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Free speech on campus: an exchange

R. Jay Wallace, professor of philosophy | May 21, 2018

On May 10, columnist Megan McArdle published a blog post for The Washington Post about the recent release of the report of the Berkeley Commission on Free Speech. As co-chair of the commission, I responded to McArdle’s post in an email, resulting in the following exchange, which I’d like to make available for those interested in the issues raised by McArdle’s original piece.

In this exchange, please note that I am speaking for himself, not for the Free Speech Commission.

 

Wallace to McArdle (May 11)

Dear Megan McArdle,

I read with interest your blog post today on the report of Berkeley’s Free Speech Commission, which I Co-Chaired. I was a little surprised that you didn’t reach out to one of us to talk about the report before publishing your response, and wanted to say that I’d be very interested in offering some perspective on the report, if you would be willing to engage with me about your reactions to it. We could perhaps just have an exchange by email, but I’d also be happy to talk with you on the phone if we can find a mutually convenient time.

In the main, it struck me that you didn’t really disagree all that much with our concrete recommendations. Our report wasn’t meant to be an historical analysis of events in the past year and a half, nor were we in the business of assigning blame for incidents at which speech has been disrupted by violent or intolerant protesters. The brief remarks in our preface that you mostly focused on were not in any way our “conclusions”, but just some observations of ours that were meant to provide context for our recommendations.

You’re absolutely right that we didn’t dwell very much in the preface on violent responses to speech (by either the bicycle-lock wielding antifa protestors, or the alt right demonstrators on who have shot people on or driven over them with their cars). We took it as our starting point that such reactions are deplorable and cannot be tolerated. Indeed, our own campus spent $4 million last fall to provide special security measures to ensure that violent protestors would not shut down the events that were scheduled by Ben Shapiro and Milo Yiannopoulos. This seems to me to express a pretty robust commitment to opposing violence as a reaction to controversial speech.

You are of course also correct that we exercised our own free speech rights in our preface to make some critical comments about Milo and Ann Coulter. But since you seem to agree with our criticisms of them, I’m a little puzzled why you take exception to our doing this. As far as I’m aware, we really don’t otherwise say critical things about conservatives in our report (though I realize you are objecting to the nuance and tone of our rhetoric as much as the content of what we say).

The most important thing I want to emphasize is that our commission agrees fully with your own line of thought toward the end of your blog post, where you write that the campus should be reaching out to conservative students in a spirit of community, to encourage them to invite speakers to campus who are willing to engage in reasoned debate and discussion rather than performative insult and abuse. We couldn’t agree more, and make several recommendations that are meant in the very same spirit. For instance, we recommend that the Chancellor work closely with conservative groups on campus to identify conservative thinkers and activists who are willing to come to Berkeley to participate in high profile discussions across the ideological divide (p. 14). There have been a few of these events this year, and they’ve been highly successful, attracting a large audience and a very positive response; we think there should be even more of them.

Of course, this would be in addition to invitations extended by student groups working on their own, which should also be encouraged, and absolutely protected from outside disruption (even if the campus incurs a large expense to do so). In fact, the Berkeley College Republicans have sponsored several events involving right-wing speakers this spring semester, and there has been no real controversy about them whatsoever. You can read about these events on their Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/berkeleycollegerepublicans/

(There was apparently an issue about some people removing posters that advertised a talk by Rick Santorum on the second amendment; clearly that shouldn’t have happened, but it was a pretty minor thing, and as you can see the event went forward in front of a decent audience and involved lots of respectful discussion.)

Anyway, I very much appreciate your interest in the free speech culture at Berkeley, and would be happy to engage if you’d like to respond to these observations or have follow-up questions or comments to put to me.

Yours, Jay Wallace

 

McArdle to Wallace (May 12)

I appreciate that you want to reach out to your conservative students. I fully believe that you meant it to sound neutral and accommodating. But I’m a fairly squishy right-leaning person who has spent her whole life in left-liberal cities, and who spends a lot of time telling conservatives to get over their sense of grievance about liberal cultural hegemony. Even to me, that is not the message you actually sent.

