Professors Favor Free Speech
93 percent of faculty agree with the statement that, “[U]niversity life requires that people with diverse viewpoints and perspectives encounter each other in an environment where they feel free to speak up and challenge each other.” There is almost universal support for the exchange of ideas and open discourse.
That’s from a new study by Samuel J. Abrams, a political scientist at Sarah Lawrence College and visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, published in The American Interest and discussed in an article at Inside Higher Ed. The study adds to the existing reasons to doubt the narrative, often offered up by mainstream media, that there is a free speech crisis on university campuses.
Here are some other findings from Professor Abrams’ study:
- Teaching: 80 percent of professors believe that, “Faculty members should be free to present in class any idea that they consider relevant.” Liberal faculty are more supportive of this statement than conservative faculty, with 88 percent of liberal faculty agreeing compared to 67 percent of conservative faculty… Similarly, in the historically liberal humanities and social sciences departments, support for real academic freedom is higher than in the more technical and conservative departments. Over 90 percent of faculty in English, history, political science, arts, and humanities departments support that statement, compared to 70 percent in business and education.
- Exposure to Diverse Speech: 69 percent support an open environment where students are exposed to all types of speech, while only 31 percent favored positive environments where speech can be limited to help ensure that all students feel safe and respected.
- Safe Spaces: 61 percent of professors agree either completely or with some reservation that safe spaces “help students feel comfortable sharing their perspectives and exploring sensitive subjects.” Unsurprisingly, 78 percent of liberal faculty agree while only 39 percent of conservative faculty do.
- Disruptive Protests: 67 percent of faculty agree to varying degrees that such students [who disrupt the functioning of a college to protest against certain speakers or ideas] should be expelled or suspended. 84 percent of conservative faculty support these measures compared to 59 percent of liberals, a less dramatic split than the divide over safe spaces. Overall, faculty members favor preserving both order and freedom on campus, though with slightly different ideas of how to go about it.
UPDATE 1: Someone is trolling the site by repeatedly reporting comments that are critical of me or my views, presumably in an attempt to “show” how anti-free speech I am. (Note to troll: I’m sorry my failure to live up to your expectations has made extra work for you.) When this happens, the comment is no longer visible until I manually re-approve it. I’ll try to keep an eye on this, but if you notice that your previously visible comment has not been visible for a while, send me an email to let me know. Also, keep in mind I do not tend to Daily Nous 24/7, so the restoration of your comment may take some time.
“The study adds to the existing reasons to doubt the narrative, often offered up by mainstream media, that there is a free speech crisis on university campuses.”
I suspect that 99.9% of all citizens would say that killing innocents with automatic weapons is wrong. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a crisis.
Also, the poll does not give specific examples. It simply asks the questions in the abstract. It would be like asking faculty if they thought that bigotry was wrong. You’d probably get 100% saying yes. But if you contrast that with the answers in George Yancey’s recent study, you realize that many faculty do not believe that certain forms of unjust exclusion count as bigotry. That’s where the action is. This poll is essentially worthless.Report
What strikes me as far more interesting is that someone clearly as smart as Justin W. thinks that such a poll supports the following:
“The study adds to the existing reasons to doubt the narrative, often offered up by mainstream media, that there is a free speech crisis on university campuses.”Report
People say all sorts of things in surveys and polls. The question is what they actually do. And having taught in the university, now, since 1993, in environments as different as NYC and southern Missouri, I have to say that the “Move along! Nothing to see here!” response to the contemporary campus speech-climate situation is unserious at best and entirely disingenuous at worst.Report
“Disingenuous”! Dan, you’re going to provoke a free speech crisis right here in the Daily Nous comments section.Report
Justin, it’s hard to know how to describe someone who says this:
“The study adds to the existing reasons to doubt the narrative, often offered up by mainstream media, that there is a free speech crisis on university campuses.”
in light of nothing more than surveys of what people *say* they believe and are committed to.Report
Describe me as a co-conspirator, of course. A bunch of us faculty who hate free speech secretly got together and decided that if some political scientist asked us our views about free speech, we’d lie to him. You got us!
No wait, describe me as one of the self-deceived. We’re really against free speech but we like to flatter ourselves by thinking that we really favor it. But just when we respond to polls. The rest of the time we’re out silencing people.
Or maybe you can describe me as both. It’s a complicated identity, really.Report
I’m happy to have a serious conversation with you about this, if you like. I’m not going to trade snark back and forth with you though. It seems to me from your postings here, comments, and interviews that you are sympathetic with many of the social justice related interventions that bear upon speech. That is your prerogative and can be debated on the merits. But this sort of super-weak effort to show that there isn’t any issue at all just looks cheap and motivated and is not something that can be discussed in any serious or productive fashion.Report
Off to teach, but maybe this comment from an earlier post will give you something to chew on for the time being.Report
Well, having been either enrolled in or teaching at the university, now, since 1994, in environments as different as Houston, Boston, and rural Minnesota, I have to say that the “The sky is falling!” response to the contemporary campus speech-climate situation is overwrought at best and entirely delusional at worst.
(Gee, this is fun!)Report
Justin–I’ve reconsidered making the above comment. It really just isn’t constructive, so please feel free to not post it. Sorry for helping to push the comments in the direction of a slagging match.Report
Thanks. I understand it’s difficult to keep cool sometimes. Especially when one is called unserious and disingenous.Report
Actually, it was unsersious *or* disingenuous.
I didn’t realize these were such terrible slurs, when applied to a statement someone has made. They seem pretty common to me.Report
They’re criticisms of the person, not the argument, Dan.Report
Given that I didn’t say the sky was falling, you must be talking to someone else.Report
“And having taught in the university, now, since 1993, in environments as different as NYC and southern Missouri”
A sample size of two might not provide the most robust extrapolations. My observation has been that the majority of “illiberal college student” fear-mongering deceptively refers to college students as a whole, when they really mean “a small subset of students in an incredibly tiny subset of colleges.”Report
Justin W: wrote
Off to teach, but maybe this comment from an earlier post will give you something to chew on for the time being.
= = =
You should chew on the reply I gave to that comment. I think your playing wounded is also pretty disingenuous. You’re more than capable of and willing to scrap it out with people online. I haven’t seen much evidence of your fragility.Report
Oh, Dan, that’s sweet, but it isn’t tears I’m holding back.Report
Lol. Ok, Justin. Let’s just drop it, then.Report
Justin, I’m going to say this in the kindest way I know how, and without any iota of meanspiritedness.
I think you mean well. I think you sincerely believe the things you write about the anti-free-speech crisis being overblown. I also think you routinely commit testimonial injustice against commenters here. Large numbers of people come on this site saying that they have firsthand experience of a real, serious problem with free speech at their university. Their posts usually get many upvotes (sometimes upwards of a hundred), whereas yours tend to get very few. This suggests that large numbers of DN readers identify with the testimony being offered that the problem is real. This is particularly striking given that as an academic website DN seems likely to have an overwhelmingly liberal readership. If large numbers of liberal academics testify that there is a problem despite the surveys you announce, you should not repeatedly dismiss people’s testimony (which you do), and not do so on the basis of flimsy evidence (which once again this is).
I am one of the people I mention. I identify as a liberal. But I and many people I know have have seen our colleagues hounded, threatened, and fired for expressing their sincerely held views. There are many things that I think are true and reasonable that I would not dare say publicly because I know the outrage machine in academic philosophy and beyond would persecute me. My free speech has been chilled. That is my honest testimony and I know many others share it.Report
Should we mention the removal of comments from these discussions also?Report
Thanks for your comment. I don’t take what your saying to be mean-spirited at all. Here’s one quick reply (for now): repeated requests for examples of philosophers (or other academics) who’ve faced institutional repercussions for expressing their (as you put it) “sincerely held” views have generated only a handful of examples. I don’t have data on this, but if I had to bet, I’d bet that the number of academics who’ve expressed “unpopular opinion X” without any kind of institutional repercussions well outnumber those who’ve expressed “unpopular opinion X” with such repercussions, for nearly all X.
As I’ve said before, if we are overestimating the likelihood of bad effects of expressing unpopular opinions, that would be good to know, because it might make people less fearful of expressing unpopular opinions. And the more people there are expressing a wider range of opinions, the less noteworthy the unpopularity of any one opinion will be, which, in turn, should make people less fearful of expressing unpopular opinions, and so on.
What I want in academia is a robust culture of thoughtful, informed disagreement. Fear inhibits that. If the sources of fear are institutional, let’s fight that. But if the fear is a result of an observational defect (like the availability heuristic), or excess caution (hard to define, I know), we should fight those things, too.Report
I imagine you’d win the bet, but it’s the wrong metric. Let’s stipulate that for every academic who has expressed unpopular opinion X and suffered institutional repercussions, there are 19 who have expressed unpopular opinion X without repercussions. Then if I’m considering expressing unpopular opinion X, I have a five percent chance of institutional repercussions. Given the potential severity of any such repercussions, that’s comfortably enough to chill speech.Report
It also assumes that *only* institutional repercussions are relevant to the issue, as if there aren’t a whole host of non-institutional ways in which people silence, chill, aggress, etc. against one another. I mean I took it the whole point of What Is It Like To Be a Woman in Philosophy was to illustrate that, and I took it that Justin thought such testimonies were at least relevant and potentially dispositive.Report
Especially in today’s market (or lack thereof).Report
I would take that bet. There are all sorts of views for which I’ll bet, _since 2014, say_, most people who have uttered those views have been mercilessly attacked and faced serious professional consequences.
Much of this discussion reminds me of protests to the effect that philosophers never really needed to fear repercussions for blasphemy during such-and-such a period, since the number of convictions were very low. But it seems clear that even just one person being hanged for blasphemy in a nation of several million would be sufficient to silence almost all the rest.
Though I think I’d win the bet, the important question is not how many people who are saying things are being punished. The question is how many people are not saying things because they are reasonably concerned about the results of saying them.Report
Thank you for saying this. Daily Nous would be a much better participant in its time and place if its proprietor was a bit more willing to respond to this line of thinking. Seriously Weinberg, this has come up multiple times in EVERY discussion of the topic that I’ve seen you post. It would be good of you to pay attention to what people are saying the problem is.Report
Here’s another wrinkle to the thing: most of the silencing, marginalizing, ostracism, and other punishing takes place on the sly, and we don’t even know the extent of it. Sometimes, even the person being targeted doesn’t know it.
