Without that open expression, he says, it cannot remain a great university
The Ivy League has led the way in speech suppression, all in the name of “social justice.”
The key idea, which comes out of the Frankfurt School (cultural Marxism), is that only “liberating” speech should be permitted. Who decides what is liberating? Ah, there’s the rub.
At universities today, who decides? The social justice vigilantes who bully everyone who disagrees.
Yale has been among the worst at speech suppression, but it has plenty of competitors in this race to the bottom.
Now, its former chief counsel, José A. Cabranes, has openly criticized Yale’s sinking ship of politically-correct speech suppression.
What gives Cabranes’ views special weight, beyond his long, close association with Yale, is that he is now a highly-respected Federal judge. A native of Puerto Rico, raised in New York, he was appointed by Bill Clinton to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, where he is Chief Judge. So, his words carry weight.
We have good news and bad news today. The good news is that we are printing in hard copy the (1975) Woodward Report on Freedom of Expression at Yale. The bad news is that we need to reprint the Woodward Report. We are dealing today with interrelated developments at Yale that threaten freedom of expression and the institutions that protect it, including faculty due process rights, sometimes described as academic tenure. Many writers on this subject understandably focus on the fate of students. But it is important to recognize that today’s developments are also redefining the rights of faculty—and the role of faculty in the governance of this University. These are developments that, if not addressed, ultimately threaten Yale’s place among the great universities of the world. –Judge José A. Cabranes
The Woodward report to which Judge Cabranes refers was written in 1975 by one of Yale’s greatest scholars, C. Vann Woodward, a pathbreaking historian of the American South in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. When Dr. Martin Luther King led the Selma March to Montgomery, he quoted from Woodward’s on the Jim Crow South.
Cabranes rightly calls Woodward “an old-fashioned liberal,” and says the report reflects those values, which were then widely-held in the University.
Woodward’s report parallels one written a few years earlier at the University of Chicago by Law Professor Harry Kalven, Jr. The difference, Cabranes says, is that Chicago has stayed with those principles and renewed them, most recently with a report written by Law Professor (and former Provost) Geoffrey Stone. Meanwhile, Yale’s “Woodward principles of free speech” have fallen into disuse and decay. To quote Cabranes again:
As Professor C. Vann Woodward said in 1974: “The University is in danger of sacrificing principle to expediency.” We cannot let that occur. –Judge Cabranes
Cabranes lays out a “parade of horribles” at the university he loves. His analysis deserves quoting:
Some of the developments of which I speak are already familiar to you. Each may seem minor in isolation, but together they form a larger pattern threatening the academic enterprise. These include:
♦ The shaming of community members who hold “uncivil” views, or who invite speakers embracing “distasteful” causes, under the purported banner of free-speech rights—combined with the University administration’s perfunctory genuflections before the Woodward Report with the absence of any meaningful effort to protect freedom of expression on campus;
♦ Vocal demands for “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings,” lest students be exposed to ideas other than their own, combined with the hand-wringing apologies of university officials unable, or unwilling, to defend the institution they claim to lead;
♦ Yale’s adoption of a system of surveillance and anonymous reporting, designed, in part, to track and punish behavior that deviates from various campus orthodoxies. Call it the emergence of the Surveillance University; and
♦ Perhaps most troubling of all, the combined efforts of governmental and university sexual misconduct bureaucrats to eviscerate, in the name of nondiscrimination, the due process protections of faculty that have long underpinned academic freedom.
Judge Cabranes’ parade of horribles is all too real and so is the price it entails.
He is right, too, in saying that free-speech principles are being sacrificed for expediency.
But he is only partly right, in my opinion.
Yes, some university administrators cave in to student demands because they want to avoid confrontation. They lack backbone and a sense of what universities should be about.
But many others are not seeking expediency but rather advancing principles they think more important than free speech and open inquiry. For them, the issue is not just expediency; it is that principles of social justice, as they understand them, ought to override free speech. They would never say they are sacrificing high principles for low expediency. They would say they are sacrificing a lesser principle (free speech) for a higher one (their view of social justice).
But who decides what is social justice and who gets to suppress what speech in the name of that value? That is the chasm they cannot cross.
If any speech can harm me, and if I alone determine that I have been harmed, then there is no lower bound to speech suppression. None.
In practice, of course, there are bounds. Students from some groups are given strong protections against any speech or actions they don’t like. Others, with less favored viewpoints, are not only give no protection, they are often accused of violating others’ “safe spaces.”
Indeed, the term “safe spaces,” which seems innocuous, has expanded from meaning a place that should protect students, staff, and faculty from physical harm and threats of coercion into intellectual cocoons, where seldom is heard a discouraging word–or a thought that goes against the herd.
In this oppressive environment, the powerful, the most organized, or the loudest voices decide what is “social justice,” an ambiguous concept at best. They will suppress alternative views, as they are now doing on campus.
Unless they are stopped, they will corrode the basic purposes of universities, and the cry of “social justice” will join history’s long list of reasons to crush other people’s views–and then the people themselves. (Comment by Charles Lipson [email protected])