free speech

At Citizen Kentucky’s Constitution Day event at the University of Kentucky last Wednesday, write-in US Senate candidate Robert Ransdell managed to get mike time to spew his anti-Semitic views.

Ransdell, a “self-described pro-white candidate,” calls his 2014 platform “With Jews We Lose.” He says current American policies “favor Israel” over its own interests, and claims there’s a bias against whites in media crime coverage.

He was invited to speak by a student who helped organize the event, but that student has not been identified.

The Kentucky Kernel reports:

As of Wednesday night, it was unclear if organizers of the event had known Ransdell’s platform.

First Amendment Center director Mike Farrell said that he needed to speak to professor Buck Ryan, the Citizen Kentucky project director, before commenting.

Ryan was not available to the Kernel for comment.

“Constitution Day is not about politics, it is a celebration of the principles of the Constitution,” wrote UK spokeswoman Kathy Johnson in a statement released by the university Wednesday evening. “All speakers are asked to focus on those principles. Unfortunately, Mr. Ransdell included his political beliefs and platform in his comments. Many of those in attendance felt his comments were inappropriate, especially for an audience that included high school students. The University of Kentucky was not aware of the content of his remarks prior to him speaking and does not condone or endorse any political platform or agenda.”

Students from a local high school were in attendance during Ransdell’s talk, much to the dismay of one of its teachers, James Miller.

Miller finds it hard to believe the university didn’t know in advance about Ransdell’s politics. At the very least, he says, there should have been notice about who was going to speak:

“It has been my experience that people like Robert Ransdell take every opportunity to talk about their poisonous, hateful ideas,” Miller said. “So for the university to pretend that … no one could have predicted he’d say this stuff is naïve at best.”

“I guess a better question is, ‘Why didn’t UK give us the names (of the speakers)?” Miller said. “Unless the point was to catch students off-guard.”

Ransdell ended up having his microphone cut during his speech.

Read more here.

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Muslim students are trying to shut up global women’s rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, set to speak at Yale tonight.

Hirsi Ali is a critic of Islamic extremists, and the Muslim student group at Yale and its many politically correct supporters have decried the visit and even tried to limit what Hirsi Ali could talk about or have a pro-Muslim speaker on hand who could offer counterpoints.

David Gelernter, a professor of computer science at Yale University and a Jewish scholar, has this to say, and it’s brilliant. Writing on National Review Online:

To the Yale Muslim Students Association and its many sister organizations that have co-signed a letter protesting Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s lecture on Monday:

I love your new free-speech concept! Obviously this woman should have been banned from campus and had her face stomped in; why couldn’t they have just quietly murdered her in Holland along with her fellow discomfort-creators? These people are worse than tweed underwear! They practically live to make undergraduates uncomfortable. But let’s deal with the harsh realities. Your inspired suggestion, having Official Correctors speak right after Ali to remind students of the authorized view of Muslim society, is the most exciting new development in Free Speech since the Inquisition — everyone will be talking about it! You have written, with great restraint, about “how uncomfortable it will be” for your friends if this woman is allowed to speak. Uncomfortable nothing. The genital mutilation of young girls is downright revolting! Who ever authorized this topic in a speech to innocent Yale undergraduates? Next thing you know, people will be saying that some orthodox Muslim societies are the most cruel and benighted on earth and that Western societies are better than they are (better!) merely because they don’t sexually mutilate young girls! Or force them into polygamous marriages, countenance honor killings, treat women as the property of their male relations, and all that. Can’t they give it a rest? You’d think someone was genitally mutilating them. …

Thank you for protecting us from having to listen to uncensored ideas and make up our own minds, Yale Muslim Students Association. Or at least trying. We will treasure your letter and keep it under our pillows forever.

Click here to read the full letter.

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Carleton University in Canada has pledged to issue “sanctions” against students – some of them orientation team leaders – who were photographed wearing shirts that said “F**k Safe Space” at an off-campus rally.

The photos surfaced online Sunday and spread quickly, with social media users speculating that the shirts – worn by both men and women – were a protest against the university’s policy of banning curse words during orientation week.

The Charlatan, Carleton’s independent student weekly, quoted one student “facilitator” who said the shirts were intended as “a statement against the coddling of first year students” evident in the swearing policy.

