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Speak Freely: Why Universities Must Defend Free Speech

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Why free speech is the lifeblood of colleges and universities Free speech is under attack at colleges and universities today, with critics on and off campus challenging the value of open inquiry and freewheeling intellectual debate. Too often speakers are shouted down, professors are threatened, and classes are disrupted. In Speak Freely, Keith Whittington argues that u Why free speech is the lifeblood of colleges and universities Free speech is under attack at colleges and universities today, with critics on and off campus challenging the value of open inquiry and freewheeling intellectual debate. Too often speakers are shouted down, professors are threatened, and classes are disrupted. In Speak Freely, Keith Whittington argues that universities must protect and encourage free speech because vigorous free speech is the lifeblood of the university. Without free speech, a university cannot fulfill its most basic, fundamental, and essential purposes, including fostering freedom of thought, ideological diversity, and tolerance. Examining such hot-button issues as trigger warnings, safe spaces, hate speech, disruptive protests, speaker disinvitations, the use of social media by faculty, and academic politics, Speak Freely describes the dangers of empowering campus censors to limit speech and enforce orthodoxy. It explains why free speech and civil discourse are at the heart of the university’s mission of creating and nurturing an open and diverse community dedicated to learning. It shows why universities must make space for voices from both the left and right. And it points out how better understanding why the university lives or dies by free speech can help guide everyone—including students, faculty, administrators, and alumni—when faced with difficult challenges such as unpopular, hateful, or dangerous speech. Timely and vitally important, Speak Freely demonstrates why universities can succeed only by fostering more free speech, more free thought—and a greater tolerance for both.


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Why free speech is the lifeblood of colleges and universities Free speech is under attack at colleges and universities today, with critics on and off campus challenging the value of open inquiry and freewheeling intellectual debate. Too often speakers are shouted down, professors are threatened, and classes are disrupted. In Speak Freely, Keith Whittington argues that u Why free speech is the lifeblood of colleges and universities Free speech is under attack at colleges and universities today, with critics on and off campus challenging the value of open inquiry and freewheeling intellectual debate. Too often speakers are shouted down, professors are threatened, and classes are disrupted. In Speak Freely, Keith Whittington argues that universities must protect and encourage free speech because vigorous free speech is the lifeblood of the university. Without free speech, a university cannot fulfill its most basic, fundamental, and essential purposes, including fostering freedom of thought, ideological diversity, and tolerance. Examining such hot-button issues as trigger warnings, safe spaces, hate speech, disruptive protests, speaker disinvitations, the use of social media by faculty, and academic politics, Speak Freely describes the dangers of empowering campus censors to limit speech and enforce orthodoxy. It explains why free speech and civil discourse are at the heart of the university’s mission of creating and nurturing an open and diverse community dedicated to learning. It shows why universities must make space for voices from both the left and right. And it points out how better understanding why the university lives or dies by free speech can help guide everyone—including students, faculty, administrators, and alumni—when faced with difficult challenges such as unpopular, hateful, or dangerous speech. Timely and vitally important, Speak Freely demonstrates why universities can succeed only by fostering more free speech, more free thought—and a greater tolerance for both.

