Latest News and Commentary: National

December 11, 2020
By Juliet Samuel
The Telegraph

Excerpt: My god, are these the people we’ve been afraid of all this time? Cambridge University academics, those well-known defenders of conservatism, have seen off an attempt by a tiny band of radicals to impose a policy of blanket censorship on campus. In the process, they have revealed that the “woke” activists are not, as they claim, a grassroots movement commanding overwhelming majority support, but a small sect of fanatics. This sect has been defeated, roundly, abjectly, in its own intellectual breeding ground. Under pressure from the Cambridge student union, university authorities decided to introduce a new “statement on freedom of speech” that, in true Orwellian fashion, did the opposite of what its title suggested. Alarmed at the implications, a philosophy don called Arif Ahmed decided to take a professional risk. He and his allies tabled amendments to the policy, replacing the demand for “respect” with a requirement for “tolerance”, deleting the list of reasons to ban speakers and replacing it with a commitment to allow all speakers so long as they didn’t break the law, libel or harass anyone. The result was a monumental defeat for the university bigwigs. Out of nearly 1,700 academics who voted, just 162 supported the new policy. Over 200 voted for no change and 1,316 voted to introduce the tolerance policy proposed by Dr Ahmed. His allies ranged from radical feminists to Christian conservatives, libertarians and old-school Left-wingers worried about the free speech rights of university staff. 

December 10, 2020
By Elizabeth Redden
Inside Higher Ed

Excerpt: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned of Chinese government influence on American campuses and accused university leaders of censoring themselves out of fear of offending China during a speech Wednesday at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Pompeo said, “The Chinese Communist Party is poisoning the well of our higher education institutions for its own ends.” The speech was notable for the strident tone taken by the nation’s chief diplomat The outgoing secretary of state addressed issues including intellectual property theft and recruitment of American professors into Chinese government-sponsored talent recruitment programs. He also raised concerns about Chinese students who fear speaking openly on American campuses lest they or their families be harassed, or worse. He further accused U.S. universities of censoring themselves or even overlooking illegal behavior to avoid offending China. He said many had been "bought by Beijing."

December 10, 2020
By Greg Piper
The College Fix

Excerpt: UCLA Law Prof. Eugene Volokh is a vocal defender of faculty not hiding the slurs and epithets in their source materials, such as court rulings, even when they offend the sensibilities of their students.

He often quotes “nigger” in his own First Amendment law classes, drawing a rebuke (but no further threat) from his own dean this spring.

Now the Academic Senate’s Academic Freedom Committee, chaired by Volokh, is pressuring the university to stop threatening faculty for their pedagogical choices.

The committee published a statement – nonbinding on the administration – strongly in favor of faculty who “quote or display source material completely and accurately, even when some people find it offensive.”

December 8, 2020
By Greta Anderson
Inside Higher Ed

Excerpt: The increased prevalence of online instruction at colleges across the country and heightened student activism for racial justice during summer 2020 resulted in a record number of student and faculty members who complained their free expression rights were being violated, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, which published a new report today. FIRE, a campus civil liberties advocacy organization, reviewed 287 complaints in June of alleged violations at colleges and universities nationwide, which was significantly more than previous summers. FIRE reviewed just 49 cases in 2018 and 2019, the report said. The report is FIRE’s annual “Spotlight on Speech Codes,” which reviewed 478 colleges’ written free speech policies and graded them based on whether they restrict protected campus expression. FIRE reviewed the policies of 372 four-year public institutions and 106 private institutions, according to the report. FIRE reports that 78 institutions or faculty representative bodies have now endorsed or adopted the Chicago principles, which are standards for campus free expression developed by a Committee on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago in 2015.

December 8, 2020
By Melissa Korn
Wall Street Journal

Excerpt: The Education Department has set up a hotline where students and staff can report concerns about free-speech violations on college campuses, the latest effort by the Trump administration to ensure conservative or otherwise unpopular views are respected at schools they say can hew too liberal. The Free Speech Hotline was announced Tuesday at an event billed to confront a “culture of censorship” at colleges and featuring Education Department officials, a current undergraduate and former and current professors. They spoke about the perceived dangers of stifling First Amendment rights by staging protests against guest speakers, heckling faculty members or limiting students’ opportunity to speak on sensitive subjects like abortion. “Anything that offends progressive orthodoxy is branded as racist, sexist, misogynist,” said Robert King, assistant secretary of education for postsecondary education. Mr. King spoke about pernicious limits on free speech seeping from dorms into classrooms, then on to corporate boardrooms. He likened a school district’s antiracism teacher training program on white privilege to “communist style re-education camps.”