The weekly said the photos were posted on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and have since been deleted, but not before the #FuckSafePlaces hashtag permeated Twitter.

The wording refers to the school’s Safe Space Program, which Carleton describes as an “interactive workshop designed to reduce homophobia and heterosexism on campus and to increase the visibility of supportive people and positive spaces for the GLBTQ community on campus.”

Functioning similarly to the speech codes common in U.S. universities, the 10-year-old Carleton program says students should feel free from all forms of discrimination while on campus — including speech that could be perceived as offensive.

The administration did a quick investigation, with President Roseann O’Reilly Runte saying Monday that “some” of the students were “orientation facilitators” but the off-campus gathering wasn’t officially part of orientation week.

“Sanctions will be issued subsequent to individual meetings” with the offending students, Runte said. The school “remains committed” to ensuring “safe spaces for all and an inclusive educational environment,” she said. The Ottawa Citizen reported that “as many as 16” students are facing sanctions.

Orientation team leaders apologized for dawning such gauche attire in a statement Monday, also posted as a university news release, blaming the incident on “the misguided actions of a small group of students.”

“While our intentions were not to harm or disrespect anyone, the T-shirts in question were without a doubt inappropriate, inconsiderate, offensive and disgraceful,” the statement said. “It pains us to know that we have tarnished the name of our institution and the hard work of thousands of students, staff and faculty in creating a safe and inclusive environment.”

The offending students “have committed to engage in community service” on and off campus throughout the year, team leaders said. It wasn’t clear if community service was what the school meant by “sanctions.”

Carleton has a track record of using anti-discrimination policies like Safe Space to restrict speech. In 2010, the student government decertified a pro-life group because its views violated the student body’s anti-discrimination policy, which “respects and affirms a woman’s right to choose her options in case of pregnancy.”

Carleton isn’t alone among Canadian universities in its actions against offensive speech in the name of protecting the student body.

The Gazette at the University of Western Ontario scrubbed from its website an Aug. 19 editorial titled “So You Want to Date a Teaching Assistant” following an uproar.

The pre-scrubbed editorial gave tongue-in-cheek suggestions on the best tactics to use to procure dates with teaching assistants, including stalking them on Facebook, dropping in on their tutorials and showing due diligence in coursework, according to Reason.

The union representing TAs and postdoc students wrote a blistering letter in response that admonished The Gazette for penning “a guide on how to sexually harass another human being, face potential expulsion from Western for violating its Student Code of Conduct or worse still, end up in court over a criminal matter.”

“The time is long past when these kinds of articles can be defended as being either satire or humorous,” when it in fact promotes “inappropriate relationships” between TAs and students, Western’s provost wrote in a letter to the editor to The Gazette.

“It is my hope that The Gazette leadership will learn from the negative reaction to this particular column and, in future, show more consideration and respect for graduate teaching assistants and others who are dedicated to providing the best educational opportunities for Western students,” the letter said.

College Fix contributor Christopher White is a University of Missouri graduate student and an editorial assistant for The College Fix.

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OPINION

The University of California-Berkeley is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement this fall, and our chancellor has made an unusual contribution to its legacy: arguing that free speech can “undermine a community’s foundation.”

Nicholas Dirks, himself an historian, said in a campus-wide email last week that it was important to recognize “the broader social context required in order for free speech to thrive.” He argued for the campus community to determine when free speech goes too far: “Specifically, we can only exercise our right to free speech insofar as we feel safe and respected in doing so, and this in turn requires that people treat each other with civility.”

Needless to say, this is a curious interpretation of the animating principle of the movement that cemented Berkeley’s place in the history books. Berkeley is the university remembered for its student dissent, civility be damned.

Not only do we have the Free Speech Monument circle on Sproul Plaza, the school’s main area—where students coordinated sit-ins to prevent police from arresting a classmate on October 1, 1964—but we also have the FSM Café at the Main Library. Courses in history, my field of study, and other disciplines consistently cover the Free Speech Movement in different contexts.

This semester alone, there are about a dozen courses that I know of on the Free Speech Movement and other student movements in the 1960s, one of which I’m helping facilitate.

The Free Speech Movement is one of Berkeley’s proudest stakes in history.