30 review for Speak Freely: Why Universities Must Defend Free Speech

  1. 5 out of 5

    Bob

    Summary: A case for the vigorous defense of free speech as essential to fulfilling the mission of the university in the face of both institutional and outside attempts to suppress objectionable speech. "Free speech on college campuses is perhaps under as great a threat today as it has been in quite some time. We are not, of course, on the verge of returning to the rigid conformity of a century ago, but we are in danger of giving up on the hard won freedoms of critical inquiry that have been wrested f Summary: A case for the vigorous defense of free speech as essential to fulfilling the mission of the university in the face of both institutional and outside attempts to suppress objectionable speech. "Free speech on college campuses is perhaps under as great a threat today as it has been in quite some time. We are not, of course, on the verge of returning to the rigid conformity of a century ago, but we are in danger of giving up on the hard won freedoms of critical inquiry that have been wrested from figures of authority over the course of a century." So contends Keith E. Whittington in this rallying cry to defend free speech on university campuses. Whittington discusses the challenges to free speech arising from free-floating forms of calls for "trigger warnings and safe spaces," the cries to ban "hate speech" from public discourse, protests whose purpose is not dissenting from the speech of others but obstructing it, restraints or bans on student groups and outside speakers advocating objectionable ideas, and attacks on the academic and speech freedom of faculty. His fundamental contention is that freedom of speech is essential to the mission of the university, which he defines as "producing and disseminating knowledge." Freedom of inquiry, rigorous discourse, disagreement and persuasion are all aspects of this process, and the protections of freedom of speech are essential for universities to flourish in this mission. A common element to both the mission of the university and a rigorous defense of free speech is a commitment to truth-seeking. Having stated this contention, he surveys the development of a tradition of free speech over the last several centuries, both in its political expression tracing back to Jefferson and the refusal to permit authorities to define and censor "bad" speech and the philosophical tradition of John Stuart Mill upholding freedom of thought and conscience. He then considers the challenges to this freedom of speech, already noted above, including a number of recent instances in the last decade, notably the efforts to suppress Charles Murray from speaking at Middlebury College, and the injury to the faculty moderator that ensued. He also calls attention to the banning of religious groups who do not permit students to lead who do not share their beliefs, thus excluding the views of these groups from the public square. In this last instance, I would have liked to seem a stronger recognition of how protecting the freedom of people with a particular viewpoint to associate is essential to sustaining their freedom to advocate that viewpoint, whether in line or at variance with the university orthodoxy. I would have liked a clearer connection to be drawn between the institutional forms of suppression of free speech that occur in universities, and efforts by students or outside groups to do the same, to which those same university leaders often object. In many instances, students are using the means at their disposal to restrict certain forms of speech, mirroring the more "refined" ways institutions suppress objectionable speech through policies, procedures, and pressures. Students are often simply doing what they have been taught. Nevertheless, the author's contention is crucial that all forms of speech, short of speech that is directly threatening harm or incites violence, ought to be protected, and channeled toward real deliberation and persuasion. I saw an instance of this recently where a university president, under pressure to dis-invite a speaker who made some impolitic statements, refused to do so and invited students to engage the speaker with their questions about his statement, and also to set up other university-supported discussions countering the speaker's viewpoint. The president used this instance as a "teachable moment" of what it meant to live up to the school's "Code of Love and Honor" that includes these affirmations: I respect...  the dignity, rights, and property of others and their right to hold and express disparate beliefs. I defend...  the freedom of inquiry that is the heart of learning. This, for me was an example of the personal and institutional backbone necessary to sustain the speech freedom Whittington, I think rightly, believes vital to the mission of our colleges and universities. Whittington notes that this may be costly, when controversial speakers make appearances. Equally, his book seems to me to be a cry for colleges and universities to examine their own culture, and how institutional efforts to censor objectionable or unpopular points of view undermine the very mission of higher education. If colleges and universities indeed believe that inquiry, rigorous discourse, persuasion through logical and reasoned discourse, and appeals to evidence are the stuff of truth-seeking, not just in higher education, but in a liberal democracy; then they should not only defend those who seek to "speak freely" but eschew any efforts to substitute institutional power plays for the deliberative truth-seeking that is supposedly at the heart of its mission. ____________________________ Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Joelle

    This book was assigned as a Summer Read by my university. While it’s main argument is solid and oft repeated in public debates about Campus culture, it fails to offer an systemic explanation for the present moment and hard evidence to support The claimed prevalence of the problem. The debate over the state of speech on college campuses relies to heavily on politically charged anecdotes and fails to explain the how and why of student, faculty and administrator behaviors—-the incentive structure a This book was assigned as a Summer Read by my university. While it’s main argument is solid and oft repeated in public debates about Campus culture, it fails to offer an systemic explanation for the present moment and hard evidence to support The claimed prevalence of the problem. The debate over the state of speech on college campuses relies to heavily on politically charged anecdotes and fails to explain the how and why of student, faculty and administrator behaviors—-the incentive structure and threat structure in particular. This book fails on that front as well. Instead, it reads like one professor explaining his opinion of the state of affairs to other professors. That’s fine. But, that wasn’t the book I was hoping for.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Yannis Karakozis

