« Four Views of the Third Amendment | Main | Swarthmore revisited »

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Yet More on Campus Speech

Keith Whittington, of the Academic Freedom Alliance, has an excellent essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education titled "Political Solidarity Statements Threaten Academic Freedom." He explains why official departmental statements chill dissenters and perhaps discourage students (a point that I also made here). CHE is paywalled, but here is a key passage: 

Another set of concerns involves the direct pressure put on individual scholars by the proliferation of institutional political statements. Individual members of the faculty are free to engage in individual political expression or to associate with others to express themselves collectively, and universities should be diligent in protecting the freedom of individual professors to do so. But individual members of the faculty also have the freedom to remain silent on matters of controversy and to choose their own time and manner of expressing their political views. They should not, as a condition of employment at a university, be dragooned into the political activities of others. Departmental statements make that impossible. Dissenting individuals are forced either to hold their tongue and allow statements to be issued in their name or to wade into a political controversy when they would prefer not to do so.

Meanwhile, Princeton has evidently used so-called "non-contact orders" to prevent pro-Israel journalists from covering pro-Palestinian demonstrations. As explained in a joint letter from FIRE and the ADL,

Yet Princeton is stifling these discussions and newsgathering by its student press, by permitting students who dislike certain speech to be granted no-communication or no-contact orders against other students. . . . Princeton appears to be granting these orders for any student who requests one, so long as minimal procedural prerequisites are satisfied. These orders are being issued by administrators with disciplinary authority, under threat of punishment, without a modicum of due process, and—most unconscionably—where the student-speaker is not even alleged to have violated any university policy. This practice is deeply chilling, in blatant violation of Princeton’s laudable free expression policies, and must end immediately.
In an event reminiscent of Yale Law School's "trap house" incident, a Princeton dean advised a student reporter to refrain from publishing a legally obtained report on a Students for Justice in Palestine demonstration:

The dean later informed the journalist via email that the university “cannot determine if they would be a violation of the
NCOit is possible that some statements may be interpreted by the other student as an indirect or direct attempt to communicate. The safest course of action in terms of a possible violation of the NCO would be to refrain from writing or to be interviewed for articles that mention the name of the student with whom you have an NCO (or to retract them if that’s possible).
Finally, Swarthmore President Valerie Smith issued a powerful statement on "Diverse Views and Common Values,"
“Peaceful” does not simply mean the absence of physical altercation or harm. Intimidating and harassing individuals for expressing their beliefs is not a form of peaceful dissent. Yelling into bullhorns in enclosed spaces, resulting in physical harm to multiple community members, is not a form of peaceful dissent. Vandalizing the campus is not a form of peaceful dissent. Speech that makes individuals with opposing views feel threatened is not a form of peaceful dissent.
All of us must consider what it means to truly be part of this community and how our words affect each other. For instance, chanting “from the river to the sea” is heard by many as antisemitic and a direct threat against Jews. Referring to Arabs or Muslims as “terrorists” or “jihadists” is Islamophobic and anti-Arab. Such rhetoric is simply unacceptable and I condemn it. 
It is a violation of the norms of this academic community for anyone to prevent the conduct of College business, including lectures, meetings, events, […] ceremonies, or other necessary business and community functions.”
Being willing to face the consequences of one’s actions is an important tenet of civil disobedience.

Posted by Steve Lubet on January 27, 2024 at 02:05 PM | Permalink


The comments to this entry are closed.