April 11, 2007

Simulblogging: "Political Correctness, Academic Speech, and Free Speech on Campus."

I'm at this debate, which I mentioned the other day, between Greg Lukianoff of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and UW polisci prof Howard Schweber, here at the University of Wisconsin Law School. I'll just jot down some notes as the spirit moves me.

1. Lukianoff. He's going to talk fast. Keep up. Some people think PC is a relic of the 80s, but really universities do repress what makes them uncomfortable. Not so much political speech, but speech that offends liberal values about diversity. He reels out a lot of examples of campus speech codes and the way they've been applied. PC is alive and well, and it harms the "atmosphere for debate."

2. Schweber. Is there a right to be offensive at the university? You wouldn't get away with this sort of thing in the workplace. (For example, posting a flyer saying overweight women should take the stairs for your convenience.) Academic freedom doesn't mean you have a right to be obnoxious, only that you can choose your viewpoint. The real threat comes from the right, suppressing speech because of ideology.

3. Schweber makes the distinction between crude drunken "conduct" and real academic freedom, which is justified by the positive goal of enabling people to oppose "the current regime."

4. Though Lukianoff -- lucky enough? -- said he was going to talk fast and did, but Schweber talked much faster.

5. The first question from the audience is about Kevin Barrett teaching the 9/11 conspiracy theory in his class here on Islam. Schweber says it's an easy case because he was teaching an unpopular idea critical of the government. The important line is between "Fuck you" and "Fuck the draft."

6. Lukianoff says the UW got everything wrong on Barrett. They objected to his speaking on his ideas outside of the classroom, and inside the classroom, they felt unable to dictate the scope of what subjects can be covered in the class. By allowing him to teach what didn't belong in a course on Islam, they got him the attention of mainstream media, and then they tried to stop him from taking advantage of these opportunities to promote his ideas outside of the classroom. That's exactly backwards.

7. Schweber agrees.

8. Alan Weisbard has the next question. "We're living in a time of blogs... AutoAdmit... Googling." People are afraid of being identified in public speech. His question is about preserving the right to anonymous speech.

9. I realize what bothers me so much about what Schweber is saying. He doesn't value the form of expression, only the content. He thinks what people have to say can be reframed in more polite terms. But I think the form matters, that there is value in the very sound of disrespect, mockery, contempt, and offensiveness.

UPDATE: The Badger Herald covers the debate.

36 comments:

Peter Palladas said...

the distinction between crude drunken "conduct" and real academic freedom

Heck, when I was a student THE academic freedom was to be crudely drunk...and on a grant too.

I always assumed 'Animal House' was a Harvard recruitment advert. Bit over-long for my liking, but effective.

Revenant said...

The important line is between "Fuck you" and "Fuck the draft."

What about if the person you're saying "fuck you" to is, say, George Bush?

Omaha1 said...

"the real threat [to free speech] comes from the right."

Is he serious?

Simon said...

"Schweber is saying ... [that] [h]e doesn't value the form of expression, only the content. He thinks what people have to say can be reframed in more polite terms. But I think the form matters, that there is value in the very sound of disrespect, mockery, contempt, and offensiveness."

There's a great line in one of Scott Adams' books, to the effect of, when faced with a particularly illogical opponent, you can either carefully research and present a thorough fisking of their position, or you can mock them sarcastically. Nine times out of ten the second route will be more memorable and more effective.

For example, you could spend hours writing page upon page destroying Schweber's ludicrous suggestion that the threat to free speech comes from the right, or you could mock him like the dolt he is by pointing out that it's the left that pushes campus speech codes, blogger codes of conduct and a blogosphere council of guardians.

The left wants us to Think.Respect, but while I don't much care anymore about their respect, I'd take it as a kindness if they'd just think sometimes.

XWL said...

Academic freedom doesn't mean you have a right to be obnoxious, only that you can choose your viewpoint. The real threat comes from the right, suppressing speech because of ideology.

I really hope your quick summary of Schweber's position isn't entirely accurate, cause, wow.

I'm speechless.

It seems like a "nobody I know voted for Nixon" moment.

(which, of course, noone actually ever said)

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Aren't you wishing you were simul-vlogging the results of American Idol about now?

The Drill SGT said...

The major problem with Schweber's argument is that the power @ the University (almost all of them) is wielded by the hard left PC crowd.

the claim of "Speaking truth to power" there doesn't make sense unless you reverse the polarity of the normal politics.

The Left is powerful, the right is powerless.

P. Froward said...

XWL,

Peter Noone said that?

Allan said...

As a university professor, my experience is that amongst all areas of society the university campus permits the least freedom of speech.

XWL said...

Fine, I guess no-one else thinks that should be a single unhyphenated word.

Yes, the subtext of this song was a prediction of the coming political strife in the United States, not only a popstar, Peter Noone was a prophet.

Steve White said...

