Thursday, May 24, 2018

Skeptical academics and journalists reject Koch-Brothers-backed claims of "free speech crisis" on campus (Michael Simkovic)

Following up on my previous post, 

A well-organized campaign to bait, discredit, and take over universities is exploiting students and manipulating the public

"The purpose of media exaggeration of incidents at universities appears to be to discredit universities in the eyes of conservatives, libertarians, and moderates.  The anti-university campaign is working. . . . Republican resentment toward universities is evident at the national level.  Recent legislation increased taxes on universities while leaving other 501(c)(3) educational organizations such as think tanks unscathed.  

The anti-university campaign appears to be supported by a network of organizations funded by wealthy conservatives and libertarians including the Koch Brothers. [At Koch-network funded events for conservative and libertarian professors and graduate students across the country] UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh, encouraged attendees to push the envelope in expressing controversial conservative and libertarian views on campus, draw the ire of their university administrations and progressive students, and document the incidents for him so that he could publicize them . . . .  Volokh has publicly advocated video surveillance of hecklers (“never interrupt the enemy when he is making a mistake … but always videotape him”) and using internet publicity to inflict “libertarian-approved-pain [on] university administrators.”  Volokh also advocated suing universities.  . . .

The Koch Brothers’ funded Goldwater Institute, seized on the non-event at CUNY to push legislation to turn state universities into passive distribution channels for propaganda, expel protestors (and perhaps people who simply ask pointed questions), centralize control in the hands of political appointees, strip financial resources, encourage frivolous lawsuits, and monitor and intimidate university officials, professors, and students.  . . . Versions of Goldwater’s proposal have already been enacted in Wisconsin—where Republicans effectively eliminated tenure protections for professors at the state university—and in North Carolina, where Republican political appointees shuttered a law school center dedicated to studying poverty (see also here) and crippled the Civil Rights Center (here and here)." 

Erwin Chemerinsky and co-authors of the Report of the Chancellor’s Commission on Free Speech at U.C. Berkely wrote:

U.C. Berkeley “spent nearly $4 million—during a time of severe fiscal duress—on security costs for [disruptive speeches by far-right provocateurs in] September 2017 alone. . . . This is not sustainable [given Berkeley’s] $150+ million deficit. . .

Many Commission members are skeptical of [Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter]’s commitment to anything other than the pursuit of wealth and fame through the instigation of anger, fear, and vengefulness in their hard-right constituency. Speech of this kind is hard to defend, especially in light of the acute distress it caused (and was intended to cause) to staff and students, many of whom felt threatened and targeted by the speakers and by the outside groups financing their appearances.”

[Excessive financial costs were imposed on U.C. Berkeley and the taxpayers of California] by “very small groups of students working closely with outside organizations” as “part of a coordinated campaign to organize appearances on American campuses likely to incite a violent reaction, in order to advance a facile narrative that universities are not tolerant of conservative speech.” 

Aaron Hanlon wrote:

Why Colleges Have a Right to Reject Hateful Speakers Like Ann Coulter

"Rejecting campus speakers is not an assault on free speech. Rather, like so many other decisions made every day by college students, teachers, and administrators, it’s a value judgment.  

[Education] has always meant deciding what people needed to know, but also what they don’t need to know—or at least which knowledge and skills deserved priority in one’s formal education.

Though the knowledge and skills we deem essential have changed over the years, the practice of curating and prioritizing them is still crucial to the mission of a classically liberal education. No-platforming may look like censorship from certain angles, but from others it’s a consequence of a challenging, never-ending process occurring at virtually all levels of the university: deciding what educational material to present to our students and what to leave out. In this sense, de-platforming isn’t censorship; it’s a product of free expression and the foundational aims of a classically liberal education.

We should think about campus speakers less in terms of the so-called marketplace and more in the terms that guide other kinds of educational programming on campus. Inviting quality speakers to share expertise and experience is an important part of the educational mission. Just as scholars routinely disagree about which material belongs on the syllabus, administrators, faculty, and students can understandably and productively disagree over what makes a quality speaker."

Are liberal college students creating a free speech crisis? Not according to data.

"There will always be anecdotal examples of overzealous young people, but conservative hysteria of campus activism is unwarranted. . . . 

According to a General Social Survey (GSS) dataset, “young people aged 18-34 are the most tolerant of potentially offensive speech and trending upward,” meaning not only that young people are already the most tolerant of offensive speech, but that they’re getting more tolerant. . . .  Sachs also breaks down a recent Knight Foundation study looking specifically at free expression on campus, and finds that college students are more likely than U.S. adults in general to support an open environment for free expression . . . evidence . . . shows going to college actually makes people more tolerant of offensive or opposing views.

