December 10, 2015

"After UW-Madison chancellor's email stirred controversy, Regents prepare resolution on free speech."

The Wisconsin State Journal reports.

The email, sent to students by Rebecca Blank on November 13th included:
"While individuals are always free to express their own beliefs, no one is entitled to express them in ways that diminish others, or that devalues the presence of anyone that is part of our Badger community." 
Full text here. Later, Blank said she'd intended it "as an appeal for civility and respect in how we deal with each other as a community." But it's not just an appeal for civility and respect, because it said "no one is entitled," which means there is no right. Blank seemed to acknowledge a right when she said "individuals are free to express their own beliefs," but she qualified it by denying that there's a right to express those beliefs in the wrong "ways." That seems to draw a line between the ideas you can express and the form you may use to express them, but: 1. Many ideas, even stated in a polite form, diminish and devalue others (or could be deemed to do so), and 2. We actually do have a right to choose not only the substance but the form of expression. (And by the way, the demand for polite, respectful, civil expression can undercut the speech of protesters and has a disparate impact on those who do not come from a cultural and family background where polite speech is the usual form of communication.)
 
The proposed resolution says:
"It is not the proper role of the university to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they, or others, find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive... Exploration, deliberation, and debate may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought ... to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed... It is for the members of the university community, not for the institution itself, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress exploration of ideas or expression of speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose.... Although the university greatly values civility... concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as justification for closing off discussion of ideas."
That language tracks the statement the Princeton faculty adopted last April:
"[I]t is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Although the University greatly values civility, and although all members of the University community share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect, concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community."
MEANWHILE: Observe that calls for civility can come from different directions and even from both sides of a single dispute, like this: "Yale professor resigns: Can 'civil dialogue' share space with student rage?/A Yale professor resigned after a student uproar over her e-mail about offensive Halloween costumes. While critics have called students coddled and naive, observers say there's more going on than political correctness run amok."

64 comments:

The Bergall said...

You get what you tolerate.............

YoungHegelian said...

That free speech & open inquiry even has to be defended on the campuses of our universities --- what a travesty! How did it come to this? (As if I don't know...)

The major Ivy Leagues have to thread very carefully here. They are sitting on untaxed endowments equivalent to the GNP of a small country. If they legislatures of the states where they reside just wake up one day & decide they've had enough of whiny, snotbag, lefty kids & professors mouthing off on public largesse, they may just decide to pull those tax exemptions.

It's already come close to happening with Harvard in MA. Not because of disgust with lefty BS, but because the state needs money. Harvard fended them off for now by giving every student whose family pulls down less than $200K a full tuition waiver.

Bob Boyd said...

"We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men." - George Orwell

Viking In Winter said...

It looks like UW-Madison may be on the right side of history.

rehajm said...

Are you free to express someone else's beliefs as your own?

gspencer said...

It's pretty easy. As one of our inalienable rights (which all come from some source that is NOT government) we can say, in whatever manner we choose to say it, anything we want, provided it doesn't incite others to immediate or imminent violence.

Gusty Winds said...

The Chancellor of UW is so stupid she can't see that "free to express their own beliefs, no one is entitled to express them" is a complete contradiction only separated by a comma? She lacked the self awareness to realize the offensive nature of her own email. This woman is worth 400K per year?

The UW environment has been so polluted and devalued that the board of regents has to reiterate the 1st amendment. It no longer has anything to do with Wisconsin, because Wisconsin is smarter than this.

Rebecca Blank should be fired. And some body should say something really offensive to her on the way out the door. Letting Shouting Thomas have at her for about 10 minutes would be entertaining.

rhhardin said...

Impolite disagreement is the best.

Skeptical Voter said...

"Blank" may describe the vast empty space between the Chancellor's ears. I'm glad to see that the UW Regents are going to exercise some adult supervision, and correct Chancellor Blank's supposition that the University is some sort of late adolescent day care center.

William said...

