” challenges those who reject it, compelling them to be defiant against it, and that without such engagement the rejection of hatred would become inert dogma.

    NS: One of the many negative outcomes of suppression the expression of hate speech is that people become afraid to discuss the related issues at all. Even well-intentioned people become afraid of saying something that might unwittingly offend a member of a minority group, that might unwittingly be seen as conveying a racist idea when that’s not what they intended. So then we engage in this huge self-censorship, It’s like the saying about the elephant in the room…

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