Here’s one example that comes to mind. I was at a conference not too long ago, and was introduced to a couple of people in a hallway by an acquaintance of mine. This acquaintance then told the other two people that he had someone with right-wing sympathies in his department. The other two people replied that that was a real shame, and gave my acquaintance some tips on how to get rid of the guy. My acquaintance then told the other two people that it was difficult, because the colleague in question had a great publication record and stellar teaching reviews. The three of them then spent some time discussing possible strategies for nudging things in the direction of having the colleague either leave or be forced out, even though his only apparent crime was holding and promoting unstated undesirable views. I take it that I was permitted to hear all this merely because my acquaintance thought that I approved of that sort of marginalization (I share his political views, but apparently not his moral views), and the other two people present took a signal from my acquaintance that I was an okay person to have overhear these things.
That wasn’t the only time I’ve been made privy to such goings-on. On other occasions, when I’ve known the target personally or otherwise taken a principled stand against the targeting, I’ve been quickly shut out of the discussion — presumably, in an effort to minimize the risk that I might reveal some of these shenanigans.
I’m pretty sure my experience is common. The few incidents most of us know about, we know about because we overhear a scheming conversation, or because a friend in a different department mentions something, or because someone mistakenly tries to get us in on the targeting, and then shuts us out of discussion when we say no. And most of us have reasons for keeping the few targetings we know about a secret. Moreover, even those are only the targetings that are done consciously, by more than one person, and moreover revealed to a third party. I suspect that’s a pretty small subsection of them.
In the case I mentioned from the conference, as in others I’ve heard about, the target probably had no idea that anything was going on. The Lindsay Shepherd cases, where someone is actively told to stay on message, are outliers. Most of the time, someone just discovers that he or she hasn’t been invited to come in for an interview or present a paper or teach a certain course, for what could be any number of reasons. And among the motivations people have for these silencings, even if they’re sometimes unconscious motivations, are self-interested ones. Publishing a paper, or allowing someone to give a lecture or teach a class, in which a hot-button topic is explored from an underrepresented perspective offers almost no extrinsic reward, but carries with it the prospect of a nasty targeting not only of the speaker but of anyone who supported the speaker. Especially in today’s dreadful job market, there are very few people willing to put their reputations on the line to make room for alternative viewpoints, especially when the target has already been attacked and some potentially noisy people are insisting that one cancel the talk or course, or try to get the target fired, or withdraw an article from publication.
To make matters worse, all this is happening in a university environment that has demonstrably become vastly more politically homogeneous over the past fifteen years. So, rather than competing factions trying to marginalize each other, we have a fairly peaceful surface that moves steadily in the direction of the most vocal members of academia, as we trip over ourselves not to show up on their radar.
In this environment, covert attacks on free speech are not only likely; they are what one should predict as a default.Report
Well put. I can’t count how many times I’ve been around people who openly espouse professionally ostracizing people for political views that are as tame as simply not going along with the progressive outrage du jour. Just try talking about what the data shows about placement in various quarters of the profession, or how it’s being reported in some places, for instance. And I’ve had some first-hand experience with institutions that not only permitted that kind of behavior, but openly encouraged it with politically-motivated interventions into professional life. But the silencing effect these institutions have is covered up with a patina of ‘justice’ that rules out dissent by defining it as injustice. As a result people are led to believe either that no one disagrees with the program, or that any who do are doing so from a place of malice.Report
Hi Justin. You write:
“As I’ve said before, if we are overestimating the likelihood of bad effects of expressing unpopular opinions, that would be good to know, because it might make people less fearful of expressing unpopular opinions.”
Every time this has come up at Daily Nous, commenters have drawn attention to the fact that there need not be very many instances of the sort we’ve seen at Evergreen, Berkeley, Middlebury, Wilfrid Laurier, Yale, Lewis and Clark, CUNY Law, etc. over the last couple years to have a chilling effect on speech. Yet you continue to frame this issue as though polls like the sort you cite above are evidence for, as you put the point in another post, “the PC college students vs. free speech narrative is baloney”. This is despite the fact that critical responses to this kind of use of these polls have been repeatedly drawn to your attention (e.g. the Sean Stevens and Jon Haidt posts, Lee Jussim’s work, etc.).
So sure, as you’ve said before, if we are overestimating, etc. But I’ve seen very little evidence that there is overestimation going on here, and even less evidence that you’re taking up the concerns that are actually motivating people who are worried about incidents like those at Evergreen, etc.
Whether you expected things to develop this way or not, you have a powerful platform that enables academic philosophers to come together and talk about (among other things, of course) the political problems that universities are experiencing. Whether we think those problems are coming from the right or the left, even a passing familiarity with what is going on should bring home how important it is that we have intelligent people of good will making an earnest effort to address these problems from an informed standpoint. It seems to me that philosophers are peculiarly equipped to help with that effort, particularly at the interstices where different disciplines and ideologies come into contact with one another.Report
Justin, I am disappointed that your immediate reaction to my honest testimony and concern about testimonial injustice is to suggest that testimony from people like me may be due to an “observational defect (like the availability heuristic), or excess caution (hard to define, I know).” Maybe instead of immediately trying to find the flaw or defect in my testimony, it might be best to ask me what my testimony is based on. The answer is that it is not based on “handful of cases.” It is partly based on publicized (and severe) cases, but much more so on my day to day experience where I have routinely seen bullying, intimidation, defriending, etc. I have seen it happen to close friends, to strangers, and in some cases to me. Instead of looking for ways to dismiss people’s experiences, try listening to what people are saying. The evidence you offer in no ways address or call into question the things we experience on a daily basis.Report
Justin didn’t claim that your testimony is based on “observational defects…”, etc. He claimed that the inference you draw from your testimony is. You fail to see this in both this comment and in your earlier post. You make it sound like you are all “Cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die, Justin, [example of anti-free speech behavior] really happened,” and he’s saying “No it didn’t!” Your charge of “testimonial injustice” against Justin and your insistence on your honesty and sincerity make evident that you think that Justin doesn’t think you’re mistakenly drawing a generalization, but, rather, that he thinks you’re lying about your experience. While it may be apt to describe it as testimonial injustice when someone says “I don’t believe you!” in response to a report about experiencing anti-free speech behavior, there is no testimonial injustice involved in thinking someone’s drawing the wrong conclusions from their assertions. Again, Justin never denied that people’s reports of anti-free speech incidents are true; he’s rejected the inference from those reports to the conclusion that there’s a “free speech crisis” on campus.Report
My testimony and the experience of others on DN is that we experience a serious problem directly on a regular basis. If there is any inference here, it is that my experience and the experience of large numbers of people like me is strong inductive evidence that there is a problem. To see why denying this “inference” is testimonial injustice, compare this case to the case David Wallace describes below.
Suppose large numbers of people independently testify to having direct experience with pervasive sexual harassment in the workplace. Their testimony is, “I see clear evidence of systemic sexual harassment in my workplace constantly.” Then suppose you come along and dismiss “the inference” all of these people are making using facially irrelevant evidence, the evidence that most people in their line of work say they “oppose sexual harassment” in surveys (which is entirely irrelevant because people can claim to oppose harassment all they want and it still be pervasive). To deny the “inference” here is for all intents and purposes to say to those testifying, “You all claim to experience a crisis daily. I don’t believe any of you.”
Would you really say there would be no testimonial injustice in saying to people in the #MeToo movement, “Jones never denied that people’s reports of sexual harassment incidents are true; he’s rejected the inference from those reports to there being a sexual misconduct crisis”?Report
I know this isn’t directly relevant, but I can’t help thinking about the “Parable of the Polygons”: https://www.citylab.com/design/2014/12/an-immersive-game-shows-how-easily-segregation-arisesand-how-we-might-fix-it/383586/
(Under the general heading “small preferences can make a big difference”)
More directly relevant is the fact that if 93% of Americans were not racist (against African Americans), an African American would still encounter a lot of racism in a typical week.
I’m just not seeing this as evidence that there’s not “a problem” with free speech on campuses. (Because, in short, if 5% of professors don’t support free speech, that seems like a problem. Just like if 5% of people were racist.)Report
“People strongly favor doing ‘good’ and avoiding ‘bad.'” “Americans strongly favor government by ‘democracy,’ and demand that government is ‘just.'” “Professors favor ‘free speech.'”
Well, nothing for philosophers to see here. We should move on.Report
Perhaps this is a bit off-topic, but I was thinking recently of how discussions like this can get pretty heated (as this thread attests) and why. And it’s led me to realize that there’s something about my opponents’ position that I don’t fully understand.
Free speech on campus is one of those subjects that attracts significant emotional investment from both sides. As someone who thinks that there are significant forces undermining or threatening to undermine free speech on campus, it’s clear to me why those who agree with me here would feel emotionally invested in the debate. Naturally, as people who study and work in universities, we’re concerned with what we perceive to be threats to the functioning of a university, and we’re likewise concerned that the extent of the threats be properly acknowledged rather than unduly dismissed. Also, for those who, like me, have faced ostracism and other ill treatment in the university on ideological grounds, thinking in terms of the broader threats to free speech on campus gives us a way of making sense of our experiences. Of course, this no doubt introduces a number of biases as well, biases that it’s important to remain vigilantly aware of. But my point here is simply that it makes good sense to me that people who agree with me on this issue would feel emotionally invested in it.
