Free Speech and Universities

A college or university is supposed to be a place where one is exposed to many ideas. Some contrary to one’s own beliefs. They should be examined and weighed against one’s own beliefs. A superior intellect is capable of abandoning held thoughts and adopting new ones.

Of course, in far too many schools this is not the case.  I believed that the term the term “politically correct” was born in these schools, but apparently it was born in the early years of the Communist Soviet Union.

Political correctness (PC), term used to refer to language that seems intended to give the least amount of offense, especially when describing groups identified by external markers such as race, gender, culture, or sexual orientation. The concept has been discussed, disputed, criticized, and satirized by commentators from across the political spectrum. The term has often been used derisively to ridicule the notion that altering language usage can change the public’s perceptions and beliefs as well as influence outcomes.

The term first appeared in Marxist-Leninist vocabulary following the Russian Revolution of 1917. At that time it was used to describe adherence to the policies and principles of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (that is, the party line). During the late 1970s and early 1980s the term began to be used wittily by liberal politicians to refer to the extremism of some left-wing issues, particularly regarding what was perceived as an emphasis on rhetoric over content. In the early 1990s the term was used by conservatives to question and oppose what they perceived as the rise of liberal left-wing curriculum and teaching methods on university and college campuses in the United States. By the late 1990s the usage of the term had again decreased, and it was most frequently employed by comedians and others to lampoon political language. At times it was also used by the left to scoff at conservative political themes.


Unfortunately these days people whose views are considered “offensive” by others are not invited to colleges.  Or they are invited, and before the appointed time, ”disinvited”. Or even worse, invited, and then exposed to so much deliberate disruption and rudeness, unable to speak at the rostrum.

This isn’t even a recent phenomenon. In 1983, Jeane  Kirkpatrick, who at the time was the Reagan administration’s UN ambassador, was booed off the stage at UC-Berkeley.

Mrs. Kirkpatrick’s lecture on Feb. 15, on the subject of ”Human Rights and Wrongs in the United States,” was disrupted by demonstrators organized by Students Against Intervention in El Salvador. When she felt she could not be heard above the uproar of such chants as ”U.S. out of El Salvador” and ”Genocide in Guatemala,” Mrs. Kirkpatrick left the rostrum.

While it is prevalent to believe that only conservative speakers are prevented from speaking by leftist mobs, other speakers more towards the left have also had this right taken.

At one of America’s oldest colleges, an ACLU representative was shouted down.

At the College of William & Mary, Black Lives Matter protesters crashed the stage of an event titled “Students and the First Amendment” less than five minutes after the entrance of Virginia Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU’s Virginia affiliate and an alumna, The Flat Hat reports. They not only chanted to prevent her from speaking, but they were offered the microphone to read from their statement, and then they drowned out students who tried to speak to Gastañaga after the aborted event.

Even university presidents are not immune.

What prompted me to post this was an opinion piece by a conservative Harvard Professor, Harvey Mansfield. He has a theory behind his “disinvitation” to Montreal’s Concordia University.

I think he is on to something.

Recently I was disinvited from giving a commencement address at the small Liberal Arts College within Concordia University in Montreal. My speech was to be on the study of great books, to which that college is devoted. The invitation was a surprise, and the rejection less of one, because I am a white male conservative professor. Though I teach at Harvard and lecture elsewhere fairly often, I don’t get invitations for occasions when universities put their principles on display. My last commencement address was for a private high school in rural California…

What had taken place… was a faculty meeting prompted by a letter from 12 alumni that demanded a reversal of the committee’s invitation because my “scholarly and public corpus . . . heavily traffics in damaging and discredited philosophies of gender and culture.” Promoting “the primacy of masculinity,” apparently a reference to my book “Manliness,” attracted their ire. Though I was to speak on great books, not gender, this “trafficking”—as if in harmful drugs—disqualified me without any need to specify further. Such sloppy, inaccurate accusation was enough to move a covey of professors to flutter in alarm…

This is not the place to repeat or defend my thoughts on women and men, which are much more favorable to women than to feminism. When I die I wish it said that I gave my best to my female students. The new doctrine of feminism in which women are essentially the same as men, except that women have all virtues but no characteristic defects and men have no virtues and terrible defects [emphasis mine] , has little appeal to me either as fact or right. It does have relevance to my Canadian adventure, though…

But feminism is not the only source of intolerance in the universities today—nor the only reason for my disinvitation. It is joined by the notion that free speech is an expression of one’s power rather than a contribution to truth or toward a reasonable settlement [emphasis mine].  In this notion, speech is more determined by one’s desire to get the better of an opponent or to defeat an enemy than offered as persuasion to an audience. Speech is like a gesture or wail of defiance, a rallying cry, or shout of triumph. It is defined as coming from within oneself against the hostility awaiting from others in the outside world; it is not defined by the need to address them, their needs and their opinions. Speech is irrational rather than rational, for this view regards reason as nothing but an instrument of power with no power of its own.

Thus understood, free speech is no longer possible or desirable. It is diminished by the view that seizes on the power of speech to manipulate and denies its power to enlighten. Speech is not an alternative to power but a form of power, political power, and political power is nothing but the power to oppress…

So free speech to the protesters is not an exchange of ideas or a means of finding a greater truth; it is a lever to exert power over those who disagree.

I am wondering if part of the reason for our country’s political divide originates at the colleges and universities.

People who wish to disrupt others whose ideas clash with their own do not belong at universities.


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