    This book became insanely repetitive from the very beginning without offering any interesting insights. I dropped it after 40 pages of reading it. I would give it a 1-star, but I give it a 2-star review simply because it might have something to offer in the pages I did not read.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sienna

    This is an extremely important and relevant book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    עדית (Edith)

    A timely book that captures the current debate on free speech and its limits (if any), especially in a university setting. A lot of good arguments, but on the topic of hate speech and those that incite actual violence against a targeted group, I'm loathe to defend a lofty principle and the rights of those to utter it, against the actual people who must bear the cost of it. Second, while censorship is a problem and difficult to enact in the cases where it's called for, and can easily be abused, i A timely book that captures the current debate on free speech and its limits (if any), especially in a university setting. A lot of good arguments, but on the topic of hate speech and those that incite actual violence against a targeted group, I'm loathe to defend a lofty principle and the rights of those to utter it, against the actual people who must bear the cost of it. Second, while censorship is a problem and difficult to enact in the cases where it's called for, and can easily be abused, it is also unrealistic to rely on people using their critical faculties to discern truth from lies and falsehood, given the dismal state of our public education system today. It comes down to one's belief in the nature of people (do you believe most people can be trusted to use their critical thinking in dealing with the information they receive?), and the nature of government or institutions (can they be trusted to be diligent in stamping out hate speech and other harmful types of expression). The author does make a point that provocateurs offer no real value aside from entertainment for their base, therefore have no place on campus, though they do have a right to their toxic speech outside. The last bit may be easy to say when one is not at risk of being targeted, but I wonder if the author and other defenders of near-absolute free speech would feel differently if these provocateurs' speech calls for a target on their backsides.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Liusmiler323

    not so interesting, no new ideas, a lot of examples in the US.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Claire

    DISCLAIMER: I was required to read this as a pre-read before entering university. Good enough read. Well-researched and well-spoken, but rather simplistic and dry writing. This may be because he needs to appeal to all of the incoming freshman class, but I wish it had been slightly more sophisticated in language. Also, pretty short! I feel like he could have gone into much better detail. I almost felt like I was reading a propaganda piece -- the writing was that structured. The entire book was cle DISCLAIMER: I was required to read this as a pre-read before entering university. Good enough read. Well-researched and well-spoken, but rather simplistic and dry writing. This may be because he needs to appeal to all of the incoming freshman class, but I wish it had been slightly more sophisticated in language. Also, pretty short! I feel like he could have gone into much better detail. I almost felt like I was reading a propaganda piece -- the writing was that structured. The entire book was clearly governed by rhetorical strategy. However, it's good that Whittington is writing about university free speech, and I ultimately found that at the end, I'd learned a lot of critical information.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Te

    I commend Princeton Professor Whittington for tackling this topic, because this is certainly quite controversial. I appreciate the amount of research he did into various incidents involving free speech and academic staff on college campuses. As for the book itself, I think it was reasonably argued, although not mind-blowing in any sense. Also, not that big of a deal, but he does take a few shots at Yale professors and students (I know Princeton and Yale have a rivalry, but a little much maybe?). I commend Princeton Professor Whittington for tackling this topic, because this is certainly quite controversial. I appreciate the amount of research he did into various incidents involving free speech and academic staff on college campuses. As for the book itself, I think it was reasonably argued, although not mind-blowing in any sense. Also, not that big of a deal, but he does take a few shots at Yale professors and students (I know Princeton and Yale have a rivalry, but a little much maybe?). Overall, it was just okay for me.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Toro

    Cheapest course I ever took! Makes me love reading and being able to have a professor to carry around! He really highlights the purpose of the University and when free speech can go too far and how it can be used effectively