One could argue, of course, that this just goes to show how unreasonable we all are, but I’d ask you, as a thoughtful member of a community dedicated to intellectual inquiry, to stop and interrogate yourself a bit before you reach that conclusion.

Microaggressions, to use the current term of art, are rarely deliberate; indeed, they often come from people who believe their conduct to be scrupulously friendly and fair. Which is why those well-meaning people are so often taken aback, and perhaps a little indignant, when the minority group points out that whatever their intentions, what they said was in fact exclusionary and alienating.

I fully realize that I raise a lot of hackles on the left when I talk about microagressions and systemic discrimination against conservatives in left-coded spaces. To be clear, I am not drawing moral equivalence between the exclusion and isolation that conservative students feel and systemic racism. I am only pointing out that they operate by the same group dynamics that govern the behavior of all human assemblies. I’ve been making this point for a while as part of a twin project: to get conservatives to understand that microaggressions and systemic discrimination are real (which they should know, because it’s what they’re complaining about when they rail against liberal bias), and to get liberals to walk their own talk on inclusion and understanding of minorities, whoever those minorities may be.

I have, to be honest, had much more success convincing conservatives than liberals. But hope springs eternal. So let me gently suggest that the commission did not walk that talk in this report. You ask me why I was so harsh when I agree with you about Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannanopoulos. This suggests that you view Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannanopoulos as the major problem here. To a conservative–and more than a few liberals of my acquaintance–this is a nearly unbelievable set of priorities in the face of appalling violence by left-wing protesters. And yet a very common one; every time I write about antifa’s violence, I am asked some version of “Why would you write about this when Trump is president?” or “What about this thing that Milo said?”

As Professor Rossman, whom you cited, noted on twitter: “I obviously agree w @asymmetricinfo that college right-wing clubs ought not invite trigger-the-lib performance artists, but that’s a critique for her and I to make.” Professor Rossman and I are entitled to lecture conservative students as to whom they invite because we have walked in their shoes, and made a good-faith effort to understand their feelings and concerns, before criticizing their actions. Your report did not reflect such an effort in the case of conservatives; if you did make one, it was not communicated clearly. I suspect that Professor Rossman could have explained some of those concerns to you if you had reached out to him for some input, which as I understand it, you did not.

As to why it didn’t come through—I’d ask you to consider whether you would have so addressed the concerns of a left wing group, or whether you might not have led with the factors that were causing them to act a[s] they did? (I know you mentioned those concerns later, but it was buried fairly far down, and frankly, the report did not really sound as if it was taking those concerns very seriously.)

Indeed, I can see how you treated left-wing groups: when you spoke about antifa’s violence, you were careful to present it in the context of Trump’s election and various trends in the conservative movement. So when it comes to a group where commission members are likely to have some sympathy with aims, if not means, you are able to offer an empathetic, contextual explanation of why antifa behaved as they did. But at least from the evidence of the report, you seem to have made no similarly thoughtful attempt to discover root causes of conservative behavior beyond simple defects of character. This is what I meant when I said that conservatives were portrayed actively, as first movers, while the left was passive and reactive. And however unintentionally, however subtly, that is going to read to people outside your community as taking sides against your conservative students.

The modern diversity and inclusion movement frequently makes the point that the minority’s feelings are not dictated by what the majority wants or expects them to feel, and that genuine inclusion requires the majority to work hard to understand the ways in which they are making the minority feel themselves  to be perpetual strangers in a strange land. I respectfully suggest that Berkeley has failed in this regard as to its conservative students, and in your report, have failed to stand up for either those students, or the free speech rights that Berkeley has in past decades done so much to advance.

I would be delighted to speak more about this with you, if you can suggest a convenient time. I’m open most of the coming week.

