Press "Enter" to skip to content

Youtube: Chicago Prof Geoffrey Stone lectures UO Law School on free speech

Is free speech on campus dying?

If so, it’s still kicking. Friday’s engaging talk by Geoffrey Stone from Chicago Law laid out and put to rest the arguments against free speech and academic freedom one by one, then finished them off with his responses to audience questions about the increasing use of hate speech by conservatives, and safe spaces for our increasingly diverse students.

Free Speech on Campus: A Challenge for Our Times

Friday, February 17 at 4:00pm

William W. Knight Law Center, Room 175
1515 Agate Street, Eugene, OR 97403

We live today in an era where students often demand censorship, and universities, afraid to offend their students, surrender academic freedom to charges of offense. What has brought about this confluence of events? Can such an approach to academic discourse be reconciled with the central mission of higher education to promote robust discourse, deliberation, and disagreement?

In this lecture, Professor Geoffrey R. Stone explores these questions, examines the history and vulnerability of academic freedom, and offers thoughts on how universities should reconcile their fundamental commitment to free and robust discourse with the equally fundamental need to nurture a community that values civility and mutual respect.

Geoffrey R. Stone is the Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago. A member of the law faculty since 1973, Mr. Stone served as dean ofthe Law School (1987-1994) and Provost of the University of Chicago (1994-2002). Mr. Stone is the author orco-author of many books on constitutional law and has been an editor of the Supreme Court Review. In the fall of 2013, Mr. Stone served as a member of President Obama’s five-member NSA Review Group, which in the wake of the Snowden disclosures advised the President and the Congress on abroad range of NSA surveillance programs.

UO First Amendment Chair Kyu Ho Youm asks how free speech is at UO. On the RG’s Op-Ed page here:

The University of Oregon has been in the national news since mid-2016 — not because of the $500 million commitment it received from Nike co-founder Phil Knight, but because of an actual or perceived lack of academic freedom. Consider the heated debates about the UO Bias Response Team last summer and the more recent free-speech controversy over a UO law professor wearing blackface at a Halloween party.

The headline-grabbing criticisms and counter-criticisms of freedom of speech at the UO seem incongruous, given that all this happens in the state of Oregon, which First Amendment scholar Ronald Collins at the University of Washington called “the land that many believe has the most robust protection of any state in the nation.”

But Oregon is hardly an unusual case. Many, if not all, American colleges and universities are caught in a vortex of argument over whether less is more when they balance academic freedom with civility, inclusivity and diversity on campus.

Calling the United States the land of freedom and opportunity could result in a Bias Response Team complaint. Speaking about freedom of speech in absolute terms could be found offensive by some. Are these examples so far-fetched as to be blit hely dismissed as irrelevant to our academic freedom debates? Take a look at various chilling reports of Bias Response Teams acting as the campus “speech police.” …

The public records on the UO Bias Response Team are posted on the UO Senate web page here (under documents and reports). UO has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to police this sort of speech.

Youm is one of the organizers of the Geoffrey Stone lecture on Friday:

Chicago Prof Geoffrey Stone to lecture UO Law School on free speech

Hard to think of a better time or place for this talk:

Geoffrey R. Stone, the Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago, will explore the balance between an institution’s fundamental commitment to free and robust discourse with the equally fundamental need to nurture a community that values civility and mutual respect. The lecture is Feb. 17 at 4 p.m. in Room 175, Knight Law Center.

In his talk, “Free Speech on Campus: A Challenge in our Times,” Stone will make the case that higher education is in an era where, afraid to offend students, academic freedoms are surrendered in favor of avoiding transgressions.

More in Around the O.


  1. Nope 02/15/2017

    I will be unable to attend, but someone who can please ask him his opinion on blackface.

    • uomatters Post author | 02/15/2017

      FWIW my answer is “It was stupid and offensive, as was the angry law professors’ response, and I support the right to be stupid and offensive.”

      • dog 02/15/2017

        Indeed -“stupid and offensive” is likely a requirement
        for tenure at the UO …

      • Mr. Paint 02/16/2017

        Some people might think it’s funny. And those people might think it’s funny, because YOU think, it’s “stupid and offensive”.

        • dog 02/16/2017

          I do not think its funny

          I do think its stupid and offensive

      • Tagore Smith 02/18/2017

        It was certainly stupid- it is hard to believe that a law professor could fail to understand the implications of wearing blackface, and the repercussions of doing so. But in this case, I think we must believe just that.

        As for offensive- well, blackface is offensive because it is meant to communicate, 99% of the time, ideas that are offensive. But this case seems to fall into the other 1%. The law professor in question seems to have wanted to express ideas that those pillorying her would likely find not only unobjectionable, but laudable. She simply (in more than one sense of the word) ran afoul of a shibboleth.

