‘PolicyMic’ Interviews Peter about Civility, Greg’s ‘Dirty Dozen,’ and More

By February 22, 2011

FIRE’s Peter Bonilla is a contributor to PolicyMic, a new "online platform for debate and high-quality political discussion that highlights the country’s sharpest young thinkers – liberals and conservatives alike." Recently, PolicyMic interviewed Peter about FIRE’s mission.

Peter spoke persuasively against the idea that colleges need administrators to enforce a "balance" between free speech and "civility" on campus:

I think much of what supposedly necessitates a "balance," in the eyes of college administrators and some students, is an illusion. A common example of this is the straw man created when people say that free speech ends where "hate speech" begins. Well, it doesn’t. Almost all of what we call "hate speech" is as free as any other speech. Does this mean we have to suffer fools quietly? Of course not. There are any number of ways people remedy hurtful or inflammatory speech – starting with passionately speaking their opposition to it and doing what they can to encourage more productive dialogue. But to effectively address it, we need to come from a place of understanding that people have the right to say what deeply offends us. If we start with the assumption that certain topics, even certain words, are simply off limits, we’ve already lost.

Peter also discussed the method behind choosing the 12 worst schools for free speech, why administrators enact speech codes, and how speech codes yield college graduates with limited critical thinking skills and with strong censorial impulses.

In Peter’s eyes, the chilling of free speech leads to "a corps of students entering the 21st century with deficiencies in critical thinking skills, inability to deal with adversity, and unpreparedness to fully participate in a democratic society." The numerous calls for censorship from students could be a taste of what’s to come when these students become our nation’s leaders.

However, Peter remains optimistic. Because of FIRE’s influence, more and more students are learning about and fighting for their rights on campus.

I think, in the course of FIRE’s eleven years, we have seen a significant increase in awareness among the student population of their rights and how they are violated. We do our best to help in this area – for example, by publishing and distributing a series of guides to free speech and other student rights. We also frequently help coordinate efforts by student groups – ranging from religious student groups to grassroots groups like Students for a Democratic Society – to challenge and successfully overturn speech codes and free speech zone policies. All this has been very encouraging, but there’s still a long way to go.

I highly suggest that you read Peter’s excellent interview in its entirety.