Best,

Megan McArdle

 

Wallace to McArdle (May 13)

Dear Megan McArdle,

Many thanks for responding to my email; your remarks have helped me to understand better the nature of your concerns. Rather than discussing things by phone, perhaps it will be more fruitful for me to write up a few thoughts in response (I’m speaking just for myself here, not for the Berkeley Free Speech Commission).

[a] You keep bringing up the antifa violence, which I agree with you in finding very disturbing. I also find disturbing the violence that has emanated from the alt right in the past year or so, which you don’t mention at all. I can see that it would be frustrating for you when people respond to your reflections on political violence by mentioning Trump or Milo, as if their provocations excused the use of violence to shut down expressions of speech (which they obviously do not).

So why don’t we spend more time in our report denouncing the violence of those who seek to disrupt speech and shut down their opponents? The main reason is that our report addressed a set of recommendations to the campus community (to the administration, the faculty, and the students), and as far as we could tell there were few if any violent protesters from either the left or the right amongst these populations. You write as if antifa protesters are a “group” with whom we have some ideological sympathy, but whose methods we happen to reject, and you contrast our allegedly sympathetic treatment of this group with our criticisms of some conservative student organizations. This is a false equivalence, however, both because the violent protesters are not students of ours, and because they are not exclusively affiliated with the left rather than the right wing of the political spectrum.

Our starting point, as I’ve said to you already, was that violence is a deplorable and unacceptable response to speech, and that the campus must protect external speakers invited by student groups from being shut down or disrupted by agitators. One of our main recommendations to the administration is that it continue to protect such speech from violent disruption, even when it needs to incur a considerable expense to do so, and even when the speech in question is engaged in by self-promoting provocateurs who don’t, in our opinion, have all that much to say. I think that is the form you would expect a commitment to oppose violence to take on the part of a commission such as ours, preparing internal recommendations for the campus community about managing potentially disruptive events involving outside speakers. Those who commit violent acts certainly have agency, and should be held responsible for their actions; but they weren’t the agents to whom our report was addressed.

I’d also like to point out, for what it’s worth, that the Commission was a diverse group equally composed of faculty, students, and staff, including individuals from both ends of the political spectrum. (This seems relevant to your confident assertion that no right-leaning person would regard the report as “close to fair”.)

[b] Your reflections about microagression and conservative students are interesting, and really do help me to see where you are coming from. I was struck that your blog post objected primarily to the rhetoric of our report, and ignored almost completely our specific recommendations, including the fact that we were affirming vigorously a commitment to the first amendment rights of any outside speaker invited to campus by a student group.

I’m prepared to agree with you that the category of microagression might well have application to treatment of conservatives on campus spaces. (For what it’s worth, it isn’t my favorite vocabulary, but I acknowledge the importance of the phenomena it is describing.) It is perhaps a little odd to worry about the exclusion and marginalization of a political group that in fact basically runs the country right now. But I take it your point is that members of this group are in a small minority on many college campuses, and that within this context there is indeed serious potential to marginalize and exclude and disrespect them, through language and practices of campus officials and others who may take themselves to be well-meaning and accommodating. We certainly heard some testimony from conservative students that supports this perspective, and I personally agree with you that it is a serious issue that we should all be concerned to address.

Having said, I have to add that it seems ironic to me that this concern should figure so centrally in your discussion of our report on campus speech. I’ve lost count of the number of hand-wringing op-eds I’ve read in recent years by conservatives and others who fret about incidents on college campuses in which speakers are shut down or protested by intolerant liberals. The general tenor of these pieces is that “liberal” campuses are training students to be coddled snowflakes who need elaborate protection in their “safe spaces” from the depredations of hurtful or microagressive speech. Now, a commission at Berkeley issues a report that upholds the right of Milo Yiannopoulos, of all people, to speak on campus—and the main complaint about this report is that the language in which our recommendations are couched includes coded microagressions toward conservative members of our community. Is that really the idea? It’s like we’re defending the right of people to walk around the campus with t-shirts that say, “F*** your feelings!”, and you chastise us for not being sensitive enough about the feelings of those wearing the t-shirts.