        I’m generally a defender of the legal rights of speakers whose speech that is meant to greatly offend me (‘per trattar del ben chi v’i trovai…’ and all that.) I don’t like Illinois Nazis, but I think we have to let them march, or suffer a greater injury than their speech could inflict. I don’t mind seeing some social stigma attached to being an Illinois Nazi though.

        This does not seem to be a case like that though, and I find it disturbing that we’ve come to a point where even expressing the ‘right’ ideas in the wrong way, granted that a great deal of stupidity was involved, is cause to have your life ripped apart, and your person exposed to what must be an enormously painful public shaming.

        • José 02/18/2017

          I think the problem is that you are looking too far backwards. Yes I understand the use of blackface has been historically racist and malicious. But it doesn’t have to be that way. And if you had your way – for how many decades would you choose to monitor and restrict our use of black paint? I’m also not sure that your statement about blackface being used to purposefully be offensive 99% of the time, in this day and age is entirely accurate. In March of 2016 an entire football team in Germany used blackface to show support for two black team-mates that were attacked… I think I could find more examples if I had a mind to. I think it is all too easy for people to just jump aboard the trendy bandwagon of calling people racists and bigots, rather than taking the time to form their own opinions.

          • Tagore Smith 02/19/2017

            Well, I’m not personally in the business of monitoring, and certainly not of restricting the wearing of blackface. The general thrust of my comment was that I think we should be careful about taking offense where none was intended- it does seem to me that there are quite a lot of people these days who have come to enjoy being outraged in a way that I find a bit troubling.

            That said, in the US at least (Germany might be another story,) I think that in the vast majority of cases when people wear blackface they do so with the intent to offend. I support the right to be intentionally offensive, but I’m not always entirely sympathetic when people who have set out to offend complain that others have taken offense.

            I’ll also say that, while I think some intentionally offensive speech has great value (I mean, to take an extreme example, the civil rights movement itself very clearly offended a lot of people,) I’m not sure I see a lot of value in blackface. I want it protected because I don’t think you can pick and choose what should be protected. But it seems to me a case of offense for the sake of offense.

    • honest Uncle Bernie 02/17/2017

      I am not much of an advocate for blackface. But one thing it has done is catalyze some much needed discussion of free speech at UO. With pretty illuminating results.

      • José 02/17/2017

        Well, in my humble opinion.. The topic of Face Painting is much more suitable for third grade than College.. I’m all for being sensitive to minorities – I just don’t like it when white people tell black people what is offensive to black people.

    • Christopher Halkides 11/20/2017

      It is misleading to say that Professor Shurtz wore blackface. What she did was to use black make-up to appear as a particular character.

  2. the robust exchange of ideas 02/15/2017

    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…

    • uomatters Post author | 02/16/2017

      Thanks for posting this – very interesting.

    • just different 02/16/2017

      Once again, this argument completely ignores the gaping power differential in play in an academic setting. Universities don’t protect the academic freedom of students as equal to the academic freedom of faculty. In fact, they rarely defend the academic freedom of students at all. When students can openly challenge faculty without fear of university-sanctioned reprisal, I’ll be happy to agree with unrestricted freedom of speech for faculty.

      • UO Matters 02/16/2017

        Actually, the UO faculty, operating through the UO Senate, have just scored a big win for the academic freedom of our students by beating back the administration’s proposed policy restricting the time, place, and manner of free speech. We fought this fight so that our students could continue to have sit-ins about things they care about, like carbon divestment. Myself and plenty of other UO faculty spent plenty of time and political capital on this policy fight on behalf of our students and their right to make their opinions heard on campus.

        • just different 02/17/2017

          OK, but what about a student challenging a professor as biased or bigoted, especially if the challenge implicitly criticizes the professor’s pedagogy? How is free speech supposed to work then?

          • José 02/17/2017

            Everyone is biased. I think Professor Harbaughs’ views are “biased and bigoted”, and if I were a student in his class I would probably pick a different platform to express my views. Freedom of Speech doesn’t afford protections from anything other than your right to speak freely. Hopefully there are policies protecting students and faculty from retaliation, but that has nothing to do with free speech. If your point is that life isn’t fair, then I agree with you. That’s why we have so many Superheroes and Supervillains. And what fun would life be if we all held the same views and opinions?

            • just different 02/17/2017

              So you believe that the response to Nancy Shurtz wearing blackface was not suppressing free speech? Strictly speaking, no one is preventing anyone from wearing blackface.

              My point isn’t that life isn’t fair, but that you can’t assert that students can fight bigoted free speech with free speech unless their free speech is truly supported by the university. It’s not fair if professors get that but students don’t.

          • dog 02/17/2017

            frankly I encourage that in my classes – not the bigoted part, but dealing with bias is an ongoing

            • just different 02/17/2017

              Dog, you are a laudable exception.