I have much more trouble understanding the emotional commitment of the other side, the side who holds that free speech on campus is generally not in much danger and that people’s concerns about it tend to be overblown. Clearly this is a position that Justin and those who agree with him find it very important to defend, as suggested by Justin’s frequent editorializing on the matter, along with a number of comments (whether his or others) in various threads. For all I know, perhaps there are good reasons for finding it very important to defend the “free speech on campus is not in crisis” view. It’s difficult for me to sense what such reasons might be, however. (It’s a bit like a few times in the past when, in talking to some feminists I know, I brought up some instances of what struck me as sexism against men, and was baffled by how ardently they wished to convince me to change my views. It was the kind of thing that makes one wonder, “What rides on this for them? Is it that something fundamental about their identity or worldview is at stake?”) While it’s easy for me to see why one who thinks there *is* a serious issue about X would naturally be very concerned to convince others of this, it’s harder to see why one who thinks that there *isn’t* a serious issue about X would be equally concerned to convince others that there’s not. Let me immediately add that none of this is to suggest that there aren’t good reasons here, or that this has any bearing on whether there is in fact a free speech crisis on campus or not. My interest here is simply in understanding what lies behind the often intense emotional investment that both sides bring to the debate. I can understand it for one side, but for the other side, I’m still nagged by the question “What rides on this for them?” Anyway, I don’t know if anyone will have any thoughts on this, but perhaps someone will. I suppose my hope is that ultimately, by understanding the source of each other’s emotional commitments a bit better, we might become a bit more empathetic and reduce the tension and hostility that sometimes come about in discussions like this.Report
Those people believe that doing certain things is not only right, but that justice and social progress mandates doing it. But they’re aware that a lot of people perceive those things as being in conflict with free speech. So they’re trying to convince those people, and themselves, that doing those things does not, in fact, conflict with free speech.Report
For me, the emotional commitment comes in because so many of those who are pushing the crisis narrative are doing so to undermine an institution that I treasure (higher ed as we know it today). Moreover, they have been trying to undermine higher ed for decades as both a cultural ethos and a political strategy, suggesting that concern about free speech is just a convenient pretext of the day. Take a look at the comments on Heterodox Academy, which carom instantly from “zOMG look at what someone was criticized for saying” to “libtard cultural marxist deconstructionist Soros-bot professors have always been unAmerican traitors who try to undermine our country at every turn.” Before it was free speech, which really just started the last year or so, it was that professors were conspiring to manufacture evidence for climate change. Before that, we were communists.
Note that the persistence of anti-higher-ed activism doesn’t mean there is NOT some sort of free-speech crisis. It just means that we need to be skeptical about whether evidence and recommendations in that vein are offered in good faith. And it means that you can expect emotional commitment in the responses of those of us who treasure higher ed in the US, and see the need to protect it against people who have tried to undermine it for the better part of a century.Report
I am a member of Heterodox Academy and have devoted my entire adult life to the university. And as far as I know, all the members of the Academy are themselves either career professors or graduate students. So, it’s beyond weird to suggest that we/they have been “trying to undermine higher ed for decades.”
That you referenced not the members but the *comments* section is even weirder. What on earth does that have to do with anything relevant to the conversation?Report
I’ve been reading Heterodox Academy’s stuff since it came online in 2015. Can you cite a comment from their discussion threads that is an instance of what you describe here?Report
Your comment is a textbook example of slippery slope and hasty generalization. It reminds me of someone who sees something related to transgender people and instantly thinks ”OMG, so tomorrow we’ll have people identifying as trees and they will require we water them regularly! Such insanity!”Report
I mention the commenters, rather than the posters, because I think they are a better representation of the audience hungry for the crisis narrative. Sorry, I don’t have time to sort through comments to find examples.
As far as HxA members, I’m glad to stipulate #NotAllNxA. But even those with noble aspirations can play into the hands of those with less noble aspirations. As another example of this dynamic, the EPA put Andrew Gelman in a tough position by proposing a policy that they will only consider scientific input based on open data and other forms of transparency. Andrew is a strong advocate for transparency, and I’m sure his heart is in the right place. But I don’t think for a minute that those proposing the policy actually care about the quality of science; it is just yet another way to undermine regulations they don’t want.
I can believe this, even while simultaneously wanting more transparency in science and worrying about reproducibility, etc. It’s a very clever strategy, and I see the crisis-on-campus narrative as serving a similar goal, regardless of how well-intentioned HxA members might be.
This is one of the big reasons I haven’t joined HxA (along with my concern about signing oaths in general, and specific concerns with theirs).Report
“I mention the commenters, rather than the posters, because I think they are a better representation of the audience hungry for the crisis narrative. Sorry, I don’t have time to sort through comments to find examples.”
Hi ILU. This is what you said above:
“so many of those who are pushing the crisis narrative are doing so to undermine an institution that I treasure (higher ed as we know it today).”
You then referenced comments on HxA’s website as evidence for this claim, writing “[t]ake a look at the comments on Heterodox Academy, which carom instantly from “zOMG look at what someone was criticized for saying” to “libtard cultural marxist deconstructionist Soros-bot professors have always been unAmerican traitors who try to undermine our country at every turn.”” But judging the output of a group of academic researchers by the comments on a lightly-moderated website in part devoted to freedom of expression, rather than by reference to the content of the output, is an epistemically irresponsible method for determining what those who are worried about this problem are actually worried about. Furthermore, as a longtime reader of HxA, it’s not clear to me that accusation is accurate at all. So I was hoping you could say something in support of it.
As to the remark that you don’t have time to sort through comments to find examples. I’ll just note that you made a very strong claim. If you have the time to make (what looks like) a hyperbolic comment about ‘liberal cultural marxist deconstructionist Soros-bot professors’, and then to come back and respond again, you surely have the time to make see to it that you’re not trying to inhale through an exhaust port. And if you’d taken the time to substitute that (apparent) hyperbole with a measured assessment of the state of commenting on HxA the first time around, you might have said something that wouldn’t require (what looks like) backpeddling in response to your interlocutors the second time around (‘#notAllHxA’ indeed).
I’m of the mind that we’d all be better off if we were trying a bit harder to speak to the middle by drawing our perspectives in such a way as to encourage mutual understanding–not necessarily agreement, but at least understanding. And we can’t do that if we let (what looks like) hyperbole get the best of accuracy when we characterize the Other to one another.Report
I think Dan and Justin should settle this in the ring. One round, no cheap shots. Winner buys the loser dinner.Report
I was thinking more along the lines of inviting him onto the show I host on BloggingHeads, but I’d be willing to do a cage match or some other such thing. 😉Report
Daniel Kaufman “I was thinking more along the lines of inviting him onto the show I host on BloggingHeads.”
Yeah, I think so too. This format is just too ripe for snarky swiping. It never happens in the dialogues I do, even with people I strongly disagree with. I’m going to email Justin and invite him personally to have a discussion about the current state of philosophy, humanities, academia more generally, along these lines and perhaps a few others.Report
I think the survey results, even if everyone is completely honest (unlikely), are very troublesome for free speech on campus. Let us review:
(1) 80% of faculty members agree with “Faculty members should be free to present in class any idea that they consider relevant.” So 20% do not? That is very concerning – 20% is a lot. And if 20% are motivated, they can have a lot of power.
(2) “Only 31 percent favored positive environments where speech can be limited to help ensure that all students feel safe and respected.” Only? Only? That is an astounding percentage. More than 1/4 professors want to limit speech to make students feel “safe and respected.” I do not know how one can read that and not be immediately certain there is a very serious free speech problem at the university.Report
Regarding (2): 31% of faculty prefer “a positive learning environment” over “an open learning environment.” A positive learning environment for all students is one “that prohibits certain expressions of speech or viewpoints that are offensive or biased against certain groups of people.”
It’s difficult to tell if this is worrisome because it’s difficult to tell precisely which kinds of speech the 31 percent of faculty want to prohibit. Do you think there are no forms of speech that are offensive or biased that should be prohibited? The statistic doesn’t seem worrisome to me if the faculty merely think uses of racial slurs should be banned, for instance.Report
“80% of faculty members agree with “Faculty members should be free to present in class any idea that they consider relevant.”
I’d like to know more about how that question was framed. (I haven’t been able to find more details after a quick Google). As stated, I’m not sure *I* agree with it. It can be read as saying that Faculty members should be free to present ideas in class that are flatly wrong according to established disciplinary consensus. I shouldn’t be free to teach a calculus class in which I insist that the derivative of x^2 is x^3, or a philosophy class in which I insist that Quine was a contemporary of Augustine, or a physics class in which I insist that gravity obeys an inverse-square law. Straightforward disciplinary incompetence isn’t and shouldn’t be protected by academic freedom.
If the poll was intelligently written, the actual question will have clarified whether this is what was meant, though.Report
Actually, I probably *should* be allowed to teach that gravity obeys an inverse-square law! I think I meant to introduce an error there – to write “inverse-cube” or something – and my subconscious corrected it automatically!Report
Anna, regarding (2), how can you actually have “free speech” if people feel the environment isn’t conducive to their views being respectfully entertained by their peers? The rationale could be that people want to create a safe and respectful environment so that all views from different people can be presented on the table and fairly assessed. If you don’t help create an environment like that, how can you truly say you believe in the values associated with free speech?Report
When Justin put up a thread on this issue last month, a number of commenters noted that the presence of widespread support for free speech does not show that there isn’t a crisis. I see that the first commenter in this thread makes the same point.
In addition, in that thread people were directed to two systematic assessments of these claims made by Sean Stevens and Jon Haidt at the Heterodox academy:
Those two posts are much better critical assessments of what data is available concerning respect for principles of free speech on American campuses than anything I’ve seen posted here at Daily Nous. Philosophers interested in making an intelligent contribution to this conversation would do well to at least recognize that the ‘no crisis’ narrative has been heavily criticized by people who know enough about what the data shows to have an informed take on the situation.Report
I empathize with Justin’s position. It reminds me of the many thousands of internet sites (e.g. Tumblr) that were created for a variety of reasons, but ended up being used mostly for porn. But in this case, Justin has created a site that was supposed to represent his viewpoint, but has become a gathering place for those who disagree with him. This was never possible with someone like Leiter, whose commitment to free speech on his blog is .. underwhelming, to say the least. But it is possible with Justin, who does clearly think that free speech is valuable — but who nevertheless shows sympathy with various efforts to marginalize and chill free speech on campus.
I’ve heard some complain here that Justin silences people in the comments of this blog, but I’ve never personally experienced that — and I have a long history of writing (civil) comments on this blog that might be seen as unwelcome.Report
I agree with this comment. Even when I find myself disagreeing with Justin, I appreciate that he allows for a relatively spirited exchange of ideas in the comments section. This is a welcome aspect compared to many academic other websites (Leiter is not the only one) where only comments that agree with the site owner are allowed through moderation.Report
This is a welcome aspect compared to many academic other websites (Leiter is not the only one) where only comments that agree with the site owner are allowed through moderation.
