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Saturday, November 04, 2017

Are The Bangles no longer welcome at Reed College, either?

Read the intro. Whatever else is happening, this demonstrates a point that came out in the comments to this post: The level of offense and the level of evil that protesters see in objectionable speech is beyond what we saw previously, which explains the more-intense reactions and confrontations between speech and counter-speech.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 4, 2017 at 05:18 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink


I think taking the students at their word for how upset they are is a big mistake. Left-wing political activists have discovered that by seeming outraged and hurt they can capitalize on normal people's desire to avoid offending and desire to be nice. When someone claims to feel unsafe because of a conservative speaker we should see that as political rhetoric, nothing else.

Posted by: Jr | Nov 8, 2017 7:32:38 AM

I don't see how understanding them gets us anywhere exactly. Okay, we understand them but still don't condone their tactics. They are still using those tactics. Now what?

What about the students that have paid a great deal of money to learn and are being deprived of what they paid for by force? How do you justify cheating them by collaborating through inaction?

Finally, I wonder if you would also argue that we ought not to expel cheaters and rapists, because expelling them doesn't help us achieve progress, mutual understanding, and learning? Do they too get attempts to understand their perspective? What about students that assault professors -- real bodily injury, not just hurt feelings? What if we get weatherpeople redux that start to plant bombs? A different generation, with their own norms -- let's be hasty with the law enforcement, how about a teach-in?

Posted by: Brad | Nov 7, 2017 12:16:05 PM

Brad - I don't see how we "get somewhere" that way. I know it always seems easiest to impose our will on others through the use of force, but that doesn't help us achieve progress, mutual understanding, and learning - things we're supposed to be encouraging as educators.

Further - if students aren't involved in creating the norms of the communities, then they're not the norms of the community. They're your norms.

Of course, like I said, I don't condone the tactics being used at Reed - I think they're antithetical to the goals of the university. But that doesn't mean the underlying complaints aren't worth understanding.

Posted by: J | Nov 7, 2017 11:16:29 AM

We can get somewhere by expelling students that violate the norms of our communities. If administrations won’t do it on their own Faculty Senates should pass motions of no confidence, or if necessary call for strikes. But that would require caring more about their colleagues and the norms of the academy than being seen as in the know by teenagers.

Posted by: Brad | Nov 7, 2017 10:06:18 AM

"The level of offense and the level of evil that protesters see in objectionable speech is beyond what we saw previously, which explains the more-intense reactions and confrontations between speech and counter-speech."

I think this really nails it. People who see things differently can't truly understand where these students are coming from until they understand this - from their perspective, these speakers *are* incredibly dangerous and evil. And just saying "no they're not" at them isn't an effective technique, anymore than them saying "yes they are" would be back at you. They're not stupid, they just see the world very differently, as all generations see the world differently than the generation that came before them did. This isn't an argument that anyone should agree with the protestors, and definitely not that they should agree with the tactics (I, for one, don't think I could teach at a school that had this sort of activity going on), but I don't think any of us get anywhere until we treat their perspective seriously.

Posted by: J | Nov 7, 2017 12:34:45 AM

Perhaps some of the shrieking despair comes from resistance to reform by too damned many institutions; today's Chicago Police Department would have been equally at home in Grant Park in 1968, notwithstanding the lip service from some upper management now (and even then, if you know where to look for it). And the less said about St. Louis County (where I was an undergrad during the late Carter/early Reagan administrations, right down the street from General Dynamics' headquarters and the weekly protests there, wearing my AFROTC uniform on a campus that had firebombed its ROTC headquarters not too many years previously), the better. Or the even-greater-than-the-1960s hostility between the "eggheads" and the "salt of the earth"* apparent now.

Perceived powerlessness to effect change peacefully almost always leads to misguided rhetoric and attacks on nonoptimal targets. Consider, for example, the Boston Tea Party... and anybody who says that college students stuck with their parents' choice of political leaders because those students were not yet eligible to vote have no rational sense of "powerlessness" has an awfully damned short memory of their own freshman, sophomore, and junior years.

* Yes, do import Gene Wilder's improv here.

