• September 1, 2015

Greg Lukianoff: Does Administrative Bloat Contribute to Speech Codes?

Greg Lukianoff


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Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), talks about how university bureaucrats and their fear of litigation can hurt free speech.


1. jherrera - November 29, 2010 at 11:25 am

Your appearance in Fox News took away all your credibility, in my view.

2. unusedusername - November 29, 2010 at 01:10 pm

CBS, ABC, NBC, and CNN are just as partisan as Fox. The left doesn't notice it because they have the same partisan bias.

3. jamary - November 29, 2010 at 01:31 pm

jherra's remark may imply that Mr. Lukianoff lost credibility through the content of his interview on Fox. That may have occurred for jherra, but I found Lukianoff's talk here to be very reasonable and articulate in a straightforward and informative fashion. On the other hand, jherra's remark may imply that Mr. Lukianoff lost credibility with jherra by the very fact of appearing on Fox. This is the epitome of pre-judgment (i.e., 'prejudice') and thinking in stereotypes on jherra's part.
As a traditional liberal, and not a communitarian who believes that offending others makes both a prima facie and a de jure case against speech, I am happy that FIRE exists.
In one case which, if I correctly recall, FIRE's principle - and the principle of free speech, in my view - lost, a faculty member merely cited a work which questioned whether homosexuality was determined at birth, or at least without any portion of will involved. The faculty member was punished - I do not recall if he or she was fired - because the citation of such a publication was deemed 'offensive' to gay and lesbian students. Such a case does deserve vigilant advocacy for 1) academic freedom, 2) tenure rights, and - most of all 3) freedom of speech, which has sufferred under the law in recent years.
In another case, which is documented at FIRE's website - or can be traced from that website - a nontraditional student also working as a janitor on campus was reading a book during a work break. The book was about the history of the KKK, as I recall, on that very campus generations earlier and featured a photograph of klansmen at a cross-burning on the cover. An African-American co-worker saw and was offended by the image and complained to the campus minority-affairs officer, another African-American woman. The latter took the former's fact of being offended as prima-facie evidence, and indeed, conclusive foundation for punishing the student-janitor. In direct analogy, as a jew, I am offended by swastikas, and thoughts about Nazis and WWII raise in my mind violent fantasies of a champion - a cross between Stallone and Charles Bronson wreaking death among swastika-bearing Nazis. However, I appreciate the fact that a swastika is shown on the cover of William Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich as a descriptor of the content of that book, which does not advocate nazism in any way but rather relates its history in WWII. I can in appropriate circumstances be offended by a swastika - which is not to prejudge any particular incident - but I am not offended by the sight of Shirer's book. Indeed, I am happy for people to seek to know more about WWII, Hitler, and nazism, as long as they use reputable sources which do not pervert or deny history (which of course brings up my extended colleague, AAUP's leader and U-Ill professor Cary Nelson's comments in the recent, past issue of the Chronicle). It would not, indeed, be reasonable for me to be offended by, or if offended by, it would not be reasonable for me to expect punishment of, somebody reading Shirer's Rise and Fall.
This example of course is immediately analogous to the actual case related. In that case, the university officer personally empathized with the state of being offended on the part of a marginally illiterate minority employee and concluded that the student-employee reading the book with an offensive cover (adjudged to be wrongfully offensive because one person was offended) should be punished for so doing, in spite of the summary conclusion that he was involved in wrongdoing of any kind was utterly unreasonable and a denial of due process.
FIRE came to the defense of the reader, with only partly satisfactory results. The university officer was not herself sanctioned although her behavior was unprofessionally - and incompetently lacking in reflective quality.
Scan just some of the incidents reported at http://www.thefire.org/cases/all/ - any intellectual who summarily dismisses the value of, indeed, the need for an association such as FIRE is, I humbly submit, indulging in intellectual dishonesty.