Meanwhile, the “disinvitation database” created by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) . . . tracks the attempts of students to disinvite or prevent campus speakers. The database contains just 35 disinvitation attempts in 2017, down from 43 in 2016. At this point in 2018, there have been just five attempts, one of which was spearheaded by a conservative campus group. As Sachs rightly points out, in a country with roughly 4,700 colleges and universities, disinvitation attempts — let alone successful disinvitation attempts — remain quite rare.
The only way it’s possible to see left-wing college students as a group whose power rivals that of the presidency or the billionaire donor class is by embracing the cartoon image of lefty students as little authoritarians."

Political Correctness Has Run Amok — on the Right

 "[O]ne of the most troubling developments has been the persecution of left-wing faculty members whose speech has offended right-wing PC sensibilities. By this point, a long list of professors — including Johnny Eric Williams, at Trinity College in Connecticut; Dana Cloud, at Syracuse University; and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, at Princeton University — have experienced harassment, threats, and intimidation, and in some cases penalties from their own institutions for such speech. Some, like Lisa Durden, of Essex County College, have been outright fired. Many of these persecuted faculty members are women, people of color, or adjuncts who are more vulnerable to institutional power (Durden is all three).

We’ve been operating for too long with a double standard when it comes to political correctness. We’re quick to diminish left-wing concerns as fragile students taking offense, or to frame worries about campus safety in the face of incendiary speech as PC censorship when the alleged censors are from the left.

But when conservatives limit left-leaning speech, we’re spared the handwringing about campus echo chambers, "crybully" students, and the end of free expression.

Take a recent incident at Liberty University. An evangelical pastor who was critical of President Jerry Falwell Jr.’s support for the Trump administration was removed from campus and threatened with arrest if he returned. When Falwell was asked about the situation, he replied, "If we allowed him to come on campus and protest uninvited, then the next group that comes in might be a violent group, and we’ve seen recently what that can lead to," alluding to violent white-supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Va.

That justification is barely distinguishable from how a cautious university administrator might explain removal of a controversial right-wing speaker."

What Stunts Like Milo Yiannopoulos’s ‘Free Speech Week’ Cost

"'Free speech on campus' is not resource-neutral.

Indeed, in an effort to make sure Free Speech Week could go on, Janet Napolitano, the president of University of California, even offered to chip in at least $300,000 to help with security. . . . [S]ecurity concerns about Mr. Yiannopoulos’s event resulted in the postponement of a previously scheduled talk by Anna Tsing, a leading anthropologist. I doubt Ms. Tsing’s anthropology lecture would have cost Berkeley and the University of California system anywhere near $1 million. And I suspect that if Ms. Tsing were sharing the campus with a conservative like Yuval Levin or Walter Williams on the same day, neither speech would have to be canceled. Which is why spending seven figures’ worth of student fees and taxpayer money to host Mr. Yiannopoulos is less about defending free speech than it is about supporting provocation for its own sake.

Universities have a duty to keep campuses safe, not in the service of paternalism, but in the service of providing a suitable learning environment for students.  [E]scalation of security costs isn’t a response to conservative thought. It is the only way schools can respond to a deliberate right-wing strategy, driven by outside groups, to inflict disruptive and deliberately offensive speakers on campuses, and thus bait the left into outrage. The audience for right-wing speakers like Mr. Yiannopoulos is not college students themselves, but rather the culture warriors on either side of the aisle who respond to seeing campus communities in distress."


"How does one uphold free-speech principles and also counter the worldwide surge, from Charlottesville to Warsaw, in public displays by white supremacists? It's an increasingly relevant one, too. White-supremacist propaganda at colleges, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), increased by 258 percent between the fall of 2016 to the fall of 2017 . . .While many European countries enacted hate-speech laws post–World War II, America is unique in that it did not. . . .

The new media-savvy messengers of white-supremacist ideology have been remarkably effective in hustling euphemisms into the lexicon, particularly in mainstream conservative discourse. In discussing Donald Trump's dog whistles to white supremacists, Picciolini surprised Megyn Kelly on Today when he told her that "globalism" and "liberal media"—terms she'd used at Fox News—were massaged versionss of "the global Jewish conspiracy" and "the Jewish media." One of the newer additions is " cultural Marxism," a term with a convoluted backstory tinged with anti-Semitism that is used by the radical right, including neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer and Oslo mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik, who murdered 77 people as publicity for his manifesto, which bemoaned the "rise of cultural Marxism/multiculturalism in the West." . . .

