President Napolitano: It’s time to free speech on campus again
When I was growing up, a favored comeback to perceived censorship was: “It’s a free country!” Whether this was spouted at a parent, a sibling, or an erstwhile friend, what it meant was people could speak their minds, that such freedom of speech was not only encouraged but guaranteed in the United States of America, so long as you didn’t yell, “Fire!” in a crowded theater.
Years later, the sanctity of free speech in our country is hardly guaranteed — at least not on our college campuses, where freedom of expression and the free flow of ideas should incubate discovery and learning. This is an irony that gives me pause even as I write this.
As president of the University of California system, I write to show how far we have moved from freedom of speech on campuses to freedom from speech. If it hurts, if it’s controversial, if it articulates an extreme point of view, then speech has become the new bête noire of the academy. Speakers are disinvited, faculty are vilified, and administrators like me are constantly asked to intervene.
In the 1960s, as exemplified by the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley, students on campuses demanded and received the ability to protest the Vietnam War. This was free speech, loud and angry and in your face. Today many of the loudest voices condemning speech and demanding protection are students on those same campuses. Listening to offensive, or merely opposing, views is subject to frequent criticism. What has happened, and what are we to do about it?
Photo on home page of Link: Marchers carrying Free Speech sign at UC Berkeley in 1964. Image courtesy of UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library. Photographer: Steven Marcus.