Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Tufts & Free Speech

I'm curious to know what people think about the hate speech going on at Tufts? (Note to readers: the website apparently requires people to sign in to read it. However, I'll copy and paste the original essay at the bottom.)

Personally, here's where my libertarian tendencies kick in. I'm a big fan of free speech. However, the Tufts organization is funded through the students - every student who goes to Tufts University. While I think "Primary Source" has the right to say pretty much whatever it wants, free speech is not without consequence. People at Tufts who are pissed at their blatantly racist speech shouldn't be forced to fund that organization.

I made two comments to an old friend who used to go to Tufts and was very politically active there - and even targeted by "Primary Source." As the link above will indicate, he's against any boycott of the organization. Here are the comments I made to him:

It's not that I'd want to defund them, I just think it would make some sense to make it optional for each student. Who knows, maybe lots of people would want to fully fund them? My only point is that their free speech is funded by students that speech targets. That would be akin to the KKK being partly funded through the SNCC during the Southern Freedom Movement.

He said optional funding would be too difficult for their Student Senate to figure out. (And took me to task for being hyperbolic, but I couldn't think of a college organization that was against everything the SNCC stood for). I countered:
It's not without precedent. There are organizations like MASSpirg which exist through optional funding - and it's one of the better funded organizations on my campus, with a full time organizer and work study students.

There isn't really any good solution to offer. However, there are angry people on Tuft's campus, many of whom probably wouldn't appreciate being forced to fund a student org that apparently enjoys spewing hate speech - hate speech against many students. While they have every right to say pretty much whatever they want, there's nothing written in the constitution about being forced to fund that speech. One great thing about free speech is that there is a certain level of accountability: speech is not without consequence. The consequences come from the people the speech is geared toward and is a powerful force... that powerful force could be in the form of students at Tufts changing the way student orgs are funded. Heck, changes could mean more money for most orgs.


Here's Matt Pohl's essay, a Tufts Alum and current student at Columbia.

I posted this on the new "Boycott the Tufts Primary Source" group discussion board:

According to the Primary Source, I was one of the loudest advocates of liberal causes on campus. Their 2005 Commencement issue dedicated a page-long diatribe to yours truly, loaded with ad hominem attacks and predictably published without a named author.

That being said, I feel that any suggestion to ban publication or restrict university sponsored funding for the Primary Source is an affront to academic freedom. At its very core, the Primary Source is a collection of ideas and expressions. Such is life. Such is the world.

Absurd, comical, offensive, racist, homophobic, and sexist ideas and expressions have their place at Tufts. Get over it. Work with it. Condemn it. Stand up to it. Censor it, and you lose. The university supports academic freedom – among that, freedom of speech in the press and in student publications. The administration must tread a fine line in upholding these values, yet also has an obligation to condemn expressions that demean and devalue the unique identities and contributions of anyone in the Tufts community. Condemnation, however, should never lead to silence.

Censoring the Primary Source sets a dangerous precedent by applying a standard to define “acceptable” ideas and expressions. Who would raise or lower the bar? The students? The administration? Suddenly your academic freedom could be questioned and redefined well into the future, and that could affect everyone.

The Primary Source, along with the disagreeable ideologies it espouses, is not going away. In fact, do yourself a favor: graduate. Tufts students are minorities due to the privilege of their education. Tufts students also have the luxury of adjusting their levels of engagement, making it easy to stay on campus and within Medford city limits. People say and do shitty things. Cruelty, dishonesty, and greed are far and above the common and valued traits outside the academic bubble. It ain’t going away.

Use the Primary Source as tool to reinforce your political leanings. You want accountability? Attend their meetings and challenge them face to face. Challenge their editors to publish the names of all writers associated with every column and essay, including those which malign members of the Tufts community. Make it difficult for the vermin to hide. Hold them personally accountable for personal attacks. But that isn’t the Tufts way. That’s just too damn confrontational. Hold a senate meeting on the subject, convene the bias response team, hold a “community forum,” and have President Bacow write a condemnation letter at the behest of angry alumni donors. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Perhaps its time to try a different strategy. The only question is, are you all truly capable?


Laurel said...

Ryan, your link requires a sign-in, and i'm too lazy to create a facebook account. However, you might be interested to learn that years ago at Univ. Mich. they separated the fees used to support the university radio station from the general fees. It was so long ago now that I don't remember what the basis for this was, but it was something along the lines of some students feeling that requiring them to spend $2/term on a station they may or may not like/agree with was akin to armed robbery. Reasons aside, my point is that this can and has been done. With everything being online now, it would be easy to tell students to got to website X, choose the orgs your fees should be divided between. If you dont choose by deadline Y, we allocate evenly amongst them all. I'm sure there would need to be other refinements, but I dont see that it should be impossible if this is what people want to do.

Ryan Adams said...

Oh, thanks for letting me know! I'll just post the essay.

Anonymous said...

I'm conflicted, too. I don't want every organization to be funded by majority vote because we want diversity and to support ideas that aren't supported in the larger media. It would be too easy for students to get organizations defunded because they don't agree with them and make a big stink in the media about how dare my $2 go to support some small club that does/says x. It's not armed robbery to have $2 go to an organization you don't like if all organizations are funded equally, it's the price we pay for the greatest possible diversity.

However, hate speech is different because you're forcing individuals to fund other students who hate them and want to harm them simply because of who they are, and that's not fair. Ideological differences are one thing, but that's not the same thing. I think that most organizations should be funded regardless of the support of the community with no opt out option, but maybe for organizations that espouse hate there could be an exception made. I mean directly use hate speech, not indirectly like the Republicans or whatever, who would still get funded. It would be a very high standard, not anyone who isn't comfortable with any club whatsoever will get a rebate for it.

Of course, I go to UMASS Amherst where we had student senate members writing swastikas on blackboards and getting rewarded by the administration and encouraged to attack the diversity committee, so...

Anonymous said...

As a Tufts Alumni and the chairperson of the No Place For Hate® campaign (sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League®) in Monson, I was initially angered upon reading about the ignorant bias statements of the Primary Source. I was pleased to see President Bacow respond quickly and firmly. My second response was here's "another teachable moment." Racism, sexism, bias and prejudice are alive and yet often subtle in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Sometimes when the ugly little face is seen clearly it offers an opportunity to reveal the truth that simmers...daily, everywhere.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the "ignorant bias statements" attributed to the Primary Source, no one--including the Muslim students who called for the paper to be disciplined -- has challenged the factual accuracy of the paper's factual assertions about Islam's execreble human rights record. Does anybody here want to argue that Islam has proven itself fully compatible with democracy and religious freedom? Is truth a defense to the accusation of "hate speech"?

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