Thursday, January 25, 2024
Tom Ginsburg (Chicago) on Claire Finkelstein's (Penn) call to repress pro-Palestinian speech on campus
Professor Finkelstein is the latest in a long line of academics, from both the left and right, calling for the repression of campus speech they don’t like. Her position is the logical outgrowth of our era, in which students’ feelings take priority, and the use of terms like “violence” and “safety” have lost any connection with their traditional uses. Violence is what is happening in Gaza, while American universities are among the safest places on the planet.
Our universities, with their ever-large bureaucracies, have encouraged rhetorical drift, but in doing so, have undermined one of their core missions—to prepare students as citizens of a plural, democratic society in which they will encounter opinions with which they strongly disagree. In the United States, with the First Amendment, this means that even private universities need to prepare students for a world in which all kinds of horrific speech is allowed, and so should generally take the same approach as public universities. This doesn’t mean that universities have to allow everything: perhaps a true call for genocide of Jews ought to be disallowed, though we have not to my ears yet heard one on an American campus in the wake of Hamas’s October 7, 2023 attacks. Israeli policy is an obvious area of democratic concern, and so must be fully debated, even if some find the slogans of one or the other side offensive. Of course, protests and speech must be carried out peacefully, without physically intimidating others, shutting down speakers, or interfering with classrooms. But Finklestein’s call for content-based restrictions is doubling down on a policy that is failing students and undermining public trust in higher education.