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Monday, October 16, 2023

The right thing for a suspicious reason

We have witnessed two things on college campuses in the past week: Many schools allowing pro-Hamas rallies, statements, and literature and most schools refraining from issuing corporate statements (or issuing anodyne statements that satisfy no one).

Perhaps this is how it should be: Many believe, like Paul, that universities should not make broad statements on public disputes. Northwestern President Michael Schill urged that position,* grounded in the Chicago Principles and the Kalven Report, in arguing that the university should not speak for its individual members and that he would avoid "statements on political, geopolitical or social issues that do not directly impact the core mission of our University, the education and futures of our students, or higher education." And many believe that campus spaces, especially on public universities, are public forums that should be open for constitutionally protected speech, however offensive and obnoxious, and that administrators should not interfere to protect offended listeners.

[*] Then followed it with a somewhat more defensive statement when someone suggested he "believe[s] that the University as an entity should not be governed by a set of values … that everything is relative."

The problem is that universities reached this epiphany about campus speech when the speech celebrated the deaths of Jews and when even the stuff about Israel is tinged with comments about ovens and gas chambers. Prior to that, many (most) university officials took a different approach. They believed it necessary and appropriate to express solidarity and support African American students following George Floyd's (and other) murders or for women following Dobbs. They believed it necessary and appropriate to regulate, threaten, and sanction student speech--Halloween costumes, microaggressions, chalking sidewalks, singing songs on a bus surrounded by members of your group and unheard by anyone outside the group. Jeffrey Flier, former dean of Harvard Med School, makes this point (paywalled) in arguing that universities should move to the Chicago position of neutrality on non-educational issues, while pointing to Harvard President Claudine Gay's multiple statements and efforts to get out of the hole.

If the carousel ends in the right place on this, I am glad. But it is hard not to be suspicious of the context.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 16, 2023 at 09:31 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink


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