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.