Posted by: C.E. Petit | Nov 5, 2017 11:36:35 AM

"It traumatized my peers."

Maybe these people should seek professional psychological help for pathological sensitivity instead of disrupting classes.

"Asking for people to display their trauma so that you feel sufficiently satisfied is a form of violence."

And perhaps buy dictionaries.

"As the Humanities 110 program chair, Elizabeth Drumm, introduced a panel presentation, three RAR leaders took to the stage and ignored her objections. Drumm canceled the lecture—a first since the boycott. Using a panelist’s microphone, a leader told the freshmen, '[Our] work is just as important as the work of the faculty, so we were going to introduce ourselves as well.'"

The classroom is not a public forum. These disrupters should be expelled from the school.

"In the intervening year, the Reed administration had met many of RAR’s demands, including new hires in the Office of Inclusive Community, fast-tracking the reevaluation of the Hum 110 syllabus that traditionally happens every 10 years, and arranging a long series of “6 by 6 meetings”—six RAR students and six Hum professors—to solicit ideas for that syllabus."

But apparently the administration of Reed is filled with cowards who would rather capitulate to bullies than enforce time, place, and manner rules regarding classrooms and support their faculty just trying to do their jobs.

One would hope the rest of the faculty would at least stand up for their colleagues, but too many are either feckless or are themselves culpable of spreading, or at least entertaining, the nonsensical ideas about harm that these disrputers are relying on. One might as well hope that law professors would stand up for free speech. Or ACLU staffers for that matter!

And stepping back a little bit, are these twits unaware of the fact that the Republicans now hold both houses of Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court, and a supermajority of states? Not to mention dominate the military and have most of the guns? What exactly do they think they are going to accomplish with their more radical than thou litmus tests that alienate virtually everyone over the age of 30? What in the world can the possibly think is the endgame here?

Posted by: brad | Nov 4, 2017 9:44:40 PM

Sure, some folks see everything as a racist oppression. These students are in for a surprise when they get into the real world. But I don't find the high level or intense reaction as very surprising or new.

Rather, this post seems to miss the point. The behavior of Reed is shameful here. I know nothing of the classes or what they cover; perhaps they need protesting. But there's no way I'd pay a penny of my (kid's) tuition money to this school. In no world should students be allowed to sit in the front of a class and disrupt it without being disciplined. In no world should students be able to shout down a professor and be allowed to remain in the class. If I were the president of Reed, I would be humiliated by the photo that comes with this article. Free speech and free ideas, two things I emphatically believe in, are not the same as free behavior. Reed appears to either not know or not care about the difference.

Posted by: missing the point | Nov 4, 2017 7:32:24 PM

I think this does have something to do with "the level of offense and the level of evil," but that the seeming novelty here, and the dismissiveness of some of the reactions to the offense taken (like the title of this post), also has something to do with who's taking the offense and about what. It's probably easier for you to understand that when, e.g., The Producers was released, many people objected to "the bad taste and insensitivity of devising a broad comedy about two Jews conspiring to cheat theatrical investors by devising a designed-to-fail tasteless Broadway musical about Hitler only 23 years after the end of World War II." Perhaps you might even object yourself if Martin's skit had him playing Moses in a similar fashion; at least we can easily imagine a version of a Martin-as-Moses skit that would have raised hackles from the Anti-Defamation League, and I don't know if it would have taken much more than what's going on in Funky Tut. (For a lot of people, it would probably suffice for Martin to play Moses in front of a bunch of sexualized Jewish backup dancers.) There's an interesting conversation to be had about whether it's less reasonable to object to this sort of thing when the ethnic target of the comedy is extinct, as the ancient Egyptian "race" is (I guess?) and we Jewish people are not, but I don't think the answer to that question is obvious.

Of course, another factor in the reaction to the Reed reaction to Funky Tut is that a certain generation - and really a certain demographic subset of that generation - is in love with '70s SNL and sees "classic" skits like these as sacred cattle. I don't see that it's a whit better than what SNL does today.

Posted by: Asher Steinberg | Nov 4, 2017 7:16:16 PM

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