If Dunking is Dangerous…Then What?

It’s not flashy. It won’t make a lot of headlines or get a bazillion retweets. But the students at Cal-Berkeley have been answering a question we’ve been asking here lately. Namely, if it is dangerous to “dunk” on our culture-war opponents, what are we supposed to do?

berkeley antifa

Okay, be honest: Which picture would you click on first? This one…?

Here’s what we know: Since the riots in 2017, students and administrators in Berkeley have taken steps to improve the climate of free speech and civil discourse on campus. According to Inside Higher Ed, it has been more than just empty talk.

Crucially, progress toward real free debate and civil discussion did not come from one side alone. Berkeley’s College Republicans booted their former leader for his destructive, provocative tactics. The club committed to hosting conservative speakers who wanted to do more than simply start fights.

The university, too, opened up more physical space for un-approved demonstrations. They continued to invite conservative speakers to campus and to host civil debates between pundits of various culture-war persuasions.

What does any of this have to do with dunking on D’Souza? Tons.

berkeley christ

…or this one?

First, a recap: I took some lessons from the history of creationism to worry about the after-effects of the Twitter-shaming of conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza. D’Souza has been fond of making historically inaccurate claims about the racial histories of the Republican and Democratic Party. With great success, Princeton historian Kevin Kruse has used Twitter to lay out the evidence against D’Souza’s claims.

So far, so good. But if we have learned anything from our continuing culture wars about creationism, it is this: Mere evidence alone will not win culture-war battles. Indeed, it will tend to prolong and embitter them.

Some smart readers asked the obvious follow-up question: If it is dangerous to simply shame and humiliate our culture-war opponents, what then? Do we simply watch quietly (and politely) from the sidelines as pundits spew falsehoods and bad ideas? That doesn’t seem like a good idea.

Maybe the students at Berkeley have given us a better answer. It’s not something that can be done unilaterally, but perhaps if both sides make real efforts to shun vapid, venal provocateurs we can move forward.

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When to Ban Free Speech

Christ spoke to the University of California this week. Chancellor Carol Christ, that is. And according to Politico she gave her support to a new internal study of the terrible speech riots that plagued Berkeley in 2017. The report’s conclusions make sense to me, but not to Milo.free speech berkeley 2

I know SAGLRROILYBYGTH are divided on questions of campus free speech. We all should be; it’s a complicated issue that deserves more than sound-bite attention and one-size-fits-all solutions.

What if young-earth creationists intentionally manipulate our fondness for free-speech rights in order to water down science instruction? What if political radicals cynically take advantage of their speech rights in order to further their careers at the cost of other people’s feelings?

IMHO, a recent report from Berkeley hit the nail on the head. To wit: Speech must be protected, especially on university campuses—double-especially on public university campuses. But intentional provocateurs forfeit their access to some free-speech protections with their cynical manipulation of our fondness for free speech.

At Berkeley, you may recall, planned speeches by right-wing pundits Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter provoked violent, riotous protests. A committee of faculty, students, and staff concluded recently that their campus is still a tolerant place. Most students support free-speech rights on campus even for people with whom they disagree strongly.

trump tweet on berkeley

Provocateurs provoking…

But the committee defended the notion that some speech and some speakers deserved to be banned. Yiannopoulos and Coulter were singled out by name. How could the committee say so? In their words,

Although those speakers had every right to speak and were entitled to protection, they did not need to be on campus to exercise the right of free speech. . . . Indeed, at least some of the 2017 events at Berkeley can now be seen to be part of a coordinated campaign to organize appearances on American campuses likely to incite a violent reaction, in order to advance a facile narrative that universities are not tolerant of conservative speech.

Not surprisingly, Milo took affront. As he retorted, the committee was made up of

Marxist thugs … criticizing people they don’t listen to, books they haven’t read and arguments they don’t understand.

I’m no Marxist thug, but I think the Berkeley committee has the better end of this argument. The tricky part, IMHO, is that the committee’s conclusion rests on the shaky foundation of their interpretation of Milo’s intent. If he intended to talk politics, they imply, he should have been welcomed. But he didn’t. As they put it,

Many Commission members are skeptical of these speakers’ commitment to anything other than the pursuit of wealth and fame through the instigation of anger, fear, and vengefulness in their hard-right constituency.

In most cases, I’d be nervous about relying on the gut feelings of a few committee members. In this case, though, even thoughtful conservatives fret about Milo’s brainless bluster. In the end, free-speech decisions can and must rely on an informed decision about a speaker’s intent. It’s not easy, but it is necessary.

Consider a different but related example. Many creationist-friendly school laws these days rely on claims to free-speech protection. These bills claim to promote critical inquiry and reasoned free discussion. For example, as Missouri’s 2015 bill worded this mission, schools must

create an environment . . . that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues, including biological and chemical evolution.

Sounds good, right?

You don’t have to be a Marxist thug to conclude, however, that the intention of this bill is to water down evolution education. The intention is to promote a certain creationism-friendly environment in public-school science classes.

The way I see it, speech acts that deliberately hope to manipulate free-speech protections for other purposes create a new category of speech. Do people have a right to speak such ideas? Sure! But universities do not need to fork over huge sums of money to provide a home for those speeches. K-12 schools do not need to accommodate speech that intentionally weakens science education for religious purposes.

What do you think?

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

July’s almost out the door, and apparently that means the return of book-burnin’ season. Check out that story and a few others you might have missed:

Is history destiny? Vouchers described this week as tools of segregation by foes, or the best ticket out of segregation by fans.

