Freedom of Speech on Campus

Sunday, August 25, 2019
First Aired: 
Sunday, February 26, 2017

What Is It

In the last few years, conservatives and liberals alike have accused activists on college campuses of silencing contrary opinions. Many have argued—quite vociferously—that activists’ unwillingness to hear from people with opposing opinions endangers freedom of speech in higher education. But is there really an Orwellian threat to free speech on college campuses? Are activists’ demands for respect actually quashing freedom of thought? And when does one person’s freedom of speech impinge on another’s? John and Ken create a safe space for Greg Lukianoff, co-author of "The Coddling of the American Mind."

Listening Notes

John and Ken debate whether “free speech” is under assault on college campuses. John thinks that students who push for “safe spaces” and trigger warnings in classes are standing up for themselves, while Ken maintains that students will not be prepared to enter society if they are shielded from ideas that offend them. Both Ken and John consider philosopher John Stuart Mill’s idea that the outflow of free ideas facilitates the search for truth.

Greg Lukianoff, forthcoming co-author of The Coddling of the American Mind, joins the show. Ken offers that “students are supposed to be relatively obnoxious” and wonders if their complaints really constitute a dire threat to free speech. Greg agrees that students have a right to protest the appearances of controversial speakers on their college campuses, but he also thinks that students overly catastrophize their experiences and “trauma” incited by offensive speech. He cites the Leonard Law, passed in California in 1992, as evidence that the first amendment does and should apply to private and public colleges.

In the final segment, John asks Greg if using “common sense” to regulate free speech and hate speech alike is a sufficient compromise for free speech absolutists and students who want to feel protected. He notes that most post-Enlightenment influenced civilizations do not have a Bill of Rights or First Amendment like the United States to adjudicate this issue. Greg, however, maintains that the First Amendment is an important achievement of the United States — one that, as it stands, equally protects students’ right to protest and controversial speakers’ ability to share their ideas. He thinks that the line between free speech and regulation ought to be drawn when students attempt to physically inhibit or harm the speakers they disagree with.

  • Roving Philosophical Reporter [Seek to 6:42] — Shuka Kalantari discusses Milo Yiannopoulos’s controversial invitation to speak at UC Berkeley. She also interviews philosopher Jason Stanley, who argues that the Trump administration’s accusations that students are threatening  “free speech” by protesting the appearances of controversial speakers are a form of "social control."

  • Sixty-Second Philosopher [Seek to 45:34] — Ian Shoales notes that the “brouhaha” of free speech debates and activist movements on college campuses tend to sound louder on the East and West Coasts than in the Midwest, where he attended school.



Comments (6)

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Tuesday, August 20, 2019 -- 8:06 AM

Freedom of speech is dubious,

Freedom of speech is dubious, at best, whether we are considering it 'on campus' or anywhere else. The mayor of Dayton, Ohio found this out on a personal level: she had some criticisms of the SCROTUS during his visit her city, receiving death threats for her trouble. As has been noted, actions have consequences. Free speech is an action and words also have consequences. The environment we have today is more poisonous than at any time during my life. I know others feel the same way about this. Speech acts (as discussed by Searle and others) may have effects as dangerous as physical ones. This is a perilous time for rational men and women because there are far too many of the other sort running around. I am not making this up, nor is it some vain imagining. Our freedoms are being eroded, and some, who espouse their own vitriolic agendas, haven't a care...yet.

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