You can disagree with Leiter all you want (I certainly disagree with him on many topics) and can think that more actively moderated comments are bad (I have mixed feelings on this), but this claim is just flat false, as anyone who reads the comments on Leiter’s blog knows. Maybe he’s not let some of your comments through. (I have no idea!) but the idea that he only lets comments through that agree with him is, frankly, so clearly false as to be nuts.Report
Matt, to be clear, I agree with you that Leiter is open to critical comments. But his blog is very clearly a BLOG, not a forum with a variety of ideas represented. You can see this in that he — probably for his own personal health — does not allow comments on most posts. Daily Nous is more of a free-wheeling place for people to discuss matters of consequence. Justin keeps it civil, so it’s not a MetaMetaNastyPhilosophersPickOnEachOther site, but he also allows there to be extended and vigorous disagreements.Report
Matt, fair enough. Perhaps I do not read Leiter regularly enough to see the vigorous exchange of dissenting views. I was going off of my recollection that the few posts where he allowed comments tended to be almost entirely in agreement with Leiter. Perhaps that is not due to excessive moderation, but instead to self-selection among readers. Nevertheless, I have had experience on some academic sites that do indeed reject any post other than agreement.Report
Arthur Greeves – that is a fair point. And fwiw, one consistent with my comment.Report
Hi everyone. There have been lots of interesting comments here. Thank you. I will be responding substantively to some of these, probably in a separate post. However, as I’ve been super busy with non-blog stuff yesterday, and as said busyness will be continuing for the next few days, it may be a little while before that post appears. If I can, I may post some short replies. Thanks for your patience.Report
I’d be more interested to see attitudes toward recent incidents. Do you support no platforming or disrupting of X (e.g., Josh Blackman, Charles Murray, Milo, all three of which are very different)? Do you think instructors should be disciplined for showing “controversial” videos (ala Lindsay Shepherd)? Do you think your institution should adopt the Chicago statement on free speech? Vague statements of principle often crumble when the rubber meets the road.Report
And I’ll add the caveat that professor attitudes have never been the focus of attention when it comes to the “free speech crisis”; rather, it’s students and administrators that are the principal actors.Report
It’s noteworthy that Lindsay Shepherd is a TA, not an instructor. Her case is odd since arguably she introduced new content that the actual instructor didn’t approve of, which I can somewhat understand. She also wasn’t really disciplined, except that the instructor wanted to see her lesson plans afterward and approve them (many lecturers require this from the beginning anyway). At best there might have been a social blowback, with colleagues and department members not trusting her, but it’s hard to believe someone wouldn’t predict something like that happening when you secretly record a potential colleague and bring that recording to the media to embarrass them. Even if it was legal and perhaps the right thing to do, at the very least you can expect this sort of reaction.
The question, therefore, is whether TA’s can show whatever content they want in their tutorials or conferences? It seems to me that this is a no. TA’s need to stick to the class structure designed by the prof, since their duty is to assist the prof in teaching their courses, not introduce content that they think needs to be discussed (that isn’t).Report
But she wasn’t reprimanded for covering new material or for recording or sharing the reprimand. She was reprimanded for allegedly creating a ‘toxic’ environment by showing at CBC interview with Peterson.Report
I have so many questions for you! Like, isn’t the one entitled to the freedom to control the content of their own class the instructor here, not the TA? And isn’t it part of the TA’s job to defer to the instructor as their assistant, especially on matters of content? Shouldn’t Sheppard have known better than to have gone forward with a video of a controversial figure like Peterson without having cleared it with the instructor first? Wouldn’t not letting the instructor reprimand Sheppard, on the basis of whatever scholastic/pedagogical objection he might have, and take control of what their students are exposed to in their course be a violation of the only academic freedoms at issue in this case? Are you genuinely this obtuse, or is this just opportunistic axe grinding?Report
JT, what you and Ray Aldred are saying just doesn’t factually square with what happened in the Lindsay Shepherd case. It begins to seem as though many people have a distorted understanding of what happened to her (before the university began an independent investigation that fully exonerated her in the wake of her recording being publicized internationally and sparking an outcry) and what reasons were actually given by her supervising professor and by the acting manager of the gendered-violence and support program when she was called on the carpet.
Here’s a 12-minute piece on the Lindsay Shepherd case from CBC (roughly, the Canadian equivalent to NPR).
If you still think, after watching that piece, that Lindsay Shepherd was not criticized for the views she allowed to be presented in class by showing the CBC interview with Peterson, but only for unrelated things, then please explain why and I’d be glad to continue the conversation.
If the CBC piece on the Shepherd case isn’t enough, here are articles from Canada’s two nation-wide papers about it. Neither one supports the narrative you have presented, according to which there was no academic freedom and Shepherd was being disciplined for unrelated reasons.
If you have evidence that supports your contention that all these news media are getting the facts of the case wrong, then I’m interested in seeing it.Report
Some quick replies:
1. “If you still think, after watching that piece, that Lindsay Shepherd was not criticized for the views she allowed to be presented in class by showing the CBC interview with Peterson, but only for unrelated things, then please explain why and I’d be glad to continue the conversation.”
I don’t deny that what Rambukkana objected to was the content of the views she presented in class. Nor do I deny that he (and also the administrator) behaved badly and owes Shepard an apology (which is compatible with thinking that she also conducted herself badly). But, and this is the important bit you seem intent on missing, while Rambukkana was nonetheless entitled to criticise Shepard for what she showed without his approval in class as the instructor for the course, Shepard did not have the academic freedom to show what she did without his approval insofar as she was his TA. This is not a ‘narrative’; this is just how academic freedom works.
2. “…before the university began an independent investigation that fully exonerated her in the wake of her recording being publicized internationally and sparking an outcry…”
Yes, the university did exonerate her, but it’s important to know on what grounds. Essentially, part of the ridiculousness here is that Rambukkana and the administrator jumped the gun and tried to make it all into something way worse than it was by initiating some pretty serious formal policies on the basis of minor informal complaints. So of course she was cleared–no allegation was ever officially filed. But this doesn’t mean that there were in fact no complaints or that Rambukkana’s concerns were entirely unreasonable, which leads to my next point.
3. “If you have evidence that supports your contention that all these news media are getting the facts of the case wrong, then I’m interested in seeing it.”
Here’s some testimony from a student in the room: “Lindsay Shepherd showed the video of Jordan Peterson during a grammar lesson in our class. This video had absolutely nothing to do with what we were learning that day and it felt as if she showed the video to purposely start a discussion about something she had opinions on. The video was showed and she asked the class for some of their thoughts. Some of the comments made for an interesting discussion, but mostly students used it as an excuse to make fun of trans identities.” (https://www.hercampus.com/school/wilfrid-laurier/debate-free-speech-wilfrid-laurier-university?utm_campaign=shareaholic&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=socialnetwork)
4. “If the CBC piece on the Shepherd case isn’t enough, here are articles from Canada’s two nation-wide papers about it. Neither one supports the narrative you have presented, according to which there was no academic freedom and Shepherd was being disciplined for unrelated reasons.”
I’m Canadian, so I actually regularly read the papers you mention, but I’ve largely stopped following the hot takes on the Laurier story, because if there’s a false narrative here it’s that this is somehow also a free speech issue. It is manifestedly not. While there are certainly issues of academic freedom involved, these are not free speech issues–this should be obvious, since one is earned by joining the ranks of the academy and the other is had by default.
5. As long as we’re trading inks, here’s another: http://higheredstrategy.com/everybody-lost-damn-mind/ .Report
Okay, let’s look at the facts I stated, since you said what I said isn’t factually accurate.
1. Lindsay Shepherd is a TA, not an instructor. Is this true or not?
2. Lindsay Shepherd presented material that wasn’t approved by her instructor. Is this true or not? If it’s false, then the instructor pre-approved Shepherd showing the Peterson video. As far as I can tell, the instructor did not. In fact, he appeared to have issues with Shepherd showing the video.
3. Lindsay Shepherd wasn’t actually disciplined, except for the fact that she was asked to show her lesson plan to the instructor to be approved. Arguably, this isn’t discipline, because TA’s do this for instructors without doing anything “wrong” all the time. Was Shepherd expelled? Was she put on academic probation? Was she formally fired from her position as a TA? Was she ousted from her program? No!
Where am I factually wrong in 1-3?
You appear to be accusing me of holding the following view: “Lindsay Shepherd was not criticized for the views she allowed to be presented in class by showing the CBC interview with Peterson, but only for unrelated things.” Where did I suggest the “but ONLY unrelated things” inference, based on what I wrote?Report
Thanks for your reply, Ray.
To answer your questions:
1. Lindsay Shepherd was, and I think still is, a TA at Wilfrid Laurier University. My understanding is that she was teaching a tutorial section of Rambukkana’s Communications course,
2. Your second question needs to be disambiguated. It’s clear from the conversation, and from other news reports, that TAs in this course were given considerable leeway in how they ran their tutorial sections. It’s very clear in the discussion she recorded (and there are many direct quotes that make this apparent, but I’ll let you read it for yourself — it’s at https://pastebin.com/2k3jjGKJ ) that the problem was _not_ that Shepherd presented material that hadn’t been approved. Rambukkana and the rest of the people who called Shepherd in didn’t say, “We have no problem with showing a clip of the CBC interview with Jordan Peterson, but you should have checked it with us first.” They said, falsely as the later investigation revealed, that there had been student complaints about the airing of five minutes from the interview. They also claimed that Shepherd had created a ‘toxic’ learning environment by playing part of the CBC interview in her tutorial, and that this amounted to ‘violence’, even though Shepherd made clear that she didn’t even agree with Peterson but just wanted to students to see different sides of the issue. That was the basis for the complaint, and that was why the Acting Manager of Gendered Violence Prevention and Support was at the meeting (why would she have been present if the point of the meeting had been, as you suggest, just to emphasize the need to stick with a more rigid set of instructions in the tutorials?)
So, coming to your second question: you ask, “Lindsay Shepherd presented material that wasn’t approved by her instructor. Is this true or not?” It’s true, but there seems to have been no prior expectation that she or the other TAs have material approved by the instructor prior to showing it in recitations, and the conversation she recorded makes clear that that was not at all the issue for which she was called on the carpet.
3. You continue, “Lindsay Shepherd wasn’t actually disciplined, except for the fact that she was asked to show her lesson plan to the instructor to be approved. Arguably, this isn’t discipline, because TA’s do this for instructors without doing anything “wrong” all the time. Was Shepherd expelled? Was she put on academic probation? Was she formally fired from her position as a TA? Was she ousted from her program? No!”
You’re omitting a very great deal here. Here’s a relevant bit of the transcript:
Rambukkana: “…And then I’ll also talk everything over with my colleagues and with Peter who’s the chair of the undergraduate department. And then we’ll talk about how to move forward with this. Does that make any sense?
Shepherd: “Sorry that’s a little bit vague, could you specify what you mean by moving forward? That’s really general.”
Rambukkana: “Okay. Well, we’re going to have to talk about what we said, and then hopefully, everything can continue, and we can continue to have the working relationship that we do but it’s something I have to talk over with my colleagues because frankly, some of the things that we talked about are a little bit problematic and we need to process them.”
