Last March, NYU was in the news for banning the display of the Mohammed cartoons from a panel discussing those very cartoons. NYU spokesman John Beckman ludicrously defended NYU’s censorship by likening the cartoons to a fatal disease, stating, “Realistically, one can have a discussion on smallpox without actually handing out the live virus to the audience.”
NYU President John Sexton never responded to FIRE’s April letter asking that he renounce NYU’s illiberal actions and promise to uphold NYU’s policies and commitments to free speech. On Friday, FIRE sent a letter to NYU’s Board of Trustees to inform them about NYU’s dabblings in censorship and failure to rectify those mistakes. That letter stated:
[W]hile NYU is not directly bound by the U.S. Constitution, its policies show great respect for the principles enshrined in the First Amendment. One cannot claim to value free speech but then take the side of angry censors. I believe this issue is serious enough to warrant a response from NYU, but we have received no response whatsoever.…Unless President Sexton addresses NYU’s failure to defend the fundamental principles of a free university in this case, NYU will be haunted by the legacy of this incident for years to come. FIRE urges you and the members of the NYU Board of Trustees to … decide for yourselves whether NYU’s administrators have held themselves to the professional standards that the trustees of NYU have a right to expect. We urge you to contact President Sexton with your opinions. Free speech needs to be defended not only when it is convenient to do so, but also in times of greatest controversy. A university president should understand that.
FIRE hopes that the trustees will ensure that NYU does not repeat these past errors.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul sent a letter warning the presidents of colleges and universities in New York promised “aggressive enforcement action” against any institution failing to prohibit and punish speech calling for genocide.
University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill and board chair Scott Bok announced their resignations after McGill said the university should back away from its traditional protection of speech.
Creating a “genocide” exception to free speech only opens the door to more speech restrictions and selective enforcement.
Frederick Douglass argued that freedom of speech was essential in maintaining one’s liberty. In the minds of Douglass and other abolitionists, the free exchange of ideas produced greater political freedom.