One history professor, who “was among those targeted” in the blacklisting efforts of the school and FBI, even wrote in a volume on the movement that “the legacy of the FSM… gave as much to this campus as any of its distinguished Nobel laureates, financial benefactors, or athletic coaches.”

Graded Down for Not Demonizing ‘the Top 1 Percent’

One place where I agree with Dirks, however, is his contention that “[f]or free speech to have meaning it must not just be tolerated, it must also be heard, listened to, engaged and debated.”

From my experience at Berkeley, this legacy of the Free Speech Movement has not been fulfilled.

Yes, I do appreciate the significance of having such a lively hub of student activity at Sproul Plaza as well as the critical conversations I regularly overhear at the FSM Café. Just this weekend, I overheard a few students criticizing our Gender and Women’s Studies as white women’s studies.

It is this critical and active student community that makes Berkeley one of the top universities in the world. It was also this notion of “critical theory,” Jeremi Suri argues, that “provided a vocabulary for diverse protests” in the 1960s.

Yet many opinions in Berkeley classrooms are constantly discouraged, sometimes with academic threats. Just last year, student representatives banned the term “illegal immigrant” from “campus discourse,” apparently unaware that banning words is the antithesis of free speech.

A graduate student instructor radically lowered my grade in a geography course because I “failed” to appeal to the instructor’s animosity toward “the top 1 percent.”

Ronald Reagan is a particular sore spot. I sensed the general displeasure of my classmates with the Reagan administration when going over the 1980s in a U.S. history course last summer. “Well, I think we need to look beyond his role in quelling the 1960s Berkeley rebellions,” I said then.

And in my last opinion column for the Daily Californian student newspaper in memory of Reagan’s passing 10 years earlier, I received a handful of close-minded comments unwilling to actually understand my argument.

It is this kind of eggshell-walking that Dirks pushes for in his email in order “to maintain that delicate balance.” The result is that some opinions are essentially left out, preventing meaningful debates in the classroom from which we can all learn.

Chancellor, if we as historians, and as Berkeley community members, are to truly “honor the ideal of Free Speech,” as you say, then the intellectual community that is Berkeley needs to be more open to all critical viewpoints in the classroom.

“As we honor this point in our history,” we must also truly honor free speech.

College Fix contributor Kevin Reyes is a student at the University of California-Berkeley.

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Sounding more like a kindergarten teacher than the chancellor of the university that birthed the Free Speech Movement 50 years ago this fall, the University of California-Berkeley’s Nicholas Dirks sent a jaw-droppingly ignorant email to students, faculty and staff Friday that essentially turns free speech into an endless relativist exercise.

Popehat has a very good point-by-point analysis that serves as the main course, but here’s an appetizer from Dirks’ email:

As a consequence, when issues are inherently divisive, controversial and capable of arousing strong feelings, the commitment to free speech and expression can lead to division and divisiveness that undermine a community’s foundation. [emphasis added]

Popehat says:

In today’s competitive publishing environment it is astonishingly difficult to distinguish yourself as an academic by being wrong about free speech, but Chancellor Dirks is equal to the challenge. His email is so very bad on every level — legally, logically, rhetorically, and philosophically — that it deserves scrutiny.

Read the full Popehat analysis here.

h/t Greg Lukianoff

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In what’s being hailed as a “victory for free speech,” the University of Oregon has “dropped the unconstitutional conduct charges it filed against a student based on a four-word joke wholly protected by the First Amendment,” the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education announced Thursday.

“We’re pleased that the student is no longer weighed down by these chilling disciplinary charges and can focus on her education,” said Peter Bonilla, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program, in a statement. “UO’s quick action here illustrates something we’ve long recognized at FIRE: Universities are seldom able to defend in public what they try to do in private.”

As The College Fix previously reported:

A University of Oregon female student visited some friends at a dorm in June, saw a couple walking outside, and decided to razz them by yelling out the window: “I hit it first!” The gal she yelled down at called back: “F*ck you, b*tch.”

The Assistant Residence Life Coordinator, informed of the situation, hunted the jokester down, and she apologized to the couple. End of story, right? Wrong.

A “Notice of Allegation” to the student, who has asked to remain anonymous, accuses her of: community disruption; a housing violation; harassment; university disruption; and disorderly conduct. It requires her to set up a hearing to determine her innocence or guilt by mid-October.

Read FIRE’s full announcement.

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