Shepherd: “Do you know when you’ll have an answer by?”
Rambukkana: “I do not.”
Shepherd: “Okay, but basically you’re telling me that the alternative to me not continuing my TAship is that it would somehow be terminated? And I’m not sure what the grounds for that would be.”
Rambukkana: “That’s not something that is in my control. I am not your employer, I’m your supervisor. So I have to actually transmit my information, I have to talk about it with Herbert, I have to talk about it with Peter, who is the chair. If I knew what the entire process is then I would let you know.”
To recap: quite apart from being told not to show any more footage of Jordan Peterson (after being accused of ‘violence’ against some of her students by showing a clip from the CBC interview), and to submit all future materials to the instructor, Shepherd was told that some of these ‘problematic’ things could lead to further consequences that could, for all her supervising professor could tell her, destroy the relationship she had with him and could even spell the end of her TAship, or more. Moreover, she was not even given any sense of how long these backroom deliberations, that would involve her department Chair and this representative from the Gendered Violence Prevention and Support office would take. That is certainly an extremely stressful position for a graduate student to be in.
Was she, in the end, expelled or otherwise disciplined? No — but what you completely neglect here is the fact that that outcome was almost certainly influenced, to a very large extent, by the fact that she had made a recording of the conversation and managed to get it to an international audience, who in turn put the university in the spotlight.
My understanding of the dialectic so far, and please correct me if this is wrong, is this: the Lindsay Shepherd case is generally taken to be an instance of an incursion on free speech in university. Some people think that incursion is justified, and some do not. But you, if I’m not mistaken, have taken the position that there is no free speech or free inquiry issue at the heart of the Shepherd case at all, since (you seemed to be saying) she wasn’t actually reprimanded for presenting (for critical discussion, not as her own view) the position that ‘they’ should not be used as a singular pronoun, but rather, as you believe, merely because she violated a general prohibition on introducing new audio/visual materials in tutorials that would have brought about the same consequences regardless of the topic. If you aren’t taking this position, then I don’t understand how your comment fits in with the dialectic of this thread at all, and I’d appreciate it if you explain the relevance. But if that is your position, then I hope it’s now clear that that interpretation doesn’t square well with the facts of the case.Report
As long as anecdata are being treated as counterexample….
A small sample of the things I have had my students do:
Read arguments that conservative ideologies are rhetorically superior to liberal ideologies (Haidt)
Read arguments that suggest that it is wrong to let “disabled” persons come into existence (Singer)
Read arguments that claim that implicit biases may not exist (Olofsson)
And yet despite these controversial readings and discussions (really the tip of an iceberg for me) I have never, not once, ever ever ever, had students complain about the topics, complain about the discussions, or express disapproval in anonymous surveys. I have never (ever ever ever) had my department or my administration say that I should be careful about these readings or that I should not be using them.
What in the world is going on in your classrooms such that you feel like you cannot do this? Maybe the problem isn’t so much that one cannot do it and maybe, instead, it’s that most of you can’t do it well? Obviously controversial ideas should be taught at the university but they should be taught in the right way.
As philosophers, we tend to focus so much on content and so little on context. I think that this often makes us unaware of how important context can be in the classroom and in how content is perceived by our students. I don’t think there is a free speech threat at universities, I don’t think that there is a legitimate chilling effect on speech. What I see are people who have probably teaching the same things in the same bad ways getting pushback and feeling chilled. We’re a discipline that hasn’t valued good pedagogy in several generations so it’s no surprise that philosophers see this as a criticism of their content instead of their bad teaching…but I’m not so sure.Report
“I don’t think there is a free speech threat at universities, I don’t think that there is a legitimate chilling effect on speech. What I see are people who have probably teaching the same things in the same bad ways getting pushback and feeling chilled.”
Hi PhilosophyProfessor. Can you say something to the effect of how Nicholas Christakis’ treatment at Yale, or Brett Weinstein’s treatment at Evergreen, or Rebecca Tuvel’s treatment at Hypatia, fits this heuristic? If it’s difficult to do so, that suggests that there is a chilling effect that is not localized to bad teachers.Report
Sure. Easy enough I’d say:
1. Weinstein’s problem is not unique to college campuses and, in the end, he was vindicated and compensated (handsomely)
2. Christakis, as best as I can tell, overstepped his bounds in the residential position at Yale. Resigned that specific position without losing his academic posting and suffered no real damages except for criticism.
3. Tuvel did, in my opinion anyway, receive unjust treatment though this was by a journal not a university/college.Report
Hi again, PhilosophyProfessor.
1. I’m not sure how it helps your point to say that Weinstein’s problem is not unique to college campuses. But in what sense was he vindicated? Sure, he gained supportive followers; but his overall situation (and that of his wife, Heather Heying, who also had to leave as part of the arrangement when the administration rolled over on them) are in a rather precarious state. They had devoted themselves to teaching rather than publishing for a very long time while at Evergreen, and their work seems to have paid off. They should have been set for life there. But it is not clear that they will be hired on at any other college or university, given that they have not devoted their time to research; and perhaps more important, any school that hires them on now will probably be protested for doing so. The package Weinstein and Heying received in their negotiations with Evergreen is not even close to what they would have earned had they continued to serve as instructors there for the rest of their careers. They also have school-age children that they need to look out for. Their transition from college instructors to freelance lecturers trying to earn a living through Patreon and the paid speaking engagements they can secure is a forced one, and it’s far from clear at this point whether it will work for them.
But even if they end up doing fine, it’s not as though everyone who risks getting targeted in the way Weinstein was can say, “Ah well, I don’t need to worry about being targeted by an angry mob who then literally goes through the parking lot with baseball bats looking for me in parked cars a few days later as the college president orders the campus police to stand down and then terminates my contract: I can just become a successful freelance speaker and writer.” Perhaps there is room for a handful of ‘poster child’ ex-professor/free speech advocates like Weinstein, but not for thousands of them. Faced with the choice of an uncertain future after being dismissed for little more than standing up to a rather illiberal cadre of campus activists or keeping quiet, it’s hard to see why it wouldn’t be far more prudent to keep quiet.
2. You say you think that Christakis “overstepped his bounds”, but you don’t say how. Could you please explain? He was screamed at by an angry, out of control mob for over an hour in the quad merely because they wanted him to apologize for an email his wife had sent, and one member of that mob in particular screamed in his face that he was unworthy of his position as master of Silliman college and should resign. Eight months later, he did step down, in the face of the pressure, despite the fact that most of his students seemed to really appreciate his tendency (and his wife’s, she being the writer of the mild email that started it all) to engage with the students in open, respectful intellectual discussion of controversial issues. The couple’s impeccable left-wing, progressive credentials were of no help to them in facing the mob, and both received death threats. But, very likely due in part to Christakis’s extraordinary reputation as a researcher, he was not also pushed out of Yale (though he and his wife were vilified on social media and received several death threats). It’s not clear to me why this should give any comfort to less prominent members of the profession who might otherwise dare to, for instance, not apologize abjectly for a spouse’s innocuous email when commanded to by a mob on campus.
3. I’m glad you agree that Tuvel was treated unjustly. But does the fact that the injustice was brought about by journal editors rather than departmental colleagues or administrators really mean that the incident shows that there is nothing to worry about, career-wise? Members of editorial boards are almost always colleagues to somebody, and one’s publication record is an important part of gaining and maintaining academic positions, and pressure to join in the denunciation of Tuvel and others are unlikely to be immaterial to whether such people are published, hired, invited or promoted elsewhere.Report
Hi PhilosophyProfessor–the question is whether your heuristic–viz., “people probably teaching the same things in the same bad ways”–explains the chilling effect on free speech that cases like the Yale, Evergreen, and Hypatia fiascos are instances of. So it does not support your position to say that Weinstein was compensated for the horrible behavior he had to endure or that Tuvel’s treatment came at the hands of professors rather than students. In both cases, there is an absence of “bad behavior” of the sort your heuristic hypothesizes and yet we see reprehensible treatment that leads to a chilling of open expression. And I would like to see what evidence you have that Christakis “overstepped” his bounds in a way that makes that response by the students in the quad acceptable . At this point, I can’t see that you’ve done anything to show that your anecdotally (and from just your single case!) supported heuristic is anything that anyone else should take seriously as an assessment of the nature of the problem.Report
Hi, Philosophy Professor.
It sounds as though you are doing some great, thought-provoking teaching. It sounds as though you’d expect me to be surprised by your experience, given what I’ve said above. Actually, I’m not. I’ve never had complaints about my teaching, either, even though I’ve sometimes included controversial material.
So, does it follow that the best explanation is that people like Lindsay Shepherd and Rebecca Tuvel are just not as great and sensitive as you and I are at teaching or writing about these issues? Flattering though the thought is, I doubt that it’s the right account.
I’ve found, as you probably have, that the great majority of undergraduates are excited about discussing these hot button issues with each other and trying to get to the bottom of them. I’m pretty sure that almost all Lindsay Shepherd’s students, like almost all of Rebecca Tuvel’s readers, felt the same interest and excitement when confronted with their challenges. But all it takes is one person to make a complaint. Perhaps only one in a thousand students or readers will become indignant at someone’s showing a CBC interview with Jordan Peterson in class or at reading a sympathetic discussion of trans-racialism in _Hypatia_, and decide to launch a crusade against it. If so, it’s not surprising that many of us avoid being targeted in these crusades, just by chance. But the big question, I think, is what happens when that one person in a thousand tries to raise hell.
Such a crusader, if you had one in your class, could well start by going to either a student-led activist group, or to a contingent of like-minded undergrads or grad students, or to your school’s equity office (or whatever office your school has opened to, inter alia perhaps, fend off this sort of bad publicity). Which of these do you think is more likely then: that those people will say, “I can’t believe you had to sit through that — let’s do something about it”, or “You know, I don’t see anything wrong with what you describe — you really seem to be overreacting here”? Consider how much the audience would have to lose or gain in both cases.
Now imagine that this student and a official university-appointed advocate, or perhaps a potentially very noisy protest organization, or perhaps a bunch of students who have signed on to a petition, approach your Chair with this complaint against your teaching. Up to that point, your chair has only heard good things about you, and seen your stellar student reviews, and maybe even observed your effective teaching in person. But now, this same Chair has to decide whether to express empathy with the complainers who are demanding action, and promise to handle the situation, or whether to stand firm and say, in effect, that you have the right and obligation to teach this material effectively and that the department won’t be bossed around by the university offices and protest groups, no matter what they threaten. Which do you think is more likely, given the relations the Chair needs to maintain with other interests? It would be an extraordinary Chair nowadays who would stand down the complaints unswayingly. More likely, he or she would do something to appease the protesters, like take you off the course or at least give you a warning.
