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What We’re Reading Blog April 2022

This month’s top 10 reads include several about controversial campus speakers and the threatened or actual use of the heckler’s veto, as well as two legal cases finding colleges or administrators legally liable for mishandling free speech controversies.

Campus Happenings

Moderator Denounces Law School Protesters In Faculty-wide Memo
Philip Mousavizadeh | Yale Daily News | April 4, 2022

More than 100 students disrupted a Yale Law School Federalist Society panel on free speech and civil liberties leading the speakers to pause their remarks. The Yale Law School dean sent a message rebuking the protestors but said they had not violated university policy; the professor who moderated that panel disagreed in a memo to the university’s tenured law faculty accusing the students of violating Yale’s free speech policy.

Oberlin College Loses Appeal Against $25 Million Libel Judgement from Suit Filed by Local Bakery
Mark Gillispie | USA Today | April 4, 2022

An Ohio appeals court has upheld a 2019 ruling that Oberlin College must pay nearly $32 million to a bakery libeled by the college with unfounded accusations of racism following a shoplifting incident. The college suspended its relationship with the bakery, supported protests outside the bakery, and displayed a student senate resolution critical of the bakery’s owners.

At University of Virginia, Mike Pence Event Reignites A Debate Over Free Speech
Susan Svrluga| The Washington Post | April 11, 2022

A student group’s invitation to former Vice President Mike Pence spurred a debate about the bounds of campus speech. A student editorial called for the event to be cancelled; some faculty wrote in support of allowing the event while others wrote in opposition. The university’s president and provost wrote that the debate over the speech shows the exchange of ideas “is alive and well” and that campus members should “strive to be both empathetic speakers and generous listeners.” The speech went ahead without disruption.

Federal and State

College Officials Can Be Personally Liable for Firing Professor in Free Speech Case, Judge Rules
Greg Piper | Just the News | March 16, 2022

A U.S. district judge in Texas ruled public university officials can be held personally liable after they declined to renew the contract of a contingent faculty member following a controversial message he penned on a faulty lounge chalkboard. Other recent cases have found public university officials can be held personally liable in instances where they have restricted speech or funding for certain clubs.

Ohio Legislature Sends Sweeping Higher Ed Bill to DeWine
Zachary Jarrell | The News Record| April 12, 2022

The Ohio State Legislature passed S.B. 135, which will “require public universities and community colleges to create a formal complaint system for students and faculty to submit free speech violations.” The bipartisan bill received only one “nay” vote; Gov. Mike DeWine (R-OH) is expected to sign the bill.

Op-Eds and Thought Pieces

When Professors’ Speech is Disqualifying
Michael Bérubé and Jennifer Ruth | The New Republic | March 21, 2022

The authors, both tenured professors, argue that academic freedom does not protect research and extramural speech that is so biased or racist as to be professionally incompetent—even if such speech is protected by the First Amendment. They call on faculty senates to establish panels to review contested faculty speech to determine whether speech by their peers is worthy of academic freedom protections.

Yale Heckling is Bad. State Censorship? Worse.
Howard Gillman and Erwin Chemerinsky | CT Post | March 26, 2022

The authors, both college administrators, lament the hypocrisy and myopia of the left for using the “heckler’s veto” to silence conservative campus speakers while complaining when conservative legislators restrict campus speech, and of the right for advancing legislation to restrict campus speech while objecting to the heckling of conservative speakers. They caution progressives that they may have more to lose than conservatives when speech is restricted.

Cancel Culture is More Important, and Less Important, Thank You Think
Eric Kaufmann | Heterodox Academy | March 30, 2022

A professor reports on his survey research about “cancel culture.” He finds that while students and faculty experience cancel culture, in other settings, such as workplaces, people are less likely to experience cancel culture. He finds cancel culture concerns affect both the right and the left: “Running counter to our usual assumptions … people’s worries about being canceled do not differ by 2020 vote.”

The Free Speech Choice I Faced as a Professor and Father of a Trans Son
Adam Briggle | The Washington Post | April 2, 2022

A University of North Texas professor and father of a transgender son describes his experience when transgender rights critic Jeff Younger visited his campus. He spoke to students attempting use the heckler’s veto: “I found myself saying, through tears, that I believed they should let Younger speak. After all, we are at a university, and the free expression of ideas is our lifeblood.”

I’m a Conservative Professor Who Opposed Safe Spaces. I Was Wrong.
Jon A. Shields | The New York Times | April 7, 2022

A conservative professor argues that campuses need “our own version of safe spaces.” Classrooms shaped by norms of respect, attentiveness, and charity to assume that others are making arguments in good faith are “safe spaces that aid the goals of liberal education.” Such norms relieve students’ insecurities about expressing opinions with which their professors or other students may disagree.

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