Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Free Speech on Campus ... How Things Have Changed, and Not for the Better

Approximately 25 years ago, the Yale University president at the time, Benno Schmidt, commented concerning the importance of allowing, encouraging and protecting free speech on the college campus.

Notable & Quotable quotes from what then was, and today still is, both an insightful and thought provoking commentary about freedom of thought and expression:

"From “Universities Must Defend Free Speech” in the May 6, 1991, Journal, adapted from remarks by Benno C. Schmidt Jr., who was at the time president of Yale University:

The most serious problems of freedom of expression in the U.S. today exist on our campuses. Freedom of thought is in danger from well-intentioned but misguided efforts to give values of community and harmony a higher place than freedom. The assumption seems to be that the purpose of education is to induce “correct” opinion rather than to search for wisdom and to liberate the mind.

On many campuses, perhaps most, there is little resistance to growing pressure to suppress and to punish, rather than to answer, speech that offends notions of civility and community. These campuses are heedless of the oldest lesson in the history of freedom, which is that offensive, erroneous and obnoxious speech is the price of liberty. Values of civility, mutual respect and harmony are rightly prized within the university. But these values must be fostered by teaching and by example, and defended by expression. When the goals of harmony collide with freedom of expression, freedom must be the paramount obligation of an academic community.

Much expression that is free may deserve our contempt. We may well be moved to exercise our own freedom to counter it or to ignore it. But universities cannot censor or suppress speech, no matter how obnoxious in content, without violating their justification for existence. Liberal education presupposes that a liberated mind will strive for the courage and composure to face ideas that are fraught with evil, and to answer them. To stifle expression because it is obnoxious, erroneous, embarrassing, not instrumental to some political or ideological end is—quite apart from the invasion of the rights of others—a disastrous reflection on the idea of the university. It is to elevate fear over the capacity for a liberated and humane mind. . . .

A more vexing question of freedom of expression concerns the actual use of university authority to suppress freedom. This is the most serious example of confusion and failure of principle in university governance today. It reminds us how frequently in history threats to free expression have come not from tyranny but from well-meaning persons of little understanding."

Summing Up

My, how the attitudes of America's college leaders concerning freedom of expression have changed across America the past 25 years --- and not in a good way.

Let's hope these campus chieftains will be able to muster the good sense to bring back, defend and welcome free speech once again --- and the sooner the better.

That's my take.

Thanks. Bob.

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