Rosenkranz Remarks

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Free Speech Is Threatened on Campus

by robertrosenkranz on August 3, 2016

Debate Overview

There are some today who argue that colleges and universities have arrived at a point in time where the directive to create a more inclusive space has actually produced an atmosphere less tolerant of diverse opinion.

Does the removal of offensive language or images amount to suppression of free speech?

On March 1, 2016, Intelligence Squared U.S. debated the motion, “Free Speech Is Threatened on Campus.”

The Debaters

Debating for the motion: Wendy Kaminer, lawyer and author, and John McWhorter, a professor of linguistics at Columbia University.

Arguing against the motion: Shaun Harper, founder and executive director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Study of Race & Equity in Education, and Jason Stanley, a professor of philosophy at Yale University.

The Research

In favor of the motion, Kaminer and McWhorter argued there has been a burgeoning atmosphere of intolerance of free speech, as reflected in campus protests aiming to shout down the expression of ideas deemed offensive. Although there might be a valid list of taboo topics that should not be up for debate, including genocide and slavery, college campuses are casting too wide a net and suppressing any voices considered out of line with a prevailing leftist position. Attempts to question affirmative action were being intimidated into silence, promoting the establishment of an anti-intellectual safe space over the productive pursuit of reasoned debate. They also pointed to specific cases where protesters demanded that actions be taken against students and faculty accused of hate speech.

Meanwhile, Harper and Stanley asserted that any cases of actual sanctions against offensive speech represented only a handful of extreme outliers. They contended that most objections to offensive speech were not concerned with affecting institutional policies. Students of historically marginalized groups were instead exercising their own free speech to urge peers and professors against unenlightened and hurtful speech. The people being held to account might silence themselves upon becoming painfully cognizant of their own wrongdoing, but there was no external censor forcing them to be silent.

Pre-Debate Poll Results

Before the debate, 49 percent of respondents voted in favor of the motion, while 27 percent voted against. 24 percent were undecided.

Post-Debate Poll Results

After the debate, the vote in favor of the motion pulled even further ahead at 66 percent, while the vote against dropped to 25 percent. 9 percent were undecided.

Watch the full debate and cast your vote here:

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