Are We Witnessing the Start of a New Free Speech Movement?



Some guy named Newton – they used to talk about him  in college back when college was about something besides sitting on your fears and phobias, encouraging people to keep away from you; anyway, this Newton guy, we hear, passed or discovered some law about every action provoking an opposite and equal reaction.

Hmmm; we might want to think about that one: the more intently what with students from 20 different colleges meeting at the University of Chicago to start a campus free-speech movement.

Free speech.  What an idea these days!  Middlebury College, Claremont McKenna College, and UCLA might want to try it, rather than let organized malcontents try to dictate who can say what on campus, and under what circumstances.

Has a Newtonian reaction begun – a pushback by students who understand the value of hearing and appropriating a variety of viewpoints?   Sounds kind of like it.   “[F]ree speech,” says a statement of principles by the student organizers, “has been increasingly undermined by attempts of students and administrators alike to silence those with whom they disagree.  We seek to reclaim that original tradition.”

Yeah, on what grounds?, as they might say at Middlebury, site of the semi-successful attempt to shut up Dr. Charles Murray lest his thought offend someone’s tender eardrums.

“A central purpose of education,” the Chicago statement says, “is to teach students to challenge themselves and engage with opposing perspectives.  Our ability to listen to, wrestle with, and ultimately decide between contending viewpoints fosters mutual understanding as well as personal and societal growth.   The active defense of free and open discourse is crucial for our society to continue to thrive as a democracy premised on the open debate of ideas.”

What goes on here?!     Old Sir Isaac would understand.  The new Free Speech Movement rising to its feet in Chicago affirms, over against the Middlebury yahoos and such like,   the need for “a culture where all are free to communicate without fear of censorship or intimidation.  While some speech may  be objectionable and even deeply offensive, constitutionally protected speech ought to be held and enforced as the standards and must not be infringed upon.”

The call goes out to the academic world:  “If you share our passion for free speech, viewpoint diversity, and open discourse, please sign onto” the Free Speech Movement’s Statement of Principles.   And spread the word:  We learn from other people’s ideas; other people learn from ours; the more speech, the better; the more suppression, the worse.

We’ll see of course how all this works out.  But this is good and heartening stuff.  A new flag floats in the academic breeze: resembling the one that used to fly there, prior to its pelting and disparagement by folk who shouldn’t be in academia in the first place, so narrow are their minds.  Assuming “minds” is at all the right word.

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