Mayor Bloomberg on Free Speech at Tufts

By on May 21, 2007

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg delivered the commencement address at Tufts University this weekend. Among his many remarks, he mentioned FIRE’s case at Tufts, where the independent student paper The Primary Source (TPS) was investigated for publishing two satirical articles. Mayor Bloomberg described the incident thusly:

This past December, The Primary Source—which is a campus magazine—printed some things that much of the community ardently disagreed with and many considered quite offensive. But instead of suppressing the publication (which might very well have happened on other campuses) and despite the emotion of the moment, I think the students and the faculty and all of Tufts University deserve an enormous amount of respect because you respected the rights of others to express themselves. You discussed the piece… you debated it… you picked it apart. It was a classic example of free speech versus free speech.

While Bloomberg’s sentiments and rhetoric are inspiring, his description of the situation at Tufts was inadequate—while the actual publication was not suppressed, TPS is now finding that at Tufts, speech and the press are anything but free. The university’s Committee on Student Life found TPS guilty of harassment for speech that clearly fit no reasonable or legal definition of “harassment.” Far from “a classic example of free speech versus free speech,” it was yet another case of campus censors versus free speech, a matchup that is all too common on college campuses. Mayor Bloomberg’s account of the incident is more aspiration than description. Tufts should have stood down and allowed TPS and its critics to go head to head in the arena of public debate and discussion. Instead, the university intervened, punishing TPS in yet another egregious instance of censorship. New York’s mayor goes on to extol the battle of ideas unshackled by speech restraints as a “battle, I’ve always thought, everybody wins.” We agree with that sentiment, and call upon Tufts to reflect Mayor Bloomberg’s description and rescind TPS’s conviction. Tufts’ refusal to do so thus far lends credence to FIRE President Greg Lukianoff’s statement regarding the incident: “Tufts University is saying that its students are not strong enough to live with freedom.” As Bloomberg said,

I’ve always wondered if people who block each other from expressing their opinions do so because they have so little confidence in their own. To me, encountering an opposing point of view is a chance to gain a deeper understanding of the issues at stake… and develop my own point of view. But the first thing you’ve got to do is you’ve got to let people speak and you’ve got to listen. And that’s what the first amendment is all about.

That is a lesson clearly lost on Tufts.

Schools: Tufts University