I agree.. It's long past time that teapartiers and Trump supporters be treated as human beings whose needs and aspirations are respected by the college community.

Mrs Whatsit said...

"While individuals are always free to express their own beliefs, no one is entitled to express them in ways that diminish others, or that devalues the presence of anyone that is part of our Badger community."

Ann, you aptly skewered the foolish substance of this communication - but does the syntax of it bother you at all? I find it pretty disturbing that the Chancellor of a respected academic institution can't handle written English well enough to construct a grammatically correct sentence where the subjects and verbs agree. ( ... no one is entitled to express them in WAYS that ... DEVALUES the presence ..." ) We aren't talking about an everyday, informal note -- this was a formal communication from a leading educator to the student body on a matter of significant public concern. Presumably she put some effort into her language and tried to write it well. It's a bad sign that she wasn't up to the task.

Also, what the heck does it mean to devalue someone's "presence"?

Ron Winkleheimer said...

I really like your "civility bullshit" tag. Calls for civility, on either side, are generally attempts to suppress speech. Because, as you noted, anyone can point at any statement, no matter how it is expressed, and claim that it caused them emotional distress. And they might even be telling the truth. The answer to that is "so what?"

When Lincoln and Douglas debated did Lincoln say, "you really hurt me bro!"

More seriously, when the papers of the day ran cartoons of Lincoln looking like an ape, did Lincoln start crying and go home? No, he imprisoned people and censored newspapers! But I'm getting off topic.

Where was I? Oh yeah, civility has never been a feature in politics. The best we can do is contain the violence and fraud that is also inherent in the pursuit of power of others.

rhhardin said...

Offensive words are carefully notated as such in dictionaries so that you know they're worth learning.

Offense is highly specialized to human communication needs.

Regular words are just made up and can go anywhere, usually in some official direction.

rhhardin said...

Words that are both derogatory and offensive are the ones to use. They're a two-fer.

rhhardin said...

Polite speech is speech with training wheels.

Temujin said...

Here's a test. Invite Christina Hoff Sommers or Ayaan Hirsi Ali to campus to speak. Let's see if either one would be allowed to speak, and if so, how many heads explode upon hearing their words.

rhhardin said...

L Polire means to polish, make smooth.

Hence rough, rude.

ROUGH 1. Not smooth. Met. without enough care, feeling, polish (r. soldier). 2. violent, not quiet or kind. 3. (1) not complete, (r. copy, first attempt at a bit of writing; incomplete copy.).

RUDE 1 in natural first condition (without education, art); cf. rough. 2. Unpleasing in behavior, probably on purpose. 3 r. health, strong, having force.

You want 3.

(The Structure of Complex Words p.402)

Sal said...

Any race-related controversy off-campus, or even outside of Wisconsin, prompts the chancellor to send those emails. And, of course, there's only one correct opinion on the matter. She's scared shitless of black people, and will pander to them to no end.

walter said...

"individuals are always free to express their own beliefs"

Not much wiggle room after stating that. Yet, she wiggled..like a Blank-ing worm.

Mike Sylwester said...

How come Rebecca Blank's e-mail didn't provide guidance about Halloween costumes?

LL said...

What the heck is going on at universities? These aren't just kids saying this, it is chancellor of the University of Wisconsin Madison.

Are they just making stuff up as they go along? We they not paying attention that part in American history that dealt with free speech on college campuses in the 1960s and 1970s - especially at public universities?

Then again, these are the douchebags that brought us free speech zones and speech codes on college campuses.

Rick said...

Why argue about the rules? Yale has rules against interfering with campus activities and intimidation but as we saw will not enforce them against its activist allies.

There's a saying "personnel is policy". It doesn't matter what the rules are if the people "interpreting" them are going to do so in furtherance of their political interests. We see this this happening with the campus rape hysteria and BLM extremists. Campus activists are doing the same thing in a dozen other areas we just don't see.

You have to kill the termite nest, you can't crush a few termites and expect anything to change.

