With Milo Yiannopoulos coming to speak in January and an effort to block his talk, there is a good op-ed from a few days ago from Howard Gillman, the UC Irvine Chancellor and a Professor of Law.
Contrary to what some have argued here, there is a documented increase in hate crimes and hate incidents, with the FBI reporting a 6 percent increase in hate crimes in 2016 over the previous year, fueled by attacks on Muslims. Meanwhile, Professor Gillman notes that the Southern Poverty Law Center reported nearly 900 accounts of harassment in the 10 days after the presidential election.
Much of this activity is coming to college campuses: “The white supremacist Richard Spencer traveled to Texas A&M to make the case that, ‘At the end of the day, America belongs to white men.’ Nathan Damigo, a person referred to by this newspaper as ’emblematic of the young, web-savvy racists who are trying to intellectualize and mainstream bigotry,’ is setting his sights on higher education, eager for the attention brought on by hostile audiences or for the opportunity to claim victimization if denied a venue.
“There have been calls to ban these speakers from campus, and in some cases controversial figures have been blocked or disinvited. No doubt many campus leaders, faculty and students are hoping that the likes of Spencer and Damigo will skip them, never darkening their quads and campaniles,” he writes.
But, like the Vanguard, he thinks there is a better response: “Confront the problem head-on.”
Chancellor Gillman argues, “As raw and painful as the resulting interactions might be, they represent an opportunity to educate students and society more generally on how to recognize and mount an effective attack against hatred, bigotry, ignorance and bullying.”
He cites two reasons for universities to support free speech and condemn censorship. First he argues it ensures “that positive, helpful, illuminating messages can circulate widely.”
Second, it will allow us “to expose hateful or dangerous ideas that, if never engaged or rebutted, would gain traction in the darker corners of our society.”
He makes the same argument we did a few weeks ago. In his words, “Hate speech is like mold: Its enemies are bright light and fresh air.”
He argues, “Whenever we encounter hateful and demeaning ideas on campus, we mustn’t run away; we must — and will — double down on asserting our essential commitment to human dignity and respect.”
He continues, “Piecemeal responses aren’t enough, though. Too many people, on and off campus, were caught off guard by the reemergence of white nationalism. At the beginning of the year, few people had even heard the term ‘alt-right,’ let alone knew what it signified.”
In another critical point, he adds, “This represents a failure of education, as well as the much-discussed failure of journalism.”
We completely agree.
“Because the fundamental mission of colleges and universities is to advance understanding about important matters, we must marshal our scholarly resources to explore more systematically this dangerous national and global phenomenon,” Chancellor Gillman writes.
“At issue, ultimately, is not merely the very real experience of pain and outrage that accompanies contact with hateful speech. It’s the ability of free, diverse and democratic societies to maintain their essential practices and values,” he continues. “This moment is about much more than the consequences of allowing an ignorant speaker or two to express themselves on a campus.”
The chancellor concludes: “Democracies are more fragile things than we might like to believe. The World Value Survey recently reported a dramatic uptick in the percentage of people who believe it is a good thing to have a strong leader without elections or parliament. Universities must rise to the occasion by learning more and teaching more about what is happening, where it is happening, why it is happening and how it might be most effectively addressed.”
A recent letter from Sherrill Futrell, a community member in Davis, put it this way: “Milo Yiannopoulos has as much right as anyone to speak, especially to a college audience, and the audience has the right to hear him.”
She cites two powerful quotes, arguing “let’s have more speech, not less.”
Steve Shapiro of the ACLU, on Oct. 10, 2010, said, “The First Amendment really was designed to protect debate at the fringes. You don’t need the courts to protect speech that everybody agrees with, because that speech will be tolerated. You need a First Amendment to protect speech that people regard as intolerable or outrageous or offensive — because that is when the majority will wield its power to censor or suppress, and we have a First Amendment to prevent the government from doing that.”
And Justice Louis Brandeis had already written in 1927, “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”
“Words are not a threat,” Futrell says.
We agree and we go one step further – the College Republicans need to explain why they invited Milo Yiannopoulos to campus, and differentiate his views from their own. We don’t get anywhere with suppression.
—David M. Greenwald reporting