Profs mock administrators for shouting down speech at Aspen Ideas Festival
Some of the nation’s most esteemed professors and authors railed against college administrators’ failure to respect free speech on campus during this year’s Aspen Ideas Festival.
The Atlantic was there to cover the event, where scholars such as Yale law professor Stephen Carter and Interim President of Mizzou Michael MIddleton went head-to-head in an open panel on student protests and the First Amendment.
“It’s up to professors to teach them that the way you respond when offended is to argue and make your case.”
During one exchange, Carter ridiculed the current climate for free speech, saying professors and administrators alike do not give alternative views air to breathe on campus.
“The notion that we’re going to start taking ideas off the table because we don’t like them is enormously dangerous and threatens the enterprise,” he said.
Carter also spoke about how the growth of administrative boards has exacerbated the problem, saying administrators lack a “sense of the mission of a university.”
“There is an enormous amount of administrators on college campuses now, many of whom, most of whom, they're not trained historians, they don't come from a background of academic freedom, they come from a background of being trained in administration, their job is to damp down problems,” he explained.
Carter himself has had a front row seat to the protests at Yale, where one his colleagues, Erika Christakis, was pressured into resigning after criticizing an email that asked students to avoid “culturally unaware or insensitive choices” in their Halloween costume selection.
Wesleyan College President Michael Roth, on the other hand, argued that academic freedom is not the ability to do “whatever the hell you want on campus because it’s an academic place,” but is simply a professional freedom.
“It’s about research and intellectual work. It’s not about saying whatever you want,” he explained.
Later, author Kirsten Powers, who has penned a novel about free speech, accused professors of having an egregious influence over students whom they disagree with, referring to one example out of the University of California, Santa Barbara where a professor taunted and attacked a pro-life student, which Powers claimed sets a “moral example.”
“[Students are] learning that they have a right to protect themselves from speech. And it’s up to professors to teach them that the way you respond when offended is to argue and make your case,” she added.
Carter rounded off the discussion with some comments on his stance as a free speech absolutist, saying the solution to offensive ideas is more speech, not less.
“So when people sit where I sit on campus say that we're First Amendment absolutists, which I pretty much am, when we say the cure for speech is more speech, it's not a slogan,” he said. “It's not a way of escaping hard issues, it's a way of embracing hard issues, it's a way of saying, if this is really so terrible, that's exactly the reason to talk about it.”
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