Given Schweber's distinction between 'Fuck you' and 'Fuck the draft', is it appropriate for me to say, for example, 'Fuck the Left' or 'Fuck the anti-war movement'?

Both of my examples might well fit within the paradigm of expressing an unpopular idea that is critical of ... oh, right, I guess I'm not allowed to be critical of the critics.

Some on the Left-progressive side can bear criticism, and some can't. Seems that the latter group are mostly in charge on most campuses.

Harkonnendog said...

Apparently this "debate" about political correctness is so constrained by political correctness that is is just a big circle jerk.

How can one debate this subject without talking about how identity politics decides who may say what?

AJD said...

value in the very sound of disrespect, mockery, contempt, and offensiveness

The Althouse Way.

Wow. Spot on. You really should add this to the banner.

TWB said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Revenant said...

As a university professor, my experience is that amongst all areas of society the university campus permits the least freedom of speech.

And exposure to the narrowest range of ideas, too.

The main purpose of college is to demonstrate (a) a certain minimum level of intelligence and (b) the ability to follow through on tasks until they are completed. These are things companies want, which is why they prefer to hire people with degrees. Education isn't really an important part of the college experience.

TMink said...

Simon wrote: "There's a great line in one of Scott Adams' books, to the effect of, when faced with a particularly illogical opponent, you can either carefully research and present a thorough fisking of their position, or you can mock them sarcastically. Nine times out of ten the second route will be more memorable and more effective."

Ten times out of ten it is more fun!

Trey

Synova said...

Is the point in #5 similar to claims that it's not possible for black people to be racist?

harkonnendog: "How can one debate this subject without talking about how identity politics decides who may say what?"

Exactly.

#2 Sorry, but there is no free speech in the workplace.

#3 What if "choose your viewpoint" (#2) means choosing to support rather than oppose "the current regime?"

Drill Sergeant: "The major problem with Schweber's argument is that the power @ the University (almost all of them) is wielded by the hard left PC crowd."

Seems to be.

Ann: "But I think the form matters, that there is value in the very sound of disrespect, mockery, contempt, and offensiveness."

*applaud*

Simon said...

Trey, you don't have an email address on your profile, but drop me an email sometime. My address is on my profile.

Seven Machos said...

There is no free speech in the work place because work places are not places of ideas. They are places of making momey and getting stuff done.

The whole existence of a college of liberal arts and sciences is wholly and completely predicated on the freedom to discuss ideas.

What a moron. The left is just intellectually flaccid these days, thus the need to resort to tyranny to "win" arguments.

Kirby Olson said...

I wonder who "won" then in the typical students' minds. Did Lukianoff come off better than Schweber in the minds of those who weren't already certain what they thought?

Will Isthmus and other conduits follow up at all?

Alan Jay Weisbard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alan Jay Weisbard said...

Actually, I'm quite doubtful about the value of "anonymous" free speech (apart from rather special circumstances, such as NAACP members in Alabama in 1962), and believe much of the power of expressed ideas comes from people publicly taking responsibility for making them. My impression is that both speakers largely agreed.
For more details on my own view of the meeting, to be augmented in the morning, please see http://TheWiseBard.blogspot.com

Sara said...

He doesn't value the form of expression, only the content. He thinks what people have to say can be reframed in more polite terms.

Isn't this consistent with current First Amendment case law? Content discrimination, especially when political in nature, is reviewed with strict scrutiny, while time-place-manner restrictions must merely be reasonable. Offensive art is no less art; there is value in derisive, mocking, contemptuous art. But that doesn't mean the gov't can't place some restrictions on where and when the offensive art can be viewed.

Would we really want a rule that says otherwise?

Furthermore, while censorship from the left on campus is real and insidious, let's not ignore the suppression of legitimate dissent that has occurred in the name of anti-terrorism.

Finally, just to set the record straight, alongside Don Downs, Schweber has been one of the most vocal critics of on-campus censorship from both the right and the left. Don't judge Schweber a dolt just because he kindly agreed to play foil to Lukianoff in an academic debate.

Seven Machos said...

Piss Christ = polite political speech.

Shouting down Daniel Pipes = polite political speech

Having a brownie sale where prices are different for different people to highlight the problems with affirmative action = grossly beyond the pale.

Jacques Albert said...

To "Sara":

Now what would this "censorship" from the RIGHT be like in academia? I've been banned only from leftist websites like Michael Berube's, so I can't speak from experience--can you?

Dr James Albert DeLater ("Jacques Albert"), NAS, ALSC, Life Member, VFW (Post 1224, Hamburg MI,, Phi Alpha Theta) etc.

TMink said...

Alan JW wrote: "much of the power of expressed ideas comes from people publicly taking responsibility for making them."

Good point. Something about taking a public stand in an honorable fashion is very compelling. It strikes you in a different fashion, it becomes a personal act rather than just an idea.

Trey

Simon said...

