- Last week, the University of Chicago hosted a closed-door meeting of 66 presidents and provosts from a variety of colleges and universities to discuss responses to increasingly common speaker disruptions on campuses, Inside Higher Ed reports.
- A discussion of the events afterwords revealed that the higher ed leaders present agreed strongly that free speech must be upheld, regardless of disagreements with speakers' perspectives, while some also reportedly noted that they want to work to better educate students on the First Amendment's protections while fighting the perspective that today's students can't handle the cognitive dissonance of ideas opposite to their own.
- University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce also noted that leaders must recognize that some identifying themselves as defenders of the First Amendment — like some far-right speakers — also engage in activities that stifle free speech or don't "engage in real debate."
Higher ed leaders are ultimately caught between a rock an a hard place when it comes to incendiary speakers on campus and student protests that seek to halt them. The First Amendment draws a line in very few places — notably when it comes to speech that creates clear and imminent danger to persons or property (which is why you can't yell "fire" in a theater, for example). The idea of free speech for many over the years has often come down to the notion that while you have the right to express yourself freely, you also have the right to be freely criticized for views that others might consider unsavory.
Incendiary speakers can provide an opportunity to better educate students on not just the right of free speech but the responsibility that comes with it, as well as the importance of discussing an idea rather than shouting it down. Discussion and debate present a scenario in which an idea's flaws can be dissected, while shouting it down outright is more likely to only harden those holding onto it. If students are to be prepared for life after college, they must be ready for a world in which they'll have to engage with viewpoints that differ from those within their bubbles on a regular basis.