            • José 02/17/2017

              just different,

              No, I think that the reaction to Schurtz did suppress free speech. But if you perceive any and all negative reactions to your speech as suppression, then free speech probably doesn’t exist for anybody. I agree with your second point, except that I don’t think that the University supports free speech for Professors either, and “bigoted speech” is an opinion.

            • dog 02/18/2017

              well I am certainly some kind of exception …

            • José 02/18/2017

              I just want to clarify something. I have been a fan and follower of UO Matters for years, and I think Students would be hard-pressed to find a better Advocate for them than Harbaugh (UO Matters). I think UO Matters is far more free speech friendly than most University Faculty and Administrators. I wanted to add some diversity of thought. And although my views are most likely considered stupid here – they are not uncommon in this country.

            • dog 02/18/2017

              @ Jose

              1. All comments on blogs are “stupid” this is what blogs do – can’t change that – remember its all Fake News

              2. Of the various commentators over the years your recent comments rank rather low on the stupid-scale so I would not worry about it.

  3. Nope 02/16/2017

    A comment on the update there. I think it is important for uomatters to recognize the way others perceive the incident with Professor Shurtz. The view through the lens of a free speech advocate is understandable given the way the Administration has historically treated uomatters. Uomatters frames the negative harm to reputation as stemming from the free speech issue. Many outsiders see the negative harm stemming from a professor wearing blackface. Fixing issues of free speech on campus won’t make this incident go away.

    • UO Matters 02/17/2017

      Thanks for this comment. To be clear, I do think that the professor’s stupid and offensive costume hurt the university. I think this harm was amplified by the decision by one of the party-goers to pass the photo to the papers, and then again by the response of the 23 law faculty, their Dean, and many other faculty and administrators who decided to pile on with the public humiliation of a well-intentioned but clueless colleague. I’ll guess that, in their own minds, their motives for doing so were pure.

  4. Nope 02/17/2017

    Yesterday, I received a memo from Nancy Resnick, Chief Human Resources Office regarding Respectful Workplace. Quoted in part,
    “The University of Oregon is committed to diversity and inclusion and providing an environment free of discrimination and harassment in which all students, staff and faculty may contribute and thrive. Hostile, intimidating, or abusive behavior damages the strong sense of community valued at UO. Please join us in working to ensure that each member of our community benefits from a respectful and inclusive working and learning environment.
    We recognize the demands of our jobs and stressful challenges in our work and personal lives can occasionally lead to moments of impatience and irritability. However, we want to take this opportunity to remind you that regardless of the provocation or reason, it is never appropriate or acceptable to vent frustrations or conduct workplace business by yelling, using profanity, or acting in a demeaning or verbally abusive way.”

    I’m curious if Academic Freedom of Speech includes a professor screaming profanity at a student worker employed by a department, or if that’s something I can go ahead and report to someone.

    • just different 02/17/2017

      Ironically, the danger is that “academic freedom” will be invoked if the professor retaliates by trashing the student academically. Not that I know of any examples of this. /s

    • Widget#298 02/21/2017

      That absolutely should be reported to HR and AAEO – hostile work environment. Maybe BOLI, too.

      Abuse of any workers, student or otherwise, cannot be tolerated. And screaming profanity at a (student) worker is most certainly abuse.

  5. DADvocate 02/18/2017

    “students often demand censorship, and universities, afraid to offend their students, surrender academic freedom to charges of offense”

    Wrong. Universities, many saturated with left wing ideology, happily use the use the students’ demands as an excuse to impose censorship which they already wish they could.

  6. just different 02/18/2017

    So what was Prof. Stone’s analysis? Can someone provide a summary? Given the way he framed the issue in the lecture announcement, I expect that he basically said that he liked whatever solution both parties liked best and that both sides would have to make compromises. But maybe he said something more substantial.

  7. honest Uncle Bernie 02/18/2017

    Did anyone go to the Stone talk?

    • UO Matters 02/21/2017

      Thanks, posted.

  8. the robust exchange of ideas 02/21/2017

    Trying to distill Professor Stone’s talk as it can provide guidance on the Professor Shurtz example, the UO can enact speech-regulative rules that apply contextually to government employees that do not apply equally to ordinary citizens or perhaps even to students. However, the UO absolutely should not have punished Professor Shurtz for her offensive speech.

    Surely, the UO has the right and responsibility to prohibit discriminatory harassment by faculty against students. However, it was a constructive (over)reach, accomplished by external law firm, that transformed Professor Shurtz’s speech into “discriminatory harassment.” Furthermore, it was the behavior of Professor Shurtz’s guests, her colleagues, and the UO administration that vastly expanded, amplified, and augmented the harm of Professor Shurtz’s speech into a serious problem in terms of constitutional law and institutional commitments.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *