Is the tide turning in the battle to defend free speech from the forces that would shut down dissent?
This past week we heard Senator Bernie Sanders and HBO talk show host Bill Maher, vigorously defend free speech for all (including conservatives). Now, we have a few more voices to add to that chorus, and they are important and influential voices.
First, liberal Massachusetts Senator, Elizabeth Warren, joined her ideological partner, Sanders in telling college students that banning conservative voices was not the way to win the debate.
“My view is, let her speak, and just don’t show up. If you don’t like it, don’t show up.” Warren told CNN’s viewers that “Ann Coulter has just gotten a much bigger platform because someone tried to deny her a chance to speak. My view is, let her speak, and just don’t show up. If you don’t like it, don’t show up.”
No, it wasn’t a very forceful defense of free speech and not she didn’t actually argue that speech should be free no matter who is speaking or what is being said. Sure, her argument is more about shrinking the platform than it is about supporting the Constitution… but at least it wasn’t Howard Dean’s, “burn the witch” moment.
However, there are a couple of college professors who take freedom of speech very seriously and who also take education very seriously and they have joined together to demand reform on liberal campuses. They are respected Princeton conservative Robert George and the radical liberal from Harvard Cornel West. The two men are dear friends and have spent years debating and encouraging each other on the most important political, cultural, and noteworthy topics – all in an effort to teach their students about what real debate and education looks like.
The two men have now come together to encourage other professors from across the country and around the world to embrace freedom of speech and expression on their campuses.
They have crafted a joint statement/petition that they are asking college educators to sign and support, which states that college campuses are not meant to be places where ideas aren’t challenged. College’s should be “safe spaces” to learn and grown, not spaces where your preconceived notions and beliefs are “safe.”
Here is the heart of their argument:
The pursuit of knowledge and the maintenance of a free and democratic society require the cultivation and practice of the virtues of intellectual humility, openness of mind, and, above all, love of truth. These virtues will manifest themselves and be strengthened by one’s willingness to listen attentively and respectfully to intelligent people who challenge one’s beliefs and who represent causes one disagrees with and points of view one does not share.
That’s why all of us should seek respectfully to engage with people who challenge our views. And we should oppose efforts to silence those with whom we disagree—especially on college and university campuses…
Our willingness to listen to and respectfully engage those with whom we disagree (especially about matters of profound importance) contributes vitally to the maintenance of a milieu in which people feel free to speak their minds, consider unpopular positions, and explore lines of argument that may undercut established ways of thinking. Such an ethos protects us against dogmatism and groupthink, both of which are toxic to the health of academic communities and to the functioning of democracies.
We need more leaders like Professors George and West, who are willing to take the lead in reforming America’s campuses.
You can see the entire statement here. Please read and share it out, particularly with any college students/employees that you may know.