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jayme

    If you’ve ever wondered what constitutes free speech or the mission of a university, this is a good book for you. The author gives a good “jumping off point” for discussion and thought.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lance Cahill

    A decent, if repetitive, overview of speech on campus and a defense of academic freedom and free speech as critical to the author’s view of the university as a search for truth. I feel as if the author struggled to get to a book-length treatment of the issue, but outweighed by his treatment of certain key items making its way into the news recently (safe spaces; trigger warnings; speaker cancellations). The author supports the view that speech outside of defined research and the classroom on mat A decent, if repetitive, overview of speech on campus and a defense of academic freedom and free speech as critical to the author’s view of the university as a search for truth. I feel as if the author struggled to get to a book-length treatment of the issue, but outweighed by his treatment of certain key items making its way into the news recently (safe spaces; trigger warnings; speaker cancellations). The author supports the view that speech outside of defined research and the classroom on matters of public importance deserve protection even when outside person’s area of expertise. Several examples are given, but some of the hard issues are shied away from - what if a professor denies the Holocaust in public forums but teaches the history in his course? Edge cases make for bad policy, but universities have to contemplate such cases. I’d give this book to a student about to enter college (which seems to be the target audience based on reviews here). 3.5, rounded up to counteract other reviews.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    Like Lakoff's book, Don't Think of an Elephant, this is hard to swallow but absolutely necessary to heed. While he finally gets around to discussing the finances of free speech, he too easily glosses over the situation posed by the costs imposed by free speech. Sure, allow diverse speakers to speak on campus, but he lacked detail on how much those speakers might cost the campus and should all students be required to pay those costs. His primary answer, in the interests of free inquiry, would be, Like Lakoff's book, Don't Think of an Elephant, this is hard to swallow but absolutely necessary to heed. While he finally gets around to discussing the finances of free speech, he too easily glosses over the situation posed by the costs imposed by free speech. Sure, allow diverse speakers to speak on campus, but he lacked detail on how much those speakers might cost the campus and should all students be required to pay those costs. His primary answer, in the interests of free inquiry, would be, yes, everyone should share the costs. How well did that work out through the 20th century? The 21st? He'll need some more compelling arguments before that becomes a common solution.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Rob Schmults

    “Embracing free speech is easy if the speech never seems very challenging. It is easy to listen to pleasing ideas and affirmations of our own prior beliefs. It is much more difficult to learn to tolerate those with whom we disagree and who espouse ideas we find preposterous, repugnant, or even dangerous....(but) it is through controversy that we can make progress, often in the most unexpected ways.” Personally I learned much more in school from people with different ideas and points of view from “Embracing free speech is easy if the speech never seems very challenging. It is easy to listen to pleasing ideas and affirmations of our own prior beliefs. It is much more difficult to learn to tolerate those with whom we disagree and who espouse ideas we find preposterous, repugnant, or even dangerous....(but) it is through controversy that we can make progress, often in the most unexpected ways.” Personally I learned much more in school from people with different ideas and points of view from mine. Important book on an important topic.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Livingston Livingston III

    I am definitely glad I picked this up and read it prior to my freshman year of college. This is a great book that not only DEFENDS free speech but shows that the framework of an effective learning environment cannot exist WITHOUT free speech.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Corrinne

    important topic, gets a little repetitive at times. could use more argument and less examples, but convincing nonetheless.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kristin

    Interesting read, timely subject

  17. 5 out of 5

    Houssam

  18. 5 out of 5

    Osita Nwanevu

  19. 5 out of 5

    Zach

  20. 4 out of 5

    Grace Xu

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Ogonowski

  22. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas

  24. 4 out of 5

    Adam Udell

  25. 4 out of 5

    Luis Cambron Garibay

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mark

  27. 5 out of 5

    Zev Mishell

  28. 4 out of 5

    Frank Paprota

  29. 5 out of 5

    Paul O'Connor

  30. 4 out of 5

    Cara Conforti

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