December 4, 2020
By Cameron Hilditch
National Review

Excerpt: Will Knowland is now the most famous man in England, having been fired from his job at the country’s top school for “questioning radical feminist orthodoxy” in a remote video lesson. However, his cancellation has not been as smooth a process as the perpetrators might have hoped. Mr. Knowland’s students, for one thing, are fighting to get him reinstated. Their devotion to their teacher won’t surprise anyone who knows the man in question. It certainly hasn’t surprised me. Five years ago, I was fortunate enough to study under Will Knowland’s tutelage for a brief time, during which he changed the whole course of my education. He taught me for just two weeks, but in that time he persuaded me that studying what I wanted where I wanted was a goal within my reach. Imagine my horror, then, when I found out some weeks ago that he had been fired for thought crimes during a lesson set aside for discussing controversial topics. Knowland teaches at Eton College in England, one of the most famous schools in the world. 

December 3, 2020
By Arthur Milikh
Real Clear Politics

Excerpt: Much evidence suggests that freedom of speech may be banned in the coming years under the guise of regulating “hate speech.” Many on the left who demand and welcome this development do not foresee the broad consequences of their actions. Nor do many defenders of free speech sufficiently examine the left’s reasons for banning it. Just in the past few years, U.S. senators proposed to outlaw words they deem offensive; New York City attempted to fine residents $250,000 if they say “illegal alien”; Big Tech companies continue to ban certain kinds of speech from their platforms; deeply embedded regulatory and judicial precedents, originating in civil rights laws and the sexual liberation movement, have expanded their reach into the private sphere, permitting bureaucrats and activists to regulate speech; and denunciations of individuals and institutions who speak contrary to identity-politics dogma are commonplace. These are not isolated instances of far-left overreach. Rather, as an earlier generation’s liberalism is subsumed into identity politics, free speech, in conflict with identity politics’ central claims, becomes its first and most important target of attack.

December 3, 2020
By Victor Davis Hanson
National Review

Excerpt: A half-century ago, progressives used to push limitless free expression, blasting conservatives for their allegedly blinkered traditionalism. They boasted of obliterating once-normal boundaries in art, music, and literature to allow nudity, profanity, sexuality, and anti-American boilerplate. Now? The Left is Victorian — increasingly puritanical, regressive, and hypersensitive. Even totalitarian censorship and book-burning have weirdly become part of their by-any-means-necessary methods. University of California, Berkeley, professor Grace Lavery was so outraged by author Abigail Shrier’s latest book, Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, that she went way beyond the usual calls to ban the book. Lavery advocated burning Shrier’s book. “I DO encourage followers to steal Abigail Shrier’s book and burn it on a pyre,” Lavery tweeted last month.

December 1, 2020
By Jonathan Kay

Excerpt: The school-wide November 5th Zoom call, a recording of which has been preserved, was hosted by Wendy Raymond, Haverford’s president. At the time, the elite Pennsylvania liberal arts college was a week into a student strike being staged, according to organizers, to protest “anti-blackness” and the “erasure of marginalized voices.” During the two-hour-and-nine-minute discussion, viewed in real time by many of the school’s 1,350 students, Raymond presented herself as solemnly apologetic for a litany of offenses. She also effusively praised and thanked the striking students for educating her about their pain, while “recognizing that I will never understand what it means to be a person of color or be black or indigenous in the United States. I am a white woman with considerable unearned privilege.”

November 30, 2020
By Steven Hayward
Powerline Blog

Excerpt: As is well known, you aren’t allowed to criticize Black Lives Matter (still less say anything as offensive as “All Lives Matter”), Critical Race Theory, or any aspect of transgenderism. And it seems increasingly difficult to criticize the orthodoxy of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) in any way. Witness the case of Dorian Abbot, a professor of geology at the University of Chicago, who has criticized the DEI orthodoxy. He’s spoken out about it, offering some presentations complete with slides, which you can find hereherehere, and here. And Prof. Abbot’s three-page account of the matter is here. You can guess what happened next: indignation that Prof. Abbot was making the campus “unsafe.” A statement denouncing Abbot garnered 162 signatures (mostly from graduate students, and each one of them making sure to include their preferred pronouns), charging among other offenses that “The contents of Professor Dorian Abbot’s videos threaten the safety and belonging of all underrepresented groups within the department and serve to undermine Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion initiatives driven by the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Coordination Team (EDICT).”  As a tenured professor, Abbot can’t be fired, but the statement demands that Abbot be subjected to numerous punishments, each couched as “protections” of students who now feel “unsafe” being around such a bigot. Fortunately, the University of Chicago’s president, Robert Zimmer, isn’t having any of this, and issued a statement, which reads in part: As articulated in the Chicago Principles, the University of Chicago is deeply committed to the values of academic freedom and the free expression of ideas, and these values have been consistent throughout our history.