To the Editor:
Once again The Chronicle has published an article that overvalues academic freedom and free speech against all other important institutional values for higher education, but most notably the commitment on behalf of many to diversity, equity, and inclusion (“Presidents Are Changing Their Tune on Free Speech,” The Chronicle, May 3). Further, this notion that higher education has banked too far to the left and to the right in responding to concerns about academic freedom and free speech traffics in false equivalences.
As I have argued previously in these pages, colleges have a legal, moral, and institutional obligation to balance respect for academic freedom and free speech against concerns for the dignity, well-being, and full participation of all students in the educational enterprise. There is a difference between censorship for its own sake and balancing competing institutional values for academic freedom and diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Oddly enough, free-speech absolutism has never been the goal. We recognize that even in answering noxious speech with more speech, controversial speakers cannot simply be shouted down or disrupted entirely by protestors. Yet, it remains hard for defenders of academic freedom to realize that equal consideration is due to students and others harmed by noxious speech. Demands for civility and respect cannot merely run one way.
Finally, there is once again reference to an outdated (this time 1960s, rather than 1940s) model of the principles of academic freedom. We live in a different nation than existed in the 1960s, and we need different principles to guide our understanding and interpretation of academic freedom — one that does not originate in a time or on behalf of a group that fails to reflect the full spectrum of interests currently represented on college campuses.
Vice Dean and Professor of Law
Senior Faculty Fellow, Institute for the Study of Global Racial Justice
Special Assistant for Academic Equity, University Equity & Inclusion
Rutgers Law School