End Double Standards by Consistently Protecting Free Speech

(p. 5) On Wednesday [Dec. 6, 2023], a dear friend emailed me a viral clip from the House hearing on campus antisemitism in which three elite university presidents refuse to say, under questioning by Representative Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican, that calling for the genocide of Jews violates school policies on bullying and harassment. “My God, have you seen this?” wrote my friend, a staunch liberal. “I can’t believe I find myself agreeing with Elise Stefanik on anything, but I do here.”

If I’d seen only that excerpt from the hearing, which has now led to denunciations of the college leaders by the White House and the Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, among many others, I might have felt the same way. All three presidents — Claudine Gay of Harvard, Sally Kornbluth of M.I.T. and Elizabeth Magill of the University of Pennsylvania — acquitted themselves poorly, appearing morally obtuse and coldly legalistic. It was a moment that seemed to confirm many people’s worst fears about academia’s tolerance for hatred of Jews.

. . .

. . . it seems to me that it is precisely when people are legitimately scared and outraged that we’re most vulnerable to a repressive response leading to harmful unintended consequences. That’s a lesson of Sept. 11 but also of much of the last decade, when the policing of speech in academia escalated in ways that are now coming back to bite the left.

. . .

. . . clearly, at many universities, the defense of free speech has been inconsistent. Some elite schools now cloaking themselves in the mantle of the First Amendment to ward off charges of coddling antisemites have, in the past, privileged community sensitivity over unbridled expression. So when university administrators say, as Gay did, “We embrace a commitment to free expression, even of views that are objectionable, offensive, hateful,” many in the Jewish community see a galling double standard.

But as the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, a libertarian-leaning civil liberties group, said in a statement about the hearings, “Double standards are frustrating, but we should address them by demanding free speech be protected consistently — not by expanding the calls for censorship.” Unfortunately, that is not what’s happening.

For the full commentary, see:

Michelle Goldberg. “University Presidents Walked Into a Trap.” The New York Times, SundayOpinion Section (Sunday, December 10, 2023): 5.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 7, 2023, and has the title “At a Hearing on Israel, University Presidents Walked Into a Trap.”)

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