Tag: unlearning liberty

Setting The New Yorker Straight on Freedom of Speech

 

free-speech-flagEarlier this month, The New Yorker ran an article by Kelefa Sanneh called, “The Hell You Say,” which purports to examine “the current free-speech debate.” Unfortunately, the article is chock full of inaccuracies and flawed arguments. We simply could not let this slide, so I, along with other staff members at FIRE, have carefully compiled A Dozen Things ‘The New Yorker’ Gets Wrong about Free Speech (And Why It Matters). Why is criticizing this one magazine article important, you might ask? As I say in our rebuttal:

First of all, in a time when people seem increasingly comfortable with book banning, blasphemy laws, hate speech laws, and amending the Constitution to limit the First Amendment, it’s important to take every opportunity we can to correct common misconceptions and explain some of the basics of the deep and profound philosophy behind free speech and the wisdom inherent in First Amendment law. Second, it’s important to take on the growing tide of critics, including authors and even journalists, who rely on freedom of speech but want to dismiss it as something unsophisticated or even dangerous. Whether from Eric Posner, Gary Trudeau, or Noah Feldman, there is a push to dismiss freedom of speech that seems to lionize the fact that other countries limit it. Every single one of these critics should sit down and read Flemming Rose’s book on international censorship, The Tyranny of Silence, before assuming that “enlightened censorship” is either justified or working out well for anyone.

There are ten more things the intrepid staff of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education believes The New Yorker got wrong about free speech. Here’s the first:

Big, New Feature Documentary Asks: “Can We Take A Joke?”

 

i-Co2a06Way back when I was promoting my first book, Unlearning Liberty, I did a podcast at the Comedy Cellar in which the most liberal member of the panel of comedians I was talking to said that he didn’t like playing campuses anymore. Really, given the kind of things that can get you in trouble on the modern college campus, I was not surprised. Satire and parody are risky business in higher education and have been throughout my entire career at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

A few years ago FIRE started working with director Ted Balaker on a small video about the censorship of comedy on campus. Now, with the help of the DKT Liberty Project, Ted is completing a new major feature documentary titled Can We Take a Joke? The documentary already features interviews with Adam Carolla, Gilbert Gottfried, Penn Jillette, Jim Norton, Lisa Lampanelli, Heather McDonald, Karith Foster, me, Jon Ronson, Chris Lee, Ron Collins, Bob Corn-Revere, and Jonathan Rauch.

The timing is perfect. The year kicked off with comedian Chris Rock saying that he did not like playing campuses anymore, and that comedy legend George Carlin didn’t like to either. Now, with Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher condemning the oversensitivity and humorlessness of college students, the world seems ready to make a stand for comedy. The through-line of the film follows the life and career of famous iconoclastic comedian Lenny Bruce, making the argument that Lenny Bruce would not stand a minute on the modern college campus. The film also features a few important FIRE cases in which censorship tried to crush satire, parody, and comedy on campus — sometimes successfully.

The Wrong Kind of Renaissance: A New Age of Campus Censorship

 

shutterstock_141582367When I published my first book, Unlearning Liberty, in 2012, I felt optimistic that the situation for free speech on campus, though not good by any means, was improving. A lot of the campus censorship efforts had become less ideological and more of the old-fashioned, “Don’t you dare criticize my university” type of censorship. Even the scourge of campus speech codes seemed to be eroding—albeit very slowly in the face of Herculean efforts.

Still, I knew from experience that things could turn around—and, sadly, turn around they have. In the last two years, the intense political correctness of the late 1980s and early ’90s has returned with a vengeance, and we are now experiencing the wrong kind of renaissance.

Yesterday, I examined the contributing forces to this “renaissance” in my latest essay on Minding the Campus. As I write in the piece:

Are College Campuses to Blame for the Explosion of Social Media Outrage?

 

I just finished reading Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed which has been getting a ton of press ever since it came out in March. All throughout the book I couldn’t help but see the correlation between the modern social media outrage machine and what colleges seem to be teaching their students.

I posted a review of Ronson’s book over at The Huffington Post, but I wanted to share a snippet of it with my fellow Ricochet readers to see what you think:

Ithaca College Student Government Considers Anonymous ‘Microaggression’ Tracking System

 

prevent-snoring-tape-mouthThere is a chilling resolution that is currently under consideration by the Student Government Association (SGA) at Ithaca College, a private university in upstate New York. The resolution, which has the support of many SGA members, seeks to target so-called “microaggressions” on Ithaca’s campus by creating a tracking system that students can use to anonymously report incidents of perceived bias on campus.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, a microaggression is a slight against another person—intentional or not—that is perceived to be discriminatory based on the snubbed person’s race, ethnicity, gender, class, or practically any other characteristic that one might think of. Princeton University students have called microaggressions “papercuts of oppression.”

For my latest op-ed at The Huffington Post, I tackle this resolution because I see it as part of a broader trend on campus to create what I’ve called “a war on candor.” As I write in the piece:

Must Read: University Ex-Admin Alleges She Was Pressured to File False Harassment Claim Against Faculty Critic

 

Ever since FIRE launched its Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project last summer, I have been telling everyone to keep an eye on the Chicago State University case. And last week, we were able to learn a little more about why the Chicago State administration needs more public scrutiny. As the Chicago Tribune reports:

The president of Chicago State University tried to pressure a high level administrator to file false claims of sexual harassment against an outspoken professor to help the college try to silence him, according to court documents filed Thursday as part of an ongoing lawsuit. In a sworn statement, LaShondra Peebles, the college’s former interim vice president of enrollment and student affairs, said before she was fired that President Wayne Watson pushed her to accuse Phillip Beverly of sexual harassment, though Peebles said she was never harassed.

FIRE’s Worst for Free Speech Spotlight: Brandeis University

 

And now for the final installment of my Ricochet-exclusive spotlight on FIRE’s “worst” list for campus free speech in 2014. For my third and final spotlight, I want to introduce readers to the single college that has made the worst list more than any other college (finally edging out Syracuse University, which is a twotime recipient of this dubious honor). Here’s the entry for Brandeis:

Brandeis University

Media Start to Notice Campus ‘Disinvitation Season’

 

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about the early start of a phenomenon we’ve observed at the FIRE office for years: “disinvitation season.” Disinvitation season is the annual ritual of campuses choosing speakers, often times for commencement addresses, and then facing a backlash as either students, faculty, or both demand that the speaker be disinvited. While it’s hard to say for sure, from my vantage point, disinvitation season on campus seems to be getting a little more intense each year.

Over the weekend, The Philadelphia Inquirer published a piece focusing particularly on the controversy over Condoleezza Rice speaking at Rutgers University. At the same time, a similar controversy took place involving Secretary Rice at the University of Minnesota. And my colleague, Robert Shibley, recently wrote over at National Review Online about still another incident at a college in Montana involving an evangelical Christian speaker. Furthermore, a newspaper out in Ohio just profiled the cost of such speakers and briefly discusses the controversy over Ohio State University’s invitation to Chris Matthew’s to speak.