Rarely does a university find itself embroiled in two free speech controversies within the span of two weeks, yet Stanford University appears to have given us a two-for-one special with separate incidents involving academic freedom and “hate speech.”
First, on Jan. 15, The Stanford Review called on professor David Palumbo-Liu to “condemn and dissociate from the Campus Antifa Network immediately, or else resign as a professor at Stanford University.” Palumbo-Liu fought back in The Stanford Daily and received support from constitutional law professors at Stanford Law School, who criticized the call for the “resignation of a professor based on his constitutionally protected speech regarding issues of public concern.”
Almost a week later, Stanford student Isaac Kipust wrote in the same Stanford Review about his own experience with censorship, this time regarding flyers torn down by campus officials:
On Tuesday, January 23rd, I woke up to hundreds of flyers adorning the walls of Stanford’s Kimball Hall urging students to call a hotline number to report Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) activity. The next day, I posted my own satirical flyer, which asked students to “protect community criminals” by reporting law enforcement officers doing their job.
After discovering that all his flyers had been removed by campus resident assistants, Kipust arranged to meet administrators, expecting to receive an apology for the RAs’ actions. Instead, administrators explained that his flyers were “hate speech” because they “mocked a flyer protecting an identity group,” which apparently justified the censorship. It took a letter from constitutional law professor Michael McConnell, one of the aforementioned defenders of Palumbo-Liu (and the true free speech hero of this story), to get the administration to back down.
The National Coalition Against Censorship also took note of the story and tweeted about it.
For @Stanford student @IsaacKipust, the freedom to share ideas (even ideas we might later disown) is key to intellectual growth. Without this freedom, self-censorship runs rampant, chilling discourse and stunting our ability to rethink. https://t.co/uDlF3UoHyy
— NCAC (@ncacensorship) February 2, 2018
The call for Palumbo-Liu’s resignation and the tearing down of Kipust’s flyers paint a disturbing picture at Stanford, a university bound by state law to uphold First Amendment principles and boasting the motto: “The wind of freedom blows.” In both instances, the constitutional law scholars have the right of it — Stanford has a legal and moral obligation to uphold the expressive rights of its students and faculty members. This entails resisting calls to fire professors for their political associations and refusing to censor subjectively defined “hate speech.”
Furthermore, students should not have to jump through administrative hoops to exercise their free speech rights. As Kipust put it:
No student should be subjected to a bureaucratic process in order to speak their minds. . . . A student’s right to post a controversial or objectionable flyer in their dorm should not be contingent on how many Hoover Fellows they know, how ready they are to fight their RA or RF [Residential Fellow], or how much time they have to meet with administrators.
FIRE couldn’t agree more, and we encourage students and faculty members to take a page from Kipust’s playbook by speaking out against academic censorship.