Universities and Free Speech

Universities and Free Speech

I am quoting from “Chancellor Carol Christ’ message to UC Berkeley students, faculty & staff (http://news.berkeley.edu/2017/08/23/chancellor-christ-free-speech-is-who-we-are/) as I find it important to critique the idea of University.

UC Berkeley free speech war, as it was branded and served to public, started as student groups invited right-wing speakers (or some say right-wing speakers are inviting themselves to campuses across nation). Campus was divided, as it is common these days, but strangely, this time administration was in favor of free speech while left inclined faculty & students were not.

Those who remember 1960 student demonstrations for free speech in UC Berkeley do not fail to notice the stark contrast. Tables have turned, actors have changed positions and issue is complex. We do not know if “frees Speech” is a matter of convenience nor we know if university’s primary responsibility include upholding free speech. Adding to confused state that we are already in, we do not know how to distinguish ‘Free speech’ from ‘hate speech’

Arguments in support of free speech are around law and value: (a) First amendment requires state universities to permit any speech without discrimination and (b) debate is integral part of University’s mission.

I argued in my previous posts (UVA & Charlottesville) that Universities obstructing opposing view-point are committing an error despite risking putting off some current & prospective students. This risk is worth taking as it helps shaping free society.

Therefore the question here is – what if money spent on protecting free speech hampers other two university functions viz., knowledge creation and standards keeping. UC Berkeley spent over $700000 for protecting controversial speeches which is not so significant money at university level. However, given that universities are facing resources crunch, any out of the turn expense reduces discretionary budget which is the primary tool for University leadership to nudge university to a desired path by setting appropriate incentive structure.

When it comes to funding, what if University fund-raising machinery appeals to alumni and public to donate for advancing free speech? What if current & prospective donors take sides on free speech? What if alumni are divided? Are we blurring distinction between donating to universities and donating to political campaigns?

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