There is a magnitude of difference between protecting an individual's legal right to free speech and taking the further step of uncritically promoting white-supremacist propaganda in mainstream platforms. These are dog whistles made into megaphones. Even free-speech enthusiasts, like the Pyles, don't find speakers like Yiannopoulos to be worthy of an invite. "College campuses should have standards about who they should invite. I don't think Milo has [anything of value to say],""  

Kamala Kelkar wrote:

Inside the ‘free speech’ debate that rocked a Wisconsin campus, with ripples across the country

"Since the 2016 presidential election, clashes on college campuses spurred by extremist speakers such as Milo Yiannopoulos and Richard Spencer have [enabled] Republican legislators in more than a dozen states to introduce bills to punish hecklers. Wisconsin supported the strictest one, requiring the suspension or expulsion of anyone who “materially or substantially disrupts free expression of others.” While conservative students say it’s eased pressure from classmates and teachers to hide their views, progressive campus activists say they fear criminalization for challenging the overbearing power of the right and its financial backers.

“There’s a myth, that, you know, the liberal viewpoint is the majority viewpoint, and that conservatives are minority,” said Douglas McLeod, a professor in journalism at the UW Madison campus. “[Conservative] viewpoints are essentially predominant in power right now, whether you look at national government or the local government.”"

Citizens United v. FEC. It essentially established that money is a form of speech and that corporations and nonprofits can spend however much they want in political contributions. Rob Robinson, the longstanding president of Young Americans for Freedom, who made $866,633 in 2016, is also a director of Citizens United, a nonprofit that espouses conservative values."

Jeffrey Adam Sachs wrote:

There is no campus free speech crisis: The right’s new moral panic is largely imaginary

"There’s no data to suggest younger people are more censorious, and most attacks on speech come from the right."

UPDATE 5/30/2018: Mike Hilzik at the Los Angeles Times has covered the Goldwater Legislation controversy.  

Mike Hilzik, How a right-wing group's proposed 'free speech' law aims to undermine free speech on campus, Los Angeles Times, May 30, 2018.

"The Goldwater model bill would give [speakers like Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter] open access to any campus, at the expense of the university . . . (As the Berkeley committee observed, the $4 million the university spent for security for just three events in 2017, including the Shapiro and Yiannopoulos appearances, came out of a budget better spent on actual educational functions.)

That’s not a formula for open discussion, but for wanton interference in the purpose of the university. Decisions by university officials, faculty members and legitimate student organizations aren’t flawless, but would you really prefer that the judgments of state legislators take precedence? The principle upheld by the model bill is that of a wolf in sheep’s clothing."

UPDATE 6/2/2108: Zack Beauchamp at Vox discusses efforts by a Conservative Professor at Stanford to use university resources to collect  "opposition research" to intimidate a liberal student in the name of "free speech":

Zack Beauchamp, A conservative Stanford professor plotted to dig up dirt on a liberal student, Vox, June 1, 2018

"Niall Ferguson’s leaked emails show what’s really going on in the campus free speech fight.

The latest campus free speech controversy has a twist: It involves a conservative professor conspiring with students, in emails that sound like they were written by comic book villains, to dig up dirt on a progressive undergraduate.

The controversy took place at Stanford University and involves Niall Ferguson, a controversial historian known for his defenses of British colonialism. Ferguson was one of the faculty leaders of Cardinal Conversations, a Stanford program run by the conservative Hoover Institution that aims to bring speakers to the university who would “air contested issues on our campus.” The program’s speaker slate leaned right; recent events featured race-and-IQ theorist Charles Murraytech mogul Peter Thiel, and Christina Hoff Sommers, a prominent critic of modern feminism.

Ferguson seemed to view Michael Ocon, a left-wing student activist slated to graduate in 2020, as a threat to the program. In an email to two members of the Stanford Republicans, John Rice-Cameron and Max Minshull, he wrote that “some opposition research on Mr. O [Ferguson’s name for Ocon] might also be worthwhile.” Minshull, who works as Ferguson’s research associate, said he’d “get on” the dirt-digging.

Some of the emails had an overtly sinister tone. Rice-Cameron, who is, oddly enough, the son of Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice, wrote in one email that “slowly, we will continue to crush the Left’s will to resist, as they will crack under pressure.”

Ferguson wrote in another note, “now we turn to the more subtle game of grinding them down on the committee,” adding that “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” . . . 

Free speech, nominally, shouldn’t be either a right or left issue. A world in which all viewpoints can be respected should, in theory, benefit people from all perspectives.

In practice, many campus conservatives have hijacked the idea. The strategy is to invite someone with a history of making sexist or racist comments, like provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, with the express purpose of outraging campus liberals. . . .

It’s a kind of power game. The goal isn’t to vindicate the abstract right to free speech but to assert the right’s power and influence over campus discourse — to force the campus mainstream into a choice between allowing vile ideas to spread or looking hostile to free speech.

The Ferguson emails are an unusually clear admission that this is what’s going on. Digging up dirt on a student in an attempt to silence their activism isn’t about “free speech” — it’s about suppressing left-wing speech."

Related Coverage:

Faculty News, Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Law in Cyberspace, Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest, Weblogs | Permalink