These things have never happened to you, Philosophy Professor, for what I take to be reasons of blind luck. You don’t have the sense of walking on eggshells because you have a hypothesis that your strong pedagogy makes you bulletproof. I wonder, though, how you would react to this threat if you didn’t have that belief. No matter how diplomatically and sensitively you put things to your students or readers, there are some out there (even if very few) who will be offended and complain anyway. If you can’t be sure that your Chair will stand up for you in the face of any possible complaints and will see it as a sign of your teaching excellence rather than as an inconvenience to be called upon to defend you even as some possibly unhinged protesters threaten to run to the (social or other) media with their complaint if the Chair doesn’t comply, then you have to be a very daring person to keep taking the risks. And if your Chair doesn’t have an unequivocal message from higher levels of administration that they will be only too glad to back your department in its support of the sort of teaching you’re doing, your Chair is likely to bend at the knees at least a little when the pressure is on. Add to this the job insecurity and lack of savings of a growing proportion of instructors, and we have a situation where just a few public cases like Shepherd’s and Tuvel’s can have a big effect on the practices of everyone else.Report
Philosophy Professor: wait until they come from you. I have taught for several decades. Never any problem. Sure, there were always some unhappy students. But they could always be engaged with and reasoned with. Then in the past year to two strident student activist groups sprang up. Then faculty I know were accused of “academic oppression” for enforcing basic norms of scholarship and argumentation. Then students began prosecuting other students for viewpoints expressed in class. Just like you, I didn’t see it where I was. Until I did.Report
My experience, which is perhaps quite unique, goes along with the idea that free speech and civilized discussion of radically opposed worldviews is possible–if the instructors are capable, by training and/or disposition, to make it work. I teach at an institution where cultural diversity is the norm–we have significant numbers of students from at least 40 nations. Some of those nations are in serious conflict with each other (have been at war with each other recently), have conflicts with in them that are or border on civil war. We nevertheless debate respectfully but very openly a wide range of values and events about which persons in general and persons involved disagree deeply. This is in the context of philosophical theories of ethics, applied ethics, international relations theory, etc.
I am not at all sure that most of the issue of the philosophy Ph.D. programs in America have ever done much to provide the skills necessary to deal with real and existential differences.Report
”Maybe the problem isn’t so much that one cannot do it and maybe, instead, it’s that most of you can’t do it well?”
It’s awfully, dreadfully presumptuous to say that the people who complain about these things are simply bad teachers, unlike you.Report
I’ve put this up as an update to the post, but it may be more visible here:
Someone is trolling the site by repeatedly reporting comments that are critical of me or my views, presumably in an attempt to “show” how anti-free speech I am. (Note to troll: I’m sorry my failure to live up to your expectations has made extra work for you.) When this happens, the comment is no longer visible until I manually re-approve it. I’ll try to keep an eye on this, but if you notice that your previously visible comment has not been visible for a while, send me an email to let me know. Also, keep in mind I do not tend to Daily Nous 24/7, so the restoration of your comment may take some time.Report
In a survey like this one, why not also find out whether in reality faculty felt they are able to express their opinions freely? The survey appears to only investigate whether faculty felt they should have freedom of speech on campus. I think most people would predict the results that were gathered. Ask the faculty if they have ever avoided expressing their personal opinion about a contentious issue, or have modified or toned down their real viewpoint and then see whether freedom of speech is in crisis. The article doesn’t mention the impact of the institutional management structure and the perception of ‘damage to reputation’ – whether of the individual faculty member or of the institution – that can occur when people speak their minds. Abrams’ research seems to me rather pointless without the add on question of how people have actually behaved to date, as well as their perceptions of whether they would self-censor in certain circumstances and why. Weinberg has merely summarised the findings, not interrogated them.Report
Abrams’ research seems to me rather pointless without the add on question of how people have actually behaved to date
If you don’t trust people’s self-reports of attitudes why would you trust their reports of their behavior?
These sorts of arguments, which can be leveled at all sorts of social-scientific research that are the basis of many policies we (whoever *we* happens to be) accept when it doesn’t bother us or supports our world-view are conveniently made out to be defeating defects once our own narrative/world-view/insecurities are undermined by research results.Report
Who said we shouldn’t trust professors’ self-reports about whether they value free expression? The question is whether what they value is a reliable predictor of how likely they are to censor themselves for fear of negative repercussion. We can trust self-reports about generally pro-attitudes toward freedom of expression while recognizing that this leaves open whether, in practice, people are worried about being able to express themselves free of professional censure. Notice the use of ‘should’ in Caroline’s second sentence.
As for the remark about ‘these sorts of arguments’, I don’t see how that adds anything to the discussioon. It doesn’t, for instance, offer any response to the critical assessments that people like Stevens, Haidt, and Jussim have made of the way this sort of polling information has been used by people reporting these studies to a wider audience. Indeed, it’s difficult for me to see anything in that remark but a side-eyed aspersion cast on one’s interloctors (notwithstanding parenthetical remarks about who *we* really means).Report
Consider this template:
(i) Thing X strikes at the heart of the values that define an academic community.
(ii) There have been hundreds of anecdotal examples of Thing X happening in academia over the last few years, ranging from the troubling-but-ambiguous to the totally-shocking.
(iii) There are widespread, but largely anonymous, claims that the reported cases of Thing X are just the tip of the iceberg, and that there are many more cases of Thing X that don’t get reported.
(iv) There are also widespread, but largely anonymous, claims that Thing X incidents happen in a culture of widespread toleration of lower-level Thing-X-like events.
(v) It’s contested whether *most* people in the community have Thing-X-inducing values, but it’s also clearly the case that even a smallish minority of Thing-X-perpetrators can cause Thing X to happen if they are allowed to act with impunity.
(vi) Institutional leadership at too many universities seems to respond to Thing X as a public-relations issue to be made to go away as expeditiously and quietly as possible, rather than standing up for academic and community values by forthrightly condemning Thing X and taking appropriate action against Thing-X-perpetrators.
(vii) It is very hard to get reliable non-anecdotal data on Thing X, to tell if it is more common than it used to be, or if Thing-X-encouraging behavior is more common in academia than outside it.
Here are two possible responses:
A) It’s vital we act to reduce Thing X and to support victims of Thing X. Although we can’t know how common Thing X is, we should as a community loudly condemn individual occurrences of Thing X and at least consider what changes we can make to prevent or reduce Thing X, consistent with our other academic and community values. Of course we should remember that Thing X is not the only academically important issue, and that we should be careful not to cause harm via badly chosen reactions, but we should take Thing X really seriously – and responding to any given report of Thing X with scepticism about the frequency or otherwise of Thing X (as advocates of response B do) is tone-deaf, sends a really bad signal to victims of Thing X, and makes academia look really bad to the outside world – both to our friends, who are embarrassed, and to our enemies, who can take advantage.
B) The academic sector is huge. Hundreds of occurrences of Thing X are entirely compatible with Thing X being really really rare! And the fact that particular cases of Thing X get a lot of media attention means that we’re led to think of Thing X as a more serious problem than it really is. While of course we don’t approve of individual Thing X events, claims of a “Thing X crisis” are premature, and risk causing unnecessary distress in people who come to expect Thing X and modify their behavior in advance to avoid it, and so it’s important to keep stressing publicly, whenever these stories come up, that there is no really solid evidence of a Thing X crisis. Indeed, paying too much attention to Thing X (as advocates of response A do) risks playing into the hands of academia’s outside enemies.
(And of course, positions intermediate between (A) and (B) are possible.)
If X=sexual harassment, the great majority of the philosophy (online) community advocates response (A) or something close to it – and, for what it’s worth, I think they’re broadly right to do so. One way to characterise what I, and I think others, find frustrating about discussions of free speech issues at DN is that when X=free speech, people seem to adopt (B) for reasons that – at least on the surface – seem to mean that they should have adopted (B) for sexual harassment too.
Of course, no two things are alike in all respects, but it would be helpful to get some clarification of just what the difference is.Report
I haven’t read all the comments yet, but there doesn’t appear to be links to the actual data set, how the questions were framed, or the specific methodology. All I could find in this post was a few links to articles that talked about the study, telling me the gist of the study, and the insights someone garnered from the data. But, as far I can tell, the articles don’t actually contain links to the actual study, the original dataframe, and how they arrived at the insights they did. Forgive me, but I’d love to actually get into the specifics because The American Enterprise Institute is a conservative think tank (with Dick Cheyney and other conservative business interests on its board of trustees) that has a very specific agenda that they are trying to push. So we should take a healthy dose of skepticism to the “research” that is produced by it and its affiliates.Report
I haven’t forgotten about replying to people’s concerns here. I will get to it, I promise. In the meanwhile, here is a good response to some of the Heterodox Academy work on campus speech that people have linked to: “There Is No Campus Free Speech Crisis: A Close Look at the Evidence.”Report
That essay engages in several incredible argumentative red herrings.
Their previous article arguing there is no free speech crisis was based on surveys of student attitudes. As many people in this thread have pointed, surveys like that are no measure at all of whether people are actually being persecuted for free speech or having their speech chilled.
The present article now identifies the free speech crisis with three claims made by Stevens and Haidt focusing on anti-conservative bias. It then once again uses silly survey responses to argue those three claims are false, so there is no free speech crisis. But there are two problems here. First, the conclusion doesn’t follow. Even if the surveys supported the authors’ claims, they would at most show that Stevens and Haidt’s anti-conservative narrative of the crisis is wrong, not that there is no free speech crisis. Second, one of the main surveys referenced plainly contradicts the “no crisis” conclusion, indicating that between 50-60+% of respondents ACROSS THE POLITICAL SPECTRUM think “the climate on my campus prevents people from saying things…others…may find offensive.” This suggests that between 50-60% of respondents think free speech on their campus is chilled by its climate. If that’s not indicative of a crisis, I don’t know what is.
Finally, the charts at the end of the piece also belie the “no crisis” narrative. They demonstrate a truly astonishing rise of faculty terminations for speech the past three years. The authors also note the number of these terminations is probably undercounted (“These cases can be further analyzed in terms of faculty ranking, which show an especially sharp increase in 2017 in the number of terminations involving contingent faculty (e.g. adjuncts, visiting scholars, graduate student lecturers). However, due to data collection problems, this number probably significantly undercounts the phenomenon”).
