Campus speech debated

Faculty members are creating a document on their stance on the free exchange of ideas on campus.

Brian Edwards

Debates over free speech on campus may soon see faculty taking a definitive stance.
Amid nationwide discussion about free speech on college campuses, some University of Minnesota faculty members are working to craft a document about free speech that would give them a collective voice. The University Senate’s Faculty Consultative Committee met last month and discussed a preliminary draft of the document.
Dale Carpenter, a University law professor and author of the document, said at the meeting that recent protests raised issues about the free exchange of ideas on campus.
Students for a Conservative Voice hosted an event earlier this month where Students for a Democratic Society protested against Milo Yiannopoulos and Christina Hoff Sommers, who were speaking that night at  the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
Protests occurred outside of the building, with students accusing the speakers of promoting hate speech. Some protesters were kicked out for interrupting the speakers.
Carpenter said at the meeting that students may take issue with speakers on campus. It is within their right to protest, he said, but the University still needs to protect divisive opinions.
Anders Koskinen, a journalism and political science junior and member of SCV, said college is a place to learn and challenge one’s opinions. 
“Free speech on campus is important,” he said. “Other students and faculty shouldn’t shut it down.”
Koskinen said SCV extended offers to discuss dissenting opinions with Yiannopoulos and Sommers, but no one stepped forward.
It is the responsibility of groups who disagree to bring forward a discussion of their issues, he said, adding that he didn’t believe the speakers promoted hate speech, which led to students unfairly characterizing it as so.
University law professor Oren Gross said at the Faculty Consultative Committee meeting that controversial speech is part of the University structure.
Minority groups’ voices are often overlooked on campus, and the promotion of free speech helps those groups relay their opinions, he said.
Still, some faculty members worry that unfettered free speech has consequences of its own.
Jigna Desai, chair and professor in the department of Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies, said at the meeting that some groups don’t have the money to bring a speaker to campus to voice opposing views.
Desai noted that tweets during the protest normalized the acceptance of hostile attitudes toward other groups.
“The tweets were vitriolic,” Desai said at the meeting. “Now people on campus will experience the effects of that.”
Manuel Berduc, a history and cultural studies senior and member of SDS, said the lack of funding for underrepresented groups is the core issue.
Referring to the Feb. 17 protest, Berduc said he did not see it as an issue of free speech but rather the promotion of questionable attitudes.
“If you present it as just a question of free speech, you are making invisible the context … of violence and sexual assault,” he said.
Nevertheless, Zorislav Leyderman, an attorney who has worked on First Amendment rights violations, said efforts to limit any type of speech at a public institution like the University can be troublesome. 
He said he has seen multiple free speech cases in the state but never one at the University. Courts almost always err on the side of uninhibited speech, even if it is offensive.
“If [the faculty] support anyone saying anything, it’ll probably be allowed,” Leyderman said. “The First Amendment protects inflammatory things until they become criminal.”