Trey:
"Something about taking a public stand in an honorable fashion is very compelling"

Not always, apparently - sometimes it's "creep[y]." *eyeroll*

Synova said...

I think there is a difference between using a name other than your real name on the internet and posting anonymously or using a different name each time.

Most people seem to chose a name and use it and that name and the reputation attached to that name becomes as important, or nearly so, as it would for a person's real name.

I know people who have used the same web-name for 10 or 15 years.

Freder Frederson said...

As a university professor, my experience is that amongst all areas of society the university campus permits the least freedom of speech.

When then you must have a very narrow and limited life experience.

For example, you could spend hours writing page upon page destroying Schweber's ludicrous suggestion that the threat to free speech comes from the right, or you could mock him like the dolt he is by pointing out that it's the left that pushes campus speech codes, blogger codes of conduct and a blogosphere council of guardians.

You could write page upon page and of course never destroy it because of course the suggestion is not ludicrous. While the left may go overboard with codes of conduct and speech codes in an attempt to rein in "offensive" speech it is the right that shouts down dissent as treasonous and seditious.

And lets look at the net result of the left's so-called attempts to suppress rightwing speech on campuses. Can you name anyone on the left who makes more money or speaks at more college campuses than Ann Coulter? Even if you can, is there anyone who is so blatantly racist, and condemns the entire right as treasonous and godless as Coulter has? And she is not the only high profile rightwing pundit who makes gobs of money speaking on college campuses. Their is a whole stable of them. I don't think there is anyone on the left who even comes close.

And college campuses suppress right wing speech. Give me a freaking break.

Jordan said...

And college campuses suppress right wing speech. Give me a freaking break.


We're talking students and faculty here. Do try to keep up. Feel free to peruse FIRE's case histories. Here's your break.

Freder Frederson said...

We're talking students and faculty here. Do try to keep up.

Oh yeah, Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly just show up on college campuses uninvited, sneak into a locked auditorium, deliver their speech in secret and collect their rather hefty fee (in cash) from the tank of the toilet in fourth stall down in the restroom on the first floor of the student union.

Jordan said...

Not surprisingly, you decline to address the myriad instances of students and faculty being punished for things that they themselves said.

The Vegas Art Guy said...

Who sets up the speech codes in the first case? The right or the left?

What groups are most targeted by these codes, groups on the right or on the left?

To which side of the political fence do most of the admistrations of college campuses lean, to the right or to the left?

Freder: The professor was not talking about guest speakers, he was talking about teachers and students, it looks like the point of the blog posting was to discuss the way speech is regulated on college campuses by teachers and students, guest speakers were never mentioned. So why bring up something that has nothing to do with the discussion at hand?

curious said...

First, the Constitution does not grant you the right to say or do anything you want anytime you want anyplace you want. What it does say is that Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech. The Constitution says nothing about an employer, a school, a local government or any other organization restricting speech when you are on their turf. So, students do not have a constitutionally protected right to free speech, their college is free to create whatever set of speech standards they want.

Second, a college using their position of authority to push their political agenda down the throat of students, and using disciplinary actions to enforce their ideological agenda is a different thing from "free speech". If a school tried to subject me to this nonsense I would have a dozen lawyers crawl up their backside.

Third, when confronted with PC thought police storm trooper tactics, the best defense is to address the storm trooper tactics directly. I try to avoid being around leftists, but a few times I have been unable to avoid it. Once, in a work environment, leftists attempted to subject me to their PC thought police storm trooper tactics over the use of terms that are gender specific like waitress, stewardess, etc. I told these self anointed thought police that I was extremely offended that they were insinuating that my use of this term made me a bigot, as I did not buy into their ideology and I would not tolerate having my speech corrected by them or anyone else. I then told them that they would stop that nonsense or they would no longer work with me.

Jordan said...

So, students do not have a constitutionally protected right to free speech, their college is free to create whatever set of speech standards they want.

That's complete nonsense. Read FIRE's Guide to Free Speech on Campus. Part 3 is particularly relevant. Only private actors enjoy such leeway.

Sara said...

Curious:

Constitutionally, a *private* college can impose whatever speech codes or ideological tilt they want. Are oppressive restrictions on speech a good idea policy-wise in a place of higher learning? That's a different question. In any case, public universities like UW are, well, public. So the First Amendment applies.

I was extremely offended that they were insinuating that my use of this term made me a bigot, as I did not buy into their ideology and I would not tolerate having my speech corrected by them or anyone else.

So... you told them that you were offended by them being offended, and that *you* can correct *their* use of insensitive language, but *they* ought not correct *your* use of insensitive language?

The bottom line is this (this is a pragmatic rule, not a legal one): if you have a message to communicate, why use language that distracts from your message? Sure, you could pepper your language with archaic words like "thee" and "thou" and "nigger" -- but why? If you can find a more modern term to communicate the message that doesn't distract the listener by offending them, then why not use the term? Obviously, there are limits to this, but it's not a bad rule of thumb.