So, people not only report in large numbers that their speech is being chilled. People are being fired from faculty positions for their speech at an increasing rate. No free speech crisis? Please.Report
I’m underwhelmed by Sach’s response.
Concerning the Cato/YouGov survey he says that “the story they [Stevens and Haidt] tell does not support the iGen theory. A comparison between all generations (and not just the two youngest vs. the two oldest) shows that iGen’ers are much less out of the mainstream than Stevens and Haidt suggest.” In their first essay Stevens and Haidt compared the two youngest generations (18-24 and 25-34) with the two oldest (55-64 and 65+), noting that the former were the least supportive of free speech and the latter were the most supportive. Sachs cites a graph that shows two middle groups (35-44 and 45-54) with attitudes toward free speech that fall in the middle.
But Stevens and Haidt include those two groups in their own graph, so it’s a little odd of Sachs to point to it as evidence that there is no sudden jump among the iGen generations. The problem is, that’s not what that data is doing in their essay. At that point Stevens and Haidt are responding to this question: “Is there a general trend toward greater speech tolerance among today’s young people, as the Skeptics maintain?” And the answer is ‘no’, which both graphs clearly display. It’s with the GSS surveys and the Knight Foundation surveys that, in the first essay, they support their claims about a change in iGen (and that support is given more extensively in the second essay).
Concerning the GSS surveys, Sachs has a footnote saying that the sample size is small and so may not be representative. Stevens and Haidt note this point, and that’s why they use the Knight Foundation data as well. Concerning the latter, Sachs points out that 56% of high schoolers disagree with the claim that “The First Amendment goes too far in the rights it protects”, and that most high schoolers and iGen students support people being allowed to express unpopular opinions, newspapers being able to publish without government approval, and musicians being able to sing songs with offensive lyrics. But the Knight survey also shows that members of iGen are more likely to be in favor of prohibiting others’ speech.
Indeed, Stevens and Haidt explicitly state “Among current college students, support for protecting free speech is indeed very high *in the abstract* [emphasis in the original] (i.e., when asked about free speech generally, without context), yet when a more specific context is given, support for restrictions on expression is high”. And they go on to establish this—indeed, they put two graphs right next to each other showing that while there’s abstract support for free speech there’s also high support among current college students for restricting the speech of others in particular cases! Unfortunately, Sachs doesn’t address that in his response.
The rest of the essay is more productive, but mainly because it does a better job of granting the points that Stevens and Haidt have already made (e.g. “Stevens and Haidt are probably correct that liberal students have an easier time expressing themselves on campus.”)
Overall, however, Sachs’ essay suffers from its lack of attention to two facts: first, the existence of widespread support for free speech does not show that there isn’t a vocal contingent that is interested in suppressing the speech of others; and second, generally pro-free-speech attitudes in the abstract are consistent with an increase in anti-free-speech attitudes in the details. It is depressing to see that these facts are so often overlooked in this debate.
Sachs provides some helpful commentary concerning where the data is incomplete, and what we might do to try to get a better picture of things. But both as a response to Stevens and Haidt, and as a defense of the claim that “there is no campus free speech crisis” (as his title asserts) it does not succeed.Report
” first, the existence of widespread support for free speech does not show that there isn’t a vocal contingent that is interested in suppressing the speech of others; and second, generally pro-free-speech attitudes in the abstract are consistent with an increase in anti-free-speech attitudes in the details.”
Is there evidence for an *increase* in anti-free speech attitudes? Where’s the evidence?Report
Start by looking at the two posts at the Heterodox Academy, which are the topic of this discussion thread. I’ll just list the titles of those posts so that this comment doesn’t get hung up in moderation due to hyperlinks:
The Skeptics are Wrong Part 1: Attitudes About Free Speech On Campus are Changing
The Skeptics Are Wrong Part 2: Speech Culture on Campus is ChangingReport
Justin Weinberg, your blog post is titled “Professors favor free speech” – so surely posting a link to an article about student support for free speech is heading somewhat away from the point, even though it’s elicited some interesting comment.Report
Probably no one is paying attention to my subthread upthread anymore, but anyone who’s still here should take a look at <a href = "https://heterodoxacademy.org/on-social-power-dynamics-in-political-discourse/"<this recent post on HxA along with the comments.
To clarify my basic claim above, I think that those pushing the ‘free speech crisis on campus’ narrative are supporting one more in a long line of arguments intended to delegitimize both higher education and liberalism as a two-pronged strategy. Most likely, some are doing so intentionally, while others are unaware of who is valuing their support and why, and yet others who are aware but sincerely think the crisis is serious enough that it is worth the risk. I don’t know how to separate these subgroups, but my point doesn’t require that.
To me, the HxA post and the early comments support my concerns. The post itself focuses almost exclusively on ‘leftists’ on campus being concerned about oppression, and argues that “leftists make accusations of racism or sexism partly because institutional power dynamics allow them to, and partly to reinforce those very dynamics by discrediting others.”
The article thus plays into the anti-higher-ed narrative by failing to even entertain the notion that those on the left are motivated by academic and intellectual concerns. It presumes (without examination) that only political motivations could lead academics to argue that Amy Wax was wrong in her arguments about culture (not just offensive), that many right-leaning claims about race and gender are so misleadingly oversimplified that they don’t deserve much respect, and that the humans have indeed affected the climate in concerning ways. By making this argument, the post delegitimizes academics as scholars, while simultaneously delegitimizing the intellectual basis of technocratic liberal policy.
Maybe this is the author’s goal, maybe the author is unaware of his effect, or maybe he is aware and reluctantly makes it anyway. But whatever his motivation, the early comments confirm my impression that the article is preaching to a choir of people who actually hold this twin-delegitimization as a goal. According to the commenters, leftists are abusive bullies who think conservatives are bad people. The right relies on fact and logic while the left relies on emotion and magical thinking. Matters would be better if the situation were reversed and right-leaning people were the majority in the academy. ( You can see these comments by sorting oldest first, and then minimizing replies. Perhaps there is later pushback from others, but commenting early is a pretty good indication of interest in the free speech crisis.)
Returning to my upthread subthread argument, my first post was responding to someone asking why anyone would be emotionally invested in arguing against the evidence for a free-speech crisis on campus. Nothing I’m saying here should be taken as an argument that there isn’t one. Maybe this time really IS different. Instead, I hope to offer explanation for why I’m emotionally invested in countering the trope of academics being purely political actors, rather than intellectuals who have learned something from their studies. This trope is very effective at undermining support for what I see as one of mankind’s greatest institutions. Higher ed has faced this trope from Plato’s academy through Paris and Bologna to the present day, and I hope this overly long post will make people a little more sensitive to its risks.Report
Oops, messed up the link to HxA. Here it is.Report
Boy, the commentariat at HxA doesn’t help the latter’s claim to legitimacy.Report
(x) (x is a widely-trafficked blog & x is about politics & the comment thread at x isn’t heavily moderated) –> (Boy, the commentariat at x doesn’t help x’s claim to legitimacy)Report
(There’s a scope error in the above, but hopefully it’s obvious what was intended.)Report
Nice ad hominem and argument from guilt by association. I have no sympathy with those trying to impugn higher education. I like many others have honestly testified directly experiencing a free speech crisis and am beginning to feel like there is gaslighting going on here. In this thread alone the testimony of people like me has been chalked up to a failure of perception, oversensitivity to risk, being bad teachers, and now to being complicit with anti-higher education forced. I’m sure I speak for others when I say I’m getting tired of all the misdirection, strawmanning, and obfuscation (including the repeated use of irrelevant empirical data). If this isn’t gaslighting, it’s pretty damn close.Report
Just ignore these people. It’s sheer desperation that induces them to these sorts of ugly, dishonest tactics. What’s simultaneously hilarious and pitiful is that they don’t even realize the extent to which they are confirming the very narrative they are trying so hard to distract everyone from.Report
I see that upthread you said that:
I[m sorry if it seems like I am gaslighting you by doubting the story. But I have heard many stories worded like this, and then it turned out that “accusing” and “prosecuting” could have been more appropriately called “criticizing in harsh terms” or “not honored with the privilege of paid writing and speaking gigs”. Without more detail, I have no idea how to judge whether your experience reflects a crisis of free speech.
In this way, I think the long history of delegitimization I’ve described makes real problems even harder to address. It makes me skeptical of such stories, while it makes others ready to see even strongly worded criticism as politically motivated unscholarly suppression.Report
And, thus, fake news has done its job.Report
I mean students officially prosecuting each other under the university student code of conduct and faculty being officially fired for their speech. I appreciate your skepticism, and was skeptical too until it came to my university. But come it did. I’m done trying to convince you, Justin and others. It is very clear you all have no interest in taking our testimony seriously. And at this point I don’t even care. It’s only a matter of time until it comes to your university. When that time comes, please remember this conversation. Then you will understand my talk of testimonial injustice and gaslighting.Report
Both of the above have happened at MY university. So no I am not talking about “criticizing in harsh terms” or “not honored with the privilege of paid writing and speaking gigs”.Report
I may not understand what you mean by testimonial injustice, but when you say:
I mean students officially prosecuting each other under the university student code of conduct and faculty being officially fired for their speech
it seem to be that you could provide evidence for in many cases: news stories, especially, local or campus news. Since that actual evidence is out there, what relevance is there to any testimony? But perhaps I’ve misunderstood.Report
I assume Earnest Honesty doesn’t want to provide any such evidence because they’re posting anonymously and don’t want to risk that anonymity.
Since you’re also posting anonymously, I assume you sympathize with this.Report
Hi IlU. Thanks for taking the time to reply again. This set of remarks gives a much better sense of your position, and why you’ve come to hold it. I don’t know that we’re any closer concerning agreement, but we may have made some progress toward mutual understanding. In the further service of that goal, I want to offer a response to this:
“To clarify my basic claim above, I think that those pushing the ‘free speech crisis on campus’ narrative are supporting one more in a long line of arguments intended to delegitimize both higher education and liberalism as a two-pronged strategy. Most likely, some are doing so intentionally, while others are unaware of who is valuing their support and why, and yet others who are aware but sincerely think the crisis is serious enough that it is worth the risk. I don’t know how to separate these subgroups, but my point doesn’t require that.