The latest speaker to be banned at Berkeley? Anti-creationist Richard Dawkins. The students didn’t like Dawkins’ statements about Islam.

Trump’s outreach to HBCUs can’t find any takers.

Evangelicals and politics: historian Chris Gehrz wonders about the relationship.

Yikes: Watch Elizabeth Johnston, aka “The Activist Mommy,” burn her Teen Vogue. Why? The magazine included information about anal sex.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Whatta week! The stories were flyin fast ‘n’ furious. SAGLRROILYBYGTH can’t be blamed if we missed some of the action. Your humble editor has collected a few of the biggies:

What did Trump’s religious-freedom order do?

Do we now have a Protestant on the Supreme Court? Sorta, as Richard Mouw points out. Why aren’t there more evangelical jurists?

READING

Words, words, words…

Catholics and science: A long love affair.

More than a culture-war battle: Elesha Coffman reviews Treloar’s Disruption of Evangelicalism at Christianity Today. Instead of the same old story of fundamentalists fighting modernists, Treloar argues for a wide middle in evangelical churches.

Was Susan B. Anthony really the great-godmother of pro-life feminists? Historian Daniel K. Williams sets the record straight at First Things.

They do not like her. Students at Bethune-Cookman University booed mercilessly as Ed Secretary Betsy DeVos tried to deliver a commencement speech. Many stood and turned their backs to her.

Trump seemed to pick his commencement audience better. The Liberty crowd didn’t even seem to mind the fact that he obviously didn’t know nuthin about the Bible. HT: LC

Does Bob Jones University really regret its racist past? As John Fea notes, the school has made moves to put its new anti-racist rhetoric into action.

What is life like for conservative students on liberal college campuses? The New York Times profiled a few of Berkeley’s conservative dissenters.

Thanks to all who sent tips and stories.

Are Colleges REALLY Charlie Hebdo?

David Brooks raises a tough question about college culture. In the aftermath of the killings in Paris, shocked observers have voiced their solidarity with the slain writers and editors at Charlie Hebdo. But Brooks challenges college students and deans.

Are today's college students REALLY Charlie?

Are today’s college students REALLY Charlie?

“Let’s face it,” Brooks writes,

If [Charlie Hebdo] had tried to publish their satirical newspaper on any American university campus over the last two decades it wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds. Student and faculty groups would have accused them of hate speech. The administration would have cut financing and shut them down.

As Brooks points out, critics of Islam such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali have been snubbed by schools such as Brandeis University. And anti-Islam comedian Bill Maher was the subject of a protest by students at Berkeley.

In neither case did students articulate the same sort of Islamic fundamentalism seen in the Charlie Hebdo murders. Rather, students protest that anti-Islam speakers were “racist” and must not be allowed to spew their “hate speech” on an enlightened campus.

Brandeis said it could no longer offer Hirsi Ali an honorary degree due to “certain of her past statements.” Hirsi Ali had apparently condemned all of Islam, not only “radical” Islam. She had called for Islam as a whole to be “defeated.”

In Berkeley, students protested the choice of Bill Maher as commencement speaker. In a much-ballyhooed argument with actor Ben Affleck, Maher denounced Islam as “the only religion that acts like the mafia.” Maher’s anti-Islam comments, students argued, constituted “racist and bigoted remarks.”

Maher himself insisted he still wanted to come to Berkeley. He pointed out the irony of celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Berkeley’s famous Free Speech Movement by banning a speaker.

Obviously, these “attacks” on anti-Islam speakers are not the same as the murders in Paris, and Brooks does not equate them. But he does raise a question we need to consider: Are campus activists who ban speakers hypocritical when they now claim, “Je Suis Charlie Hebdo?”

No Free Speech for Conservative Students

In less than a week, we’ll see the official fiftieth anniversary of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement. And some conservatives worry that college campuses will celebrate that milestone by cracking down particularly on the free speech of conservative students.

What Free Speech looked like fifty years ago...

What Free Speech looked like fifty years ago…

Some found it ironic that Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks began the commemoration season with an equivocal email. Dirks encouraged the Berkeley community to remember to temper its yen for free speech with an esteem for the value of civility.

Over the past year, too, campuses nationwide have wrestled with their policies of establishing limited “free-speech zones.” In some cases, conservative students have come under special pressure, either for preaching conservative evangelical religion or for protesting against abortion.

This week in the Wall Street Journal, education scholar and historian Sol Stern lambastes the current climate of campus free speech. As he recalls, as a twenty-seven-year-old graduate student, he stood up for free-speech rights at Berkeley fifty years ago. But nowadays, he laments the trajectory of campus politics. “Though the movement promised greater intellectual and political freedom on campus,” Stern argues,

the result has been the opposite. The great irony is that while Berkeley now honors the memory of the Free Speech Movement, it exercises more thought control over students than the hated institution that we rose up against half a century ago.

Why do today’s campus activists face a more restrictive environment? Stern blames the new dominance of academia by closed-minded leftist autocrats. “Unlike our old liberal professors,” Stern writes,

who dealt respectfully with the ideas advanced by my generation of New Left students, today’s radical professors insist on ideological conformity and don’t take kindly to dissent by conservative students. Visits by speakers who might not toe the liberal line—recently including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Islamism critic Aayan Hirsi Ali —spark protests and letter-writing campaigns by students in tandem with their professors until the speaker withdraws or the invitation is canceled.

There seem to be two questions on the table. First, do campuses need to restrict student speech in order to maintain order? And, second, as Stern and other conservative commentators argue, do conservative students sustain the brunt of these anti-free-speech attacks?

Is this what free-speech looks like today?

Is this what free-speech looks like today?