Creating a forum for debate

I often think about the nonsense that gets passed as “conservative” by egomaniacal profiteers.

There are several organizations currently trying to pass what is called the "academic bill of rights" through several state legislatures including Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Maine and Washington right now. Georgia has already adopted one. These documents are intended to help guarantee free speech on campus, but most often seek to excuse academically irresponsible speech. Their supporters couch their rhetoric around free-speech vocabulary. One organization’s site, found at states, “The mission of FIRE is to defend and sustain individual rights at America’s increasingly repressive and partisan colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, legal equality, due process…” which would be just fine except the sentence continues with, “religious liberty and sanctity of conscience.”

Now what in the world could be wrong with that? Once you start injecting theism into education, you depart from the realm of the objective and instructive and enter the territory of contention and harassment. That isn’t my own conclusion, it comes from the very same web site: “Beware of school administrators who attempt to limit speech or communication to only those ideas or thoughts that are not ‘offensive,’ ‘harassing,’ or ‘marginalizing.'”

They may try to argue that your speech is less worthy of protection because, from their perspective, it is not “constructive,” it does not “advance campus dialogue,” or it is “hateful” or detracts from “a sense of community if your only goal is to express an opinion or idea (no matter how bizarre or unsettling that opinion strikes others), that expression is protected.”

While this may not be true since the Supreme Court has granted school administrators broad discretion in determining what constitutes protected speech on their campuses, it is still insidious.

A college isn’t just a forum for debate, although that should be one of its functions. The function of education is to delineate facts, but also to train students in the techniques of communication.

Learning how to construct an argument, especially one that might be seen as bizarre or unsettling, in such a way that they impel understanding within your audience is and should be a required part of a liberal arts education. Within this context, ideas can be fairly contrasted and knowledge can be increased. Requiring professors to accept things such as “The earth was created in six days because it says so in the Bible,” or “Fags are icky because my pastor says so,” or even “Your salvation is within you, we are all one and meditation is the answer,” is absent of any supporting logic and will actually diminish the debate. These views are not always unsupportable, and the research and learning that goes into their exposition and defense also serves to deepen and mature the opinion.

Education requires a special environment, one that fosters expression at the same time as understanding. The disingenuous arguments behind the “academic bills of rights” miss the point. The “rights” they purport to defend are purchased at the cost of education. This is yet another example of the political right’s attempt to forsake conservative values.

We should have less government oversight, not more. We should trust that market forces will determine the best learning institutions. If more people want to go to schools that allow harassment or offensive and marginalizing speech, then more schools will adopt that policy. This is another example of the right exhibiting the behavior they most deplore in their opponents, the attempt to gain special protections by a vocal minority. The difference is that the minority that wants hate speech protected isn’t suppressed for reasons of bigotry but for reasons of acceptance and ethics.

You can support hate speech, don’t get me wrong. Feel free to be as adroit as you possibly can, in public and out loud. You can call yourself a Republican, much to the chagrin of the majority of that party. Heck, you could stand out in the park blocks, handing out Coke and Odwalla, tacitly supporting the murder of Columbians. Just don’t call yourself conservative. Thanks.