Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Free Speech Is Languishing

The more I see stories like this one, the more I cringe. Suppressing speech anywhere, no matter how odious, where it does not directly lead to harm, is antithetical to what this country ought to be about. Doing so on college campuses, where everything about the system has been tailored for generations to facilitate open inquiry and discussion of even unpopular ideas) is simply reprehensible. If we can't speak freely on college campuses, come and go in the idea bazaar without fear of reprisal, we have lost our way completely.

We've seen it in the knee-jerk responses to Professor Churchill in Colorado (although there are arguments that he was irresponsible and deceitful as a researcher, which, if true, may warrant censure at the least) and to Lawrence Summers at Harvard. Similarly, I've no doubt that the University of Alabama is the only school with such a speech code.

My affiliation as an editor with this rather supercilious periodical, should tell you all you need to know about the battle against restraints on speech I've been fighting for the duration of my adult life. And it's a battle the forces of suppression appear to be winning; time and again, they'll lose in court when challenged, but in the wake of 9/11, and JanetJacksonTitGate, nobody seems to care that repression increasingly is growing like a tumor on our public discourse, both in entertainment and in academe.

Much is made, as in the above-linked article from Alabama, of the speech restrictions qua targeted restraints of conservative voices.

Speech codes in various forms, including that of harassment codes, have been part of American college life for the last two decades. The main purpose of these speech codes has been to suppress dissenting opinion, especially conservative opinion critical of liberal and leftist University policies.

Conservatives don't have a lock on wanting to speak their minds, and a liberal straying from liberal orthodoxy at a school afflicted by unduly restrictive codes will just as quickly be villified as a conservative.

Make this a political fight and lose. This is about people who believe in open dialogue, who believe that airing unpopular or wrong-headed views where the light of day can lead to their decomposition is far healthier than relegating them to the angry margins -- a cause people all over the ideological spectrum ought to be able to unite behind.

(Hat tip.)


Blogger Lumo said...

A report of a physicist who voted against, and links to 30+ blog articles criticizing the resolution is at

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