Rick said...

no one is entitled to express them in ways that diminish others, or that devalues the presence of anyone that is part of our Badger community."

Does anyone believe this would be enforced against a BLM activist screaming in someone's face?

Does anyone doubt this would not be enforced against someone who wore a halloween costume an aggrieved crybully objected to?

jr565 said...

""While individuals are always free to express their own beliefs, no one is entitled to express them in ways that diminish others, or that devalues the presence of anyone that is part of our Badger community."


What?! So I can't offer a counter argument that makes them feel bad, or get angry? Can they do that to me?
Fine. Saying there is a patriarchy and that I am the beneficiary diminishes me, since I take offense. So stop any gender studies courses that include the patriarchy as part of the lesson plan.

oh, I see. THAT'S ok. You can insult ME. Just not you. Go screw yourself.

Headless Blogger said...

That email should be used to revise that sign. "Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere..., oh, nevermind."

Sebastian said...

"the demand for polite, respectful, civil expression can undercut the speech of protesters and has a disparate impact on those who do not come from a cultural and family background where polite speech is the usual form of communication."

It can, but never does. Demands for civility only serve to badger one side, one race, one viewpoint. How many university officials have disciplined "uncivil" protesters or even objected to their incivility? What happened to Jerilyn Luther at Yale or the library "protesters" at Dartmouth?

Mike said...

Your Civility Bullshit tag is going to get quite a workout over the next year.

traditionalguy said...

DoubleSpeak seems to be a subset of NewSpeak that unsuccessfully tries to evade ForbiddeSpeak.

Free Speech Doctrine is a Judeo-Christian artifact left over from the age of pre-digital human society before the Soros Funded Jacobins decreed everywhere that the World has reached Peak Free Speech and must replace it with another way of ruling the overpopulation slowly being replaced by Computer run Robots.

The End.

lgv said...

"...entitled to express...no one is entitled..."

or, "You are only entitled to express this way....."

So, students are not allowed to call her a blithering idiot, since it devalues her. I miss the SNL version of Point-Counterpoint.

Peter said...

"The Chancellor of UW is so stupid she can't see that "free to express their own beliefs, no one is entitled to express them" is a complete contradiction only separated by a comma? She lacked the self awareness to realize the offensive nature of her own email. This woman is worth 400K per year?"

This appears to be a "free speech BUT" argument, where the BUT cancels the free speech part for speech deemed disagreeable, inappropriate, etc., etc. If you disagree, perhaps someone on the chancellor's staff will reply to your email ( chancellor@news.wisc.edu )


The constitutional line here seems clear enough: as a state university, UW is limited to restrictions on the time, place, and manner of speech but is not free to discriminate on the basis of content.

tim maguire said...

While critics have called students coddled and naive, observers say there's more going on than political correctness run amok."

Generally speaking, only PC ninnies deny the corrosive effects of PC culture.

Dude1394 said...

Students can scream, yell, curse, wag their fingers at teachers all they want. And then can be expelled.

Hammond X. Gritzkofe said...

"While individuals are always free to express their own beliefs, no one is entitled to express them in ways that diminish others, or that devalues the presence of anyone that is part of our Badger community."

That right there diminishes herself and devalues her presence as a part of the Badger community.

walter said...

This has a strong parallel to the "consent" issue. It's all about how the Badger feels about the badgering...might not even be aware at the time.
I just keep thinking how unintentionally prophetic Jon Edwards' "Two Americas" phrase has become.

mikee said...

The argument that "A right exists, but..." is the most common form of denial of rights from those on the left. They can's say "You can't exercise your rights because...." for there is no actual justification for their denial of your rights. Theirs is an inimical behavior that should be punished.

Mike Sylwester said...

What happened to Jerilyn Luther at Yale or the library "protesters" at Dartmouth?

Her first name is spelled Jerelyn.

Teachers, administrators and staff members better avoid her, unless they are very close to voluntary retirement.

Paco Wové said...

