Campus Politics and Free Speech

There’s been a lot of press about commencement speakers facing protests. This Washington Post article about International Money Fund’s Christine Lagard is one of the latest examples.

This passage explains why it won’t get better any time soon.

“I have been surprised at the number of recent bailouts by speakers themselves instead of standing their ground,” said Cary Nelson, a professor of English at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and former president of the American Association of University Professors. “When a speaker backs out, it does somewhat compromise academic freedom.”

Why stand their ground? It’s clear that they’re not wanted. Why go through all this bullshit?

There was a time when Bill Maher was on Dennis Miller’s HBO show and they talked about this same thing:


Maher: You were mentioning the college campus situation. You’re totally right. I guarantee you there is less free speech at Berklee than there is in the Whitehouse…I play colleges, I don’t know if you do—
Miller: Yeah, they’re very close-minded. I don’t even like playing them anymore. Kids are just such pains in the ass nowadays.
Maher: Well, they’re pampered little pricks – is the problem. Not only do they not get half of what we’re saying, but they think it’s our fault…if you take an issue that is controversial – to support affirmative action or not support it is controversial, but on many campuses…they say “if that’s your opinion you can’t be heard” — who did not slap these little assholes when they were young? And who are these irresponsible, despicable professors, and the people who run this campus, who let this go on, and, as you say, the place where ideas should be MOST alive, not most shunted down?
Miller: …there are a lot of things in this country that are never gonna get solved now, because you can’t even get near it without all the alarms going off.

That was over 10 years ago.

To invite a speaker, and they accept your invitation, and then then they decline it after they see the reaction from your campus…it’s not the speaker compromising academic freedom. It’s the campus students and faculty not being open to hear a different point of view and wanting to live in their worldview.

Of course – there are some special cases…like when the Ultimate Warrior did those conservative speaking tours.