Here at FIRE, we’ve dubbed the spring “disinvitation season,” because among the many invitations extended for college and university commencement speakers, there are an increasing number of speakers subsequently disinvited because of their viewpoints, professions, or life choices. Last year, I wrote about the phenomenon in mid-May amidst a flurry of disinvitations, but this year things are getting off to an earlier start, as FIRE President Greg Lukianoff notes in The Huffington Post today.
Greg laments how faculty and students—and even prospective students—have been writing to Rutgers University in an effort to have the university rescind its selection of Condoleezza Rice as commencement speaker for this year. The school has so far reaffirmed its choice, but not all schools resist such demands by their communities. Further, the fact that students and faculty are calling for censorship, alone, is troubling, as Greg writes:
As a First Amendment/free speech lawyer, I fully support the rights of faculty and students to make their opinions known about the decision of a university to invite any speaker. That being said, freedom of speech and academic freedom depend on our ability to handle hearing opinions we dislike and constructively and creatively engaging those opinions. Free inquiry and academic freedom, especially, require some amount of epistemic humility (that is, recognizing that we do not and cannot know everything) and an ability to acknowledge that even the opinion or person we really dislike might be able to reveal some portion of truth of which we are unaware. It’s also important that we recognize that even if a speaker does happen to be entirely wrong, that we might learn more about our own beliefs or about the complex relationships among beliefs by allowing that person to speak.
Many students are forgetting these important principles, as Greg explains in his book, Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate. (A paperback edition of the book, with additional materials not in the first edition, comes out tomorrow.)
Read the rest of Greg’s article in The Huffington Post.