That CSMonitor article was a real nothingburger. A rehash of well-known incidents, and no effort to address the issues raised in the title, other than some weak mumbling about of course Angry Students should be Angry.

Ann Althouse said...

"Are you free to express someone else's beliefs as your own?"

Yes, I had thought about putting that in the post. You have a right to express ideas that you don't actually believe, even ideas that you believe are false.

mikeyes said...

Civility is always a nice thing to have in a discussion but, as we have repeatedly seen on this blog, is not mandatory to get your point across. This issue of speech suppression for the sake of civility has been a loser from the beginning for state sponsored schools and the Regents know that. Hence the proposed statement. Princeton, on the other hand, is not bound (at least not obviously bound) by the First Amendment although the there may be a case for pulling federal and state money based on the First Amendment rights violations which has never happened as far as I can tell since virtually every private school has some federal money involved and here is a public policy good in encouraging education.

I don'lt think that it is the sole purview of the left to limit speech, especially if you agree that any school taking federal or state money should be punished, but it seems that the majority of state school offenders do try to protect feelings over rights. There is an organization, FIRE, that protects student rights and has been very successful in doing so in state sponsored schools. Volokh talks about it frequently and it is a pretty well settled issue that you can't really limit content of speech beyond the usual on state sponsored campuses.

Ann Althouse said...

"Ann, you aptly skewered the foolish substance of this communication - but does the syntax of it bother you at all? I find it pretty disturbing that the Chancellor of a respected academic institution can't handle written English well enough to construct a grammatically correct sentence where the subjects and verbs agree. ( ... no one is entitled to express them in WAYS that ... DEVALUES the presence ..." ) We aren't talking about an everyday, informal note -- this was a formal communication from a leading educator to the student body on a matter of significant public concern. Presumably she put some effort into her language and tried to write it well. It's a bad sign that she wasn't up to the task."

Yes, that's bad.

Probably an artifact of editing. When you tweak your writing a lot, it's easy to leave something that you'd never have written straight out. I'm always finding errors like that in my own writing but it's always a lapse in proofreading. But proofreading is important.

Terry said...

There are fascists in academia as well as in politics.

Brando said...

I could be sympathetic to calls for civility if they were leveled at everyone, but it seems we only hear about this when it is the speech of the Right or anyone who isn't PC that's being discussed. How about telling the screaming protesters and BlackLivesMatter and their allies that while they have a right to free speech, nasty insults, screaming and half-truths will be called out or ignored?

Schools do have a need to maintain some civility--no class could be conducted properly if it turned into a free for all. But standards should be objective and evenly applied.

Mrs Whatsit said...

I agree that it's easy to build errors into sentences accidentally during the writing process and to overlook your own errors if you're doing your own proofreading. (I'll be lucky if I get through this comment without doing it at least once.) I've been writing for a living for many years. These days, I have editing help, but for a long time, nobody edited what I wrote - it went straight from my computer into prime time. I tried hard to make sure nothing squirm-inducing got through, but from time to time, it did. It happens to everybody who writes, which is why the profession of editing was invented.

And it's also why, if I were the chancellor of a university and I were preparing an important communication like this to be sent to thousands of people (what's more, people whose education has been entrusted to me, at significant expense), I would make sure to give my draft to somebody else whose language skills I trust and ask them to read it for sense, grace and grammatical correctness before I hit "send." Not to bother with that kind of basic precaution is a mark of some kind of serious flaw - whether it's a personal flaw like overconfidence, carelessness, laziness or just plain insufficient intelligence to recognize the need, or just another example of the general collapse of academic standards across the board.

Ann Althouse said...

@Mrs W

I agree, especially in a communication about communication -- especially one that take the position that the polish of the form of communication matters.

Char Char Binks said...

LL said...
"What the heck is going on at universities? These aren't just kids saying this, it is chancellor of the University of Wisconsin Madison."

