From disruptions of offensive speakers to walkouts on commencement addresses, the debate about free speech and the exchange of ideas on college campuses has been a hot topic lately. Coming down on the side of free speech, even when it’s offensive speech, is absolutely the right call (yes, even hate speech is protected speech). But even those who take the correct position can sometimes frame them terribly, like when CNN’s Fareed Zakaria recently suggested that opposition to provocateurs like Ann Coulter demonstrated “anti-intellectualism on the left” (yes, her argument that Muslims should travel by camels instead of planes is so intellectual and serious!). Thankfully, the senate hearing on free speech was more thoughtful, acknowledging that threats to free speech came from across the entire political spectrum. Former Brandeis University president was a witness at the hearing, and discussed how Palestine solidarity activists were within their right, despite complaints, to distribute mock eviction notices to raise awareness about Israeli military demolitions of Palestinian homes. The hearing’s rough consensus was that, except in extreme circumstances of imminent violence, colleges and universities had an obligation to protect free speech on campus. As for hateful and offensive speech, the right response is to challenge it with more speech and condemn it. 

comments powered by Disqus