Thursday, April 27, 2017

Heckler's Veto v Free Speech

Sent to the Albuquerque Journal.

Based on the 4/25/2017 Journal article, I see that interim UNM President Abdallah is standing up for free academic discourse rather than supporting the notion of banning speech based on its point of view. That is excellent news. The University is here to expose us to difficult ideas, not to shield us from them.  This decision helps cement that core value.

I have followed Dr. Christina Sommer's work since the mid 1990's ("Who Stole Feminism", etc) in the context of events that were unfolding at the University of Hawaii during the time I was on the graduate faculty in earth sciences and on the Board of Directors of the faculty labor union. Then, like now, there was pushback against ideas some found uncomfortable. For student groups to protest a visit by Dr. Sommers, a philosophy scholar first at Clark University and now at the American Enterprise Institute, shows a glaring lack of understanding of academic freedom and indifference to the value of listening to intelligently stated, if opposing, views.

As far as Mr. Ben Shapiro, he is not an academic like Sommers but his point of view would be as relevant on campus as anyone else from the media. The media, including organizations like Breitbart that have contributed to the polarizing of opinion, exerts a powerful influence on American politics. We need to understand the media, how it works, and how to best refute ideas that only survive in their own political bubble. That said, I don’t think the University is compelled, at least under the banner of academic freedom, to invite someone if their only credentials are those of an agent provocateur.

I do hope that these visits can occur without the violent conduct that has occurred elsewhere under the excuse of hurt feelings. As Foundation for Individual Rights in Education President Greg Lukianoff has adroitly stated, "Holding one person's expression hostage to the 'feelings' of another can only lead to arbitrary censorship and, ultimately, silence."

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