Blankety Blank is trying to beat the kids to the punch. You've got to get out ahead of these things, or suffer the consequences. Guess who they'll demand resign if they get the notion that someone needs to resign to soothe their feels? It's easier to try to get on their side early than it would be to stiffen her backbone later if and when they demand she step down. She's a mealy-mouthed disgrace to the "Badger community", partly for saying "Badger community".

Sal said...

I think it's the Rebecca Blanks of the world that are making Donald Trump so popular. Undoubtedly, she has no idea why Trump is popular and personally knows no one who supports him.

Denever said...

I don't see much civility coming from the left. All Republicans are idiots, according to most of the liberals and leftists who never shut up. My beloved mother is a Republican and my late father was, too, so that offends me. If I had a developmentally disabled relative or close friend, the "idiot" part would offend me, too.

If I criticize the violent rhetoric of Islam, I'm condemned as an Islamophobe (or worse and more illogically, a racist). But it's been a long time since anyone's acted as if rude comments about Catholic priests and the last pope were off-limits.

Will no one stand up on these campuses and demand that the babies screaming for safe spaces and civil speech provide the same courtesies to their opponents?

(That's a rhetorical question, of course. The correct answer is: don't be silly; leftists are not only right in their thinking, they're also morally good. Those who disagree with them aren't merely wrong -- they're eeeeeevilll, so they don't have the same rights to speech and freedom from insult that good people have. I mean, duh.)

Fernandinande said...

"no one is entitled to express them in ways that diminish others, or that devalues the presence of anyone that is part of our Badger community."

False.

Apparently at least some part of the "Badger community" is also part of the "weasel family".

rhhardin said...
Impolite disagreement is the best.


Fuck that shit. :-)

While critics have called students coddled and naive, observers say there's more going on than political correctness run amok.

Unfortunately the article didn't provide any examples.

Afterward, Mr. Christakis defended the student, tweeting, “No one, especially no students exercising right to speech, should be judged just on basis of short video clip.”

So no more police body cameras?

Drago said...

The inevitable result of leftism regardless of where or when it gains power.

But only every single time.

campy said...

Why is there a "Rebecca Black" tag on this post?

robother said...

Diminish the "Badger community"? This is a community so notorious for dogged verbal harassment that it has given its name to a legal objection (badgering the witness)!

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Ann Althouse said...And by the way, the demand for polite, respectful, civil expression can undercut the speech of protesters and has a disparate impact on those who do not come from a cultural and family background where polite speech is the usual form of communication.

Yes ma'am, but that's a feature, not a bug--why do you think you read about Leftist protesters with "strong opinions" and "expressing deeply felt emotion" but non-Leftist protesters "spewing rage" and "angrily shouting?" The Left defines opinions they don't agree with as hateful and asserts that no one has a right to express hate (since it harms others, violates safe spaces, and so on), but the ALSO selectively define forms of expression based who is making that expression and what its goals are. Does anyone for a moment believe that if the College Republicans had disrupted a college library the way the Black Lives Matters group did that it would have been tolerated? Hell no, people would be in frickin' jail, bro.

So please don't worry about a possible disparate impact, Professor--if the Left is ok with the messengers they won't punish the message, no matter how delivered. Your concern would be valid if there existed things like objective standards we (or the Media, or university Administrators) applied...but we shouldn't pretend that's the reality we live in.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

While critics have called students coddled and naive, observers say there's more going on than political correctness run amok

"Run amok?" Run amok?! It's more that cultural insensitivity when people in power use that phrase, it's straight up racism. Triggering, too, obviously. Someone has some reeducation to endure.

Wikipedia: Running Amok

Francisco D said...

@ Bob Boyd

I wish we had a modern day George Orwell. He was a socialist betrayed by the Communists. (Read "Homage to Catalonia"). He got it. We are not dealing with well-meaning socialists. We are dealing with Stalinists.

Might as well read "Politics and the English Language." It's a great essay.

I suspect that I am not telling you anything you do not know. I hope others on the sight will read the comment.

