What A Maroon

It’s no M.I.T., but then again, the University of Chicago is no slouch either.  Yet, when it comes to a grasp of basic concepts, the rigor one expects of its students is apparently, well, lacking as reflected in this editorial in the student newspaper, The Chicago Maroon.

It addresses a report by the euphemistically-named Committee on Free Expression, whose mission was to “articulate the University’s ‘commitment to free, robust, and uninhibited debate and deliberation among all members of the community.'”  One might suggest that they don’t really need a committee for this purpose, but that would be naïve these days given the educational environment.

So this committee did its voodoo:

The statement itself says that the role of the University in fostering freedom of expression should be to help members of the community debate “in an effective and responsible manner.”

Words like “responsible” are warm and fuzzy. And utterly scary and wrong. What this says is that someone, not you, gets to decide whether your speech meets their idea of “responsible.”  Bad enough, but not nearly bad enough for the kids.

However, this report lacks clarity on what constitutes “effective and responsible” discourse. The University needs to clearly differentiate hate speech and offensive speech. Hate speech is defined as “speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits,” according to the American Bar Association.

First, let’s clarify that this “definition” appears on the ABA’s “students in action” debate page, not as a legal definition of anything or an ABA endorsed definition.  Even so, who cares (as lawyers are well aware that the ABA ain’t no big thing), but it doesn’t even rise to the level of reaching a “who cares” shrug.

Second, it’s important to bear in mind that this is a newspaper editorial, the opinion of wannabe journalists.  These are supposed to be the guardians of free speech, as its primary beneficiaries.

The report’s failure to clearly define hate speech implies that all speech short of unlawful harassment is acceptable, no matter how vile or cruel. While it is important for students to challenge each other’s opinions, this should not come at the expense of students’ mental well-being or safety.

It is not enough for the University to simply reiterate its commitment to free speech; it must also discuss its nuances and where the lines between acceptable and unacceptable speech fall.

Aw nuts. The guardians of free speech just punted it away.  Didn’t anyone explain to these wannabe journalists that the whole point of free speech is that feelings will get hurt?  Even feelings less sensitive than theirs?  And if, in their delicate minds, this comes “at the expense of students’ well being and safety,” then they need tougher students?

Hate speech benefits no one because it seeks only to tear down, not to build up.

That’s a pithy expression of an absurd vision of speech.  It’s not bad enough that they embrace a definition of hate speech as everything that isn’t happy speech.  Let’s be kind and assume that English isn’t their first language, and so their adoption of the definition of hate speech as speech that offends anyone for any reason isn’t meant to be quite so comprehensive.

Let’s assume what they really mean is that disagreement is permitted, provided that it’s “civil,” itself a problematic notion since civil disagreement tends to be of the sort that praises, but only faintly, despite the substance.  Remember lawprof Bernie Burk’s “toxic tone” spiel?

Whether speech builds up or tears down is a matter of whose ox is gored.  Regardless, tearing down can be just as important to speech as building up.  These aren’t exactly deep ideas, but pretty basic concepts of free speech, which makes this editorial [ableist slur].

While this is hardly surprising, as campus speech codes have become the mechanism by which the progressive ideals of no one’s feelings ever being hurt are manifested, every time a college or university of some repute seeks to impose their twinkie definition of appropriate speech to promote the orthodoxy and silence the unpleasant, an idea dies.  We don’t have that many ideas that we can afford to sacrifice them all on the altar of happy feelings.

But that this comes not from radical activists bemoaning their offended feelings, but from the editorial board of a student-run newspaper ups the ante.

In order to forge an inclusive campus climate, the University must maintain a consistent commitment to eradicating hate speech and harassment in campus discussion. Free expression and a campus climate of inclusivity are not mutually exclusive. Rather, fostering a culture of inclusivity will serve to increase the quality and diversity of discourse on campus.

As an assertion, it’s true that free expression and “a campus climate of inclusivity are not mutually exclusive.” Everybody gets to speak. Everybody gets to say what they think, and if someone else doesn’t like it, they get to respond in whatever way they deem it necessary.  Speech. Counter-speech.  That’s inclusivity. Let the marketplace of ideas decide which prevails.  This notion doesn’t seem so difficult that the Maroons shouldn’t be able to grasp it.  Yet they don’t.

11 thoughts on “What A Maroon

  1. Nigel Declan

    At least the name of their newspaper seems apt. To quote the venerable Bugs Bunny: “What a maroon!”

  2. J.P.

    “Free expression and a campus climate of inclusivity are not mutually exclusive. Rather, fostering a culture of inclusivity will serve to increase the quality and diversity of discourse on campus.”

    I think they’re serious about this. Chilling the speech of their opponents will serve to increase the quality and the diversity, of discourse on campus. The bien pensants and weak hearted will no longer have to contend with the trauma of having their views challenged. Accordingly, diverse views (i.e. their views) will increase on campus, while the expression of those who challenge those views (i.e. the non-diverse and non-inclusive views) will decrease.

  3. DaveL

    “this should not come at the expense of students’ mental well-being or safety”

    It’s a university. Mental stress, even trauma, is what lets you know you’re getting your money’s worth.

  4. Turk

    …articulate the University’s commitment to free, robust, and uninhibited debate and deliberation among all members of the community.

    …it must also discuss its nuances and where the lines between acceptable and unacceptable speech fall.

    They may not appreciate what “uninhibited” actually means.

    But George Orwell, I think, did say it best:

    War is peace.
    Freedom is slavery.
    Ignorance is strength.

    1. SHG Post author

      Yeah, it kinda makes the head hurt to read such incongruous words strung together as it they actually mean something.

  5. Timothy Knox

    After reading the idiotorial, I went looking at The Maroon to see what they had to say w.r.t. the Charlie Hebdo affair. And sure enough, two days after the above cited commentary, someone pointed out that you can’t simultaneously support the Charlie Hebdo folks, and be against “hate speech.” Per policy, I’m not posting the URL, but if you’re interested, and I think you might be, search The Maroon for a Letter to the Editor slugged “Incivility doesn’t warrant censorship.” The author said everything I’d like to have said in response to the idiotorial, and better than I could have.

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