Graduate student leaders criticize campus speech document

Leaders of COGS and PSG say some language in a draft on free speech principles is troubling.

Raj Chaduvula

A draft on a free speech resolution crafted by University of Minnesota faculty members is garnering criticism from student government groups on campus.
 
 
Leaders of the Professional Student Government and Council of Graduate Students say they’re concerned with some of the language in a draft of a document passed by the Faculty Consultative Committee that lays out free speech principles for campus. 
 
 
The FCC document outlines four principles that would prevent the regulation of speech, protect offensive language and make free speech paramount over conflicting University values.
 
 
COGS members found the document’s language unnecessarily provocative, said Jonathan Borowsky, author of the COGS statement on the free speech document. 
 
 
“The [document] is pompous and condescending,” Borowsky said. 
 
 
The FCC’s resolution says, “The most effective response to offensive ideas is to rebut them with better ideas.” 
 
 
Suggesting “better ideas” as a viable response is demeaning, and many members of COGS found the document conveyed a right way to use free speech, Borowsky said.
 
 
Colin Campbell, chair of the FCC, said the document is a platform to create discussion around the issue. 
 
 
“I think there is a need to have a campus-wide conversation on free speech,” he said. 
 
 
Campbell said the document was sent out to gather feedback from different groups and organizations about how to approach free speech on campus. 
 
 
This draft of the document is not meant to be a final version, he said. 
 
 
Though PSG supports most of the FCC document, some of the wording still caught the leadership by surprise, said Kyle Kroll, PSG’s president. 
 
 
In particular, some PSG members found issue with a principle that states when free speech conflicts with other University values, it should supersede them. 
 
 
Kroll said some members felt that the principle could clash with groups trying to create an inclusive campus climate for all students. 
 
 
Borowsky said COGS members also took issue with a principle that states that “free speech cannot be regulated on the ground that some speakers are thought to have more power or more access to the mediums of speech than others.” 
 
 
The principle doesn’t factor in whether people with lesser power should have their opinions taken into higher consideration or vice versa, Borowsky said. 
 
 
Since the FCC document lists principles regarding free speech on campus, they should be built around consensus, Borowsky said. The third principle doesn’t reflect that criteria, he said, and should be taken out of the document. 
 
 
Borowsky also said the FCC document should recognize civil disobedience as appropriate in certain situations.  
 
 
“In almost all circumstances, argument and persuasion is the right way to advocate for change, but sometimes speech alone has not been enough,” he said.