RecChief said...

I don't think the first amendment gives a flying fuck about any resolutions coming from a university system board of regents.

Michael K said...

Instapundit has pointed out state colleges in states with Republican legislatures (The majority) are risking blowback with these idiotic free speech attacks.

Private universities like Yale and Dartmouth are pretty much immune from state retribution and Dartmouth, at least, has packed its Board with drones.

Rhythm and Balls said...

Why not just call these abominations what they are: No-Hurt Feelings Resolutions.

No one can predicts how strong or weak someone's ego will be when it comes to being able to handle what others say to them. As such these things are impossible to enforce. And people are kidding themselves if they think they can even restrict speech on the basis of whether it's "personally directed", (i.e. "abusive"). I guess you can make an exception for direct speech that is unwanted or can be presumed as such, (fliers on doors, mass emails targeting people or based on unrequested "group affiliations", what not), but it would have to be a very clearly definable and reasonable line like that.

(And by the way, the demand for polite, respectful, civil expression can undercut the speech of protesters and has a disparate impact on those who do not come from a cultural and family background where polite speech is the usual form of communication.)

Ha ha. I loved that last part. I have no doubt that families that argue more have, on the whole and all things being equal, more successful kids. They're probably more intellectually curious, also. There's something to be said for not assuming a secure respect for whatever you define as "your feelings" is the most important thing. As I told a priest the other day, a society that never offends is a tyranny of the uncreative and emotionally unstable.

Rhythm and Balls said...

Most of the most important ideas in history were considered "offensive" by some politically important person or group at the time. That's why they usually got the person expressing them killed.

campy said...

"Instapundit has pointed out state colleges in states with Republican legislatures (The majority) are risking blowback with these idiotic free speech attacks."

As more than one Instapundit commenter has pointed out, repub threats are almost always nothing but tuff talk.

Big Mike said...

What Chancellor Black is really saying is "no one is entitled to express them in ways that diminish others unless the others are white, male, heterosexual, Christian, or conservative, or any combination thereof, in which case anything goes. It's the old liberal "wink, wink, nudge, nudge."

Rhythm and Balls said...

Sorry. I mistook the original email as part of the resolutions. I agree with the text of the resolutions; they make complete sense.

Joe said...

What's the point of free speech if someone isn't offended?

BTW, this type of bullshit is now common in companies--you are free to express your opinions as long as you don't disagree with anyone.

I wish this were a joke. My job was recently threatened for asking a big shot manager about something, just after he'd make a big speech about how we needed to be proactive in making suggestions to improve products and processes. Mind you, I didn't even make a suggestion, just asked a question.

mikee said...

My wife comes from a family where her dad and mom stayed together by not talking at all about their family problems. You knew a family member was angry with you when they did NOT speak to you.

It took me 20 years to learn this about my wife, two decades in which she stewed silently in rage at me, before she learned to clearly state issues with me, to me.

Well, I knew this about her before we married, but I got 20 good years out of it.

Douglas said...

I find it difficult to debate this in the abstract. Hypotheticals are so much more instructive. Consider the following: (1) A student, or a staff member, or a professor, says (in class or in the cafeteria or in an office) that affirmative action should be eliminated, citing Sanders's mismatch research. (2) History Professor A says in his American History class that the South was justified in rebelling, that the Constitution recognized slavery and it was the North's determination to violate the Constitution that forced secession. (3) Middle Eastern Studies Professor B says in his Palestinian History class that Hitler's only mistake was in not killing all the Jews. Or a student says in his class that all the Jews living in Israel should "be forced by whatever means are necessary to go back to wherever they came from so that Palestine can be restored to its rightful owners." (4) A student calls another student a "fascist and a Nazi." (5) A student calls another student a "faggot." (6) A student objects to claims that the US is unjust and racist, and says "The US is the land of opportunity - anyone can be successful, it's just a matter of hard work." My question is whether, consistent with free speech rights, a university can or should punish any of these statements.