“To me, the HxA post and the early comments support my concerns. The post itself focuses almost exclusively on ‘leftists’ on campus being concerned about oppression, and argues that “leftists make accusations of racism or sexism partly because institutional power dynamics allow them to, and partly to reinforce those very dynamics by discrediting others.”
“The article thus plays into the anti-higher-ed narrative by failing to even entertain the notion that those on the left are motivated by academic and intellectual concerns.”
That post is addressed at a social-scientific issue, viz. explaining “the social power dynamics that allow leftists to get away with hurling accusations to an extent unavailable to their rightist counterparts.” And Gonzalez gives a social-scientific explanation of that issue: the nature of social power dynamics, together with the disproportionate representation of left-leaning professors in academia, explains the asymmetry in how the left treats the right in academia. Gonzalez writes:
“Put simply, leftists make accusations of racism or sexism partly because institutional power dynamics allow them to, and partly to reinforce those very dynamics by discrediting others. Our society’s necessary and justified revulsion to prejudice makes it such that accusations of racism can tarnish entire careers. If a scholar can be successfully branded as prejudiced, then she can be readily dismissed; and this is, in part, what such accusations aim to do — to dismiss rather than to engage.”
So when that social-scientific issue is the topic of the post, as it clearly is, there’s no need to bring in explanations for why leftists think they are *justified* in hurling accusations of racisim, sexism, etc. at conservatives, for the topic is the question of what explains their *ability to do so with relative impunity*.
But aside from that, Gonzalez is careful to say that this social-scientific answer to the question is only a partial explanation (“I believe there are many factors behind the progressive hostility to conservative ideas”–notice also ‘partly’ in the passage of Gonzalez you quoted). Indeed, early on Gonzalez argues that conservative positions will appear to those on the left either as morally flawed in themselves, or to support tendencies in society that are morally flawed (“[s]uch conservative positions as these will appear as rationalizations, if not outright justifications, for what leftists perceive to be unequal structures of power and subjugation”). Compare this with your assessment of the Heterodox Academy as “delegitimizing” higher education and liberalism–“Maybe this is the author’s goal, maybe the author is unaware of his effect, or maybe he is aware and reluctantly makes it anyway.” That assessment is just the kind of thing that, pace your reservations, Gonzalez discusses.
I can understand your concerns about some of what gets said in the (largely unmoderated) comments threads in some of those discussions. For a while I was trying to engage with some of the commenters and get them to speak more carefully (I can’t say it had much of an effect). But as an assessment of what that post in particular, and the organization more generally, is up to I don’t think it’s fair to hitch the efforts of the Heterodox Academy to the attempt to delegitimize higher education and liberalism. I say that because I think there’s much more interest at the Heterodox Academy in fostering open dialogue and shared understanding than you’re giving it credit for. I hope that helps make sense of where I’m coming from.Report
Yes, I do think we are getting closer. As far as HxA goes, I worry less about its intentions than its efficacy. It’s a lot easier to have interest in fostering open dialogue and shared understanding than it is to have success! My position now is one of suspended judgment.Report
Thanks ILU, and I think I understand. But this is one of those things that has no chance for success at all unless people are working at it. I’d personally rather try to make this thing work than to give in to the continued polarization of political and affective discourse that characterizes so much of contemporary society, both within and outside academia. I suspect we’re at best half-way through a project that really got going at the end of the 18th century, one that’s been stalled by all sorts of distractions and illusory impressions that we have it mostly figured out, and which the philosopher is particularly well-situated to help reinvigorate. Much of the work that’s been going on in the social sciences for the last couple of decades is in bad need of some conceptual housecleaning, for instance.Report
“I think that those pushing the ‘free speech crisis on campus’ narrative are supporting one more in a long line of arguments intended to delegitimize both higher education and liberalism as a two-pronged strategy. Most likely, some are doing so intentionally, while others are unaware of who is valuing their support and why, and yet others who are aware but sincerely think the crisis is serious enough that it is worth the risk.”
Even as a matter of pure power-politics, I’m not convinced by this.
Let’s stipulate that concerns about free speech in universities are being used entirely cynically by enemies of the academy, who don’t care about free speech in itself but just use it as their cudgel du jour. (FWIW I think that’s at best very oversimplified, but never mind.) *Even so*, the fact that these enemies haven’t just used raw institutional power to destroy universities demonstrates that they feel to win arguments, and convince third parties, in order to push their goal forward. So then, how does academia best protect itself against these disingenuous attacks? Does it do so by (a) openly demonstrating that it takes academic-freedom and free-speech issues seriously, by forthrightly condemning and dealing with violations? Or by (b) trying to downplay the problem to avoid giving succor to enemies? It is at the very least not obvious that (a) is worse than (b) on political grounds, so those of us who think (a) is important on independent moral grounds aren’t necessarily going to be moved by the outside political context. In fact, I’d go further (though with less confidence): my own guess is that these attacks on academia are *easier* to deflect via (a) than (b). I want organisations like FIRE, and consistent conservative defenders of free speech like David French or Robby Soave, on my side, not the bad guys’ side.
To pick an analogy: the British Labour party is currently dealing with a firestorm over accusations of anti-Semitism. I think it would be hard to study British politics with any degree of care and not conclude that (i) these accusations are being weaponized by opponents of Labour, but (ii) there really have been a number of high-profile cases of anti-Semitism in the party which its internal mechanisms haven’t done well to deal with. And at my current geographical and intellectual distance from the Labour party, it looks reasonably obvious that the party would be in a *much* better place to put this behind them if they dealt forthrightly and openly with the problem, rather than doubling down and trying to downplay it given their external opponents. (At the very least, it’s clearly *defensible* that they’d do better to do that.)Report
(That was a reply to ILU, sorry: I meant to post it underneath their post.)Report
I pretty much agree with this, though I’m not sure what you are not convinced by. I tried to stick mostly with “what is” analysis, not “what should be”. I impression is that you take my 3-group breakdown you quoted as saying that we shouldn’t condemn or punish those who try to silence others. FWIW, my view is that those who disrupt others groups events should be punished if the campus has set clear rules against disruption, which I believe most have done (and I am definitely in favor of those). Like any protesters, history will sort out whether their cause was just.
But disruption seems to be a very small part of the alleged crisis. Look at what happened with Amy Wax, because I think there are dozens of stories like hers for every disruption. Wax said some things about culture were not only offensive to some, but in the eyes of many others academically flawed. She faced pushback, in the form of lots of public criticism, including detailed analyses of why her position was poorly founded. She then argued that she was being silenced for presenting truths that no one in the academy would even discuss, never mentioning that in fact people were rebutting her claims directly, and as far as I know never responding to them. She’s found lots of support among groups with a long history of the intentional delegitimization I described above. Maybe her colleagues went to far by writing an ‘open letter’ to express their concerns. But her response, and those of defenders who similarly ignore the intellectual basis for criticizing her, seem unlikely to benefit the academy, whatever their intentions.Report
I’m not convinced by the two sentences from your previous post that I began by quoting: specifically, I don’t think that people “pushing the ‘free speech crisis on campus’ narrative are “supporting one more in a long line of arguments intended to delegitimize both higher education and liberalism”.
I don’t agree that “disruption [is] a very small part of the alleged crisis” but to some extent that’s definitional. I don’t think academia has a “crisis” of free speech but I think it has some significant and growing problems, but I think the severe manifestations of those problems are issues of institutional suppression of speech or lack of defense of speech against coercive disruption. Wax’s case is complicated but doesn’t really fall into that category: I don’t think her core academic-freedom or free-speech rights were infringed. I haven’t looked at the details of what she said or how she responded to have much of a sense of whether this was a case of liberal-dominated academia not taking opposing ideas seriously (which I think does happen a lot) or of someone overreacting to legitimate criticism of poorly-worked-through, intentionally-provocative work (which I think also happens a lot). I don’t think it’s great that 30-odd Penn graduate students co-signed an open letter calling for Penn to sanction her for her speech, but as I recall neither faculty nor the institution joined that call. (At least, not until Wax arguably crossed a line by commenting inappropriately on her own students.)Report
Wrt David’ Wallace’s Labour Party analogy: Took the words right out of my mouth.Report
This seems fairly thorough, posted a couple days ago. I seem to remember a similar analysis from some time ago, but I think that’s deja vu.
It was posted above, so not deja vu, just a brain malfunction.Report
I wonder how Daily Nous readers who deny that there are growing free speech problems on many campuses might respond to the practices described here: https://www.gofundme.com/help-lsoi-pay-excess-security-fees?pc=&rcid=r01-152545693495-73f2a54a94eb494f
It’s an interesting issue, I think. I can’t be sure that the administration was motivated by this consideration, but the fact that speech they find inconvenient or undesirable on campus can often be silenced and driven away by the expedient of charging event organizers with the cost of security — security that is only needed, apparently, when organizers of a political stripe the administration favors threaten an unruly protest — certainly limits what is said in a less than even manner.Report
Stevens and Haidt put up a third essay on the apparent recent decline in college students’ respect for principles of free expression:
Since this has come up repeatedly in the comments here lately, I hope the people who continue to weigh in on this subject will start paying more attention to the data that has been drawn together by social psychologists over the last couple decades. The discipline of philosophy is not doing well when it strays so far away from the Geisteswissenschaften while, paradoxically, trying to tell the Geisteswissenschaftlerin (and the Folk!) what to think. There’s so much more going on here than an internecine warfare between the ‘left’ and the ‘right’.
Here’s the close of the essay:
“To conclude: the skeptics case is based heavily (though not entirely) on data showing a steady increase in political tolerance toward controversial speakers. However, as we have shown, this increase relies on using the Stouffer method of tracking attitudes toward fixed groups, such as communists and homosexuals, who just don’t elicit the objections that they did many decades ago. When we apply a close approximation of the least-liked groups method, on data collected in 2017 (and thus after the key 2015 transitional year), we find very high levels of intolerance toward speakers that are offensive to college students on the left. We do not have longitudinal data from before 2015 to show that these high numbers are an increase from previous years, but these high numbers contradict the skeptics claims that political tolerance among today’s college students is high, increasing, and higher on the left than the right.
“More importantly, we have drawn on political science work from the 1980s to offer an account of exactly why political intolerance may be increasing on the left on college campuses in recent years: because more and more students are feeling psychologically insecure, losing faith in democratic institutions, and facing (or at least hearing about) real threats from off-campus right-wing sources. The best way to increase political tolerance on campus may therefore be to increase feelings of psychological security, physical security, and trust in local and democratic institutions.”Report