4. glukianoff - November 29, 2010 at 01:43 pm

Hello Jherrera, If that is your point of view, then you must also dismiss Jon Stewart, Barney Frank, President Obama, and many others who have also appeared on Fox News. I have been a guest on MSNBC almost as often, write for the Huffington Post, and have also appeared on NPR. Does it follow that these appearances somehow balance my credibility? Dismissing a person or argument based solely on an appearance on Fox News is no argument at all. I'd encourage you to read more about FIRE, if you are able to accept that cable networks and radio stations you may not like sometimes cover our cases.

5. glukianoff - November 29, 2010 at 01:52 pm

Good point jamary. It did not occur to me jherrera was referring to a particular appearance on Fox. If so I would love to know which appearance jherrera meant. I suspect, however, he or she is actually saying that simply by virtue of appearing on Fox I have rendered myself non-credible. Meanwhile, you might have seen this video on the case of the student found guilty of racial harassment for “openly” reading a book: http://www.youtube.com/user/TheFIREorg#p/u/13/0ZHnB3jyrHI

6. delonix - November 29, 2010 at 03:51 pm

Thank you, "jamary," for a fine rebuttal.

Two things bother me in the state of modern discourse.

(1) Using accusation as a replacement for judgment, knowing that the process itself will extract a toll

(2) Administrative "cowardice" (perhaps a bad choice of word) in support of academic freedom

Both of these are exacerbated by fear of "toppling the whole good edifice" or "rotting the whole barrel of apples," as it were. I am trying to say that fear of need to defend the school places that defense ahead of doing what is right such as supporting free but disagreeable speech.

I am grateful for FIRE and its mission.

7. jamary - November 29, 2010 at 04:16 pm

gl, I appreciate your last contribution. I did not see your appearance on Fox.
I ineptly characterized the example of the Purdue student-employee, by failing to use the legally consequential term "racial harassment", of which he was found guilty. Thus, the outlier-observer of the book he was reading (a definitively anti-KKK book) who was not only offended but complained of racial harassment (rather than, say, remarking "gee, that is interesting; I would like to read that book") established, for the affirmative-action officer, an absurdly minimal burden for "proof" of harassment. Now imagine that I, a jew, had complained, not that I was merely offended, but that I was harassed (contrary to my human rights) because a co-worker was reading, during a break and in my presence, Shirer's Rise and Fall. (Of course, I would have no officially-charged officer to whom to complain - not even if the book was The Protocols of the Elders of Zion; not even if my professor declared that I could not allude to the Holocaust in a course assignment, because it did not occur in fact (as would actually be the case, if I wrote a biology paper alluding to the hardships of human beings living in the same environment as Tyrannosaurus Rex!(!)), because there is no cause-specific remedy for anti-semitism (I might even be a non-jew, either offended by, or academically injured by a professor's stance that the Nazis did nothing like the spuriously and flagrantly alleged slaughter (with intent to exterminate - render extinct) of 80% or more of all the jews residing in Eastern Europe (the nation - if ever 'nation' was used for a minority people (and anyone without a profound understanding of the terms "state-less people", "national minorities", and "jewish emancipation" in relation to 600+ years' historical evolution of the status of jews in the various nation-states of Europe is barely qualified to reject out of hand this terminology) - the nation of people from whom I descended, and for whom I am recognized, if not by my fellow liberal Americans, then by the very same people who necessitate such institutions as the NAACP and the ADL.)
As the FAIR video ought to make clear, sensitivity goes in more than one direction; intelligence entails understanding that subjectivity is not objective evidence; and a rational structure based on fairness and due process must incorporate such intelligence.
PS - I recall, many decades ago, taking an intro. course in philosophy. The professor was trying to stimulate discussion of an essay regarding the existence of God, certainly one of the stock topics in an undergrad philosophy survey. One young woman in class exclaimed in distress that there was no question about proving or not proving whether God exists: that existence is given and beyond question! As I recall, the professor deftly proceeded to the next matter of order, and the incident was left as an object lesson to all present, however it might be assimilated in the individual sanctity of our separate minds.
Writing the forgoing reminds me, after seeing the youtube video, that this is not merely about freedom of expression; it concerns freedom of thought.

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