[c] To be honest, I’m not sure I even see where exactly the offensive microagressions are supposed to be in our report. The main critical things we say are directed to Coulter and Yiannopoulos, and as I already noted you seem to agree with us in our objections to the value of the speech they engaged in. Now, in response, you cite Prof. Rossman of UCLA, observing that you and he are “entitled” to make recommendations about the speakers whom conservative groups should invite, but that the rest of us are not, since we have not made a good-faith effort to understand where they are coming from.

With respect, the whole idea that only conservatives should be “entitled” to criticize conservatives seems to me pretty absurd. My own view is that anyone on our campus should be free to raise questions about the invitations that student groups extend to outside speakers if they feel the speakers have nothing interesting to say, or are unwilling to engage with others about their views. Members of those groups, in turn, should be free to defend their invitations in the public sphere. The Commission believes that there should be more debate and discussion about the kinds of speech that are valuable contributions to the life of an intellectual community, where the touchstone is not the ideology of invited speakers, but their willingness to engage with other members of the community in thoughtful, reasoned debate. All of this should take place, moreover, on the understanding that groups are ultimately free to invite whomever they want to speak—regardless of what the critics say—and that the campus will do what is necessary to protect the resulting events from disruption. I personally think this is just what a robust free speech culture on a modern college campus should look like.

[d] Besides our criticisms of Milo and Coulter, with which you basically agree in substance, I don’t see any convincing examples in your discussion of cases in which we are overly critical of conservatives. You write at one point about the Commission:

“Again and again, they impugn the motives of speakers and the students who invite them, complain that conservative groups are a tiny minority (isn’t this supposed to mean we try extra hard to make them feel welcome?), and otherwise suggest that the real culprits are conservatives, not the people committing the violence.” About this: the only people whose motives we “impugn” are, again, Milo and Coulter, and by extension those who invited him. We praise Ben Shapiro, by contrast to them, and lament that the campus needed to spend $400,000 to provide security for his event last fall. How is this suggesting that “real culprits are conservatives, not the people committing the violence”? If there is any implicit criticism in this passage, it is of the outside agitators who would threaten to shut down a speaker whose value we explicitly affirmed, not the conservatives who invited him.

As for complaining that conservative groups are a minority: well, we do mention this a few times, though I don’t see how doing that amounts to a “complaint”. The student group that invited Milo last fall, the “Berkeley Patriot”, apparently consisted of just two or three students who had never really met for any activities before extending the invitation, and who were unable to answer questions about the organization and planning of the event they were allegedly sponsoring. There was a legitimate question about whether this small “group” was just being used as a front by the well-funded Milo organization to help rehabilitate his career as a free speech warrior, after his “provocative” defense of pedophilia caused him to be disinvited to the meetings of the Conservative Political Action Conference a few months earlier.

After deliberating about this question, the Commission decided that recognized groups of any size should be authorized to invite whomever they want to campus, provided they are willing to take organizational responsibility for the event and to round up a few volunteers from the broader community to be present at the event they are sponsoring. This is the context for our occasional references to the size of conservative student organizations, and it is not meant in a critical spirit at all. We’d say the same things about, say, a small pro-Palestinian student group that wanted to invite an anti-Zionist firebrand to campus to denounce the state of Israel.

Yours, Jay Wallace

 

McArdle to Wallace (May 18)

Dear Jay:

I’ve been thinking a lot about tone these last few days, courtesy of our president. As you may know, on Wednesday, he responded to a comment about MS-13 gang members by saying “We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — we’re stopping a lot of them. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people, these are animals, and we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before.”

A familiar cycle started as soon as those words were made public: the left decried the president for calling immigrants “animals”, and the president’s defenders retorted that he was talking about MS-13, which does behave with often inhuman savagery. Both sides were utterly convinced that the other side was arguing in the worst of bad faith, deliberately feigning a hearing problem in order to gain some evanescent political advantage.

My friend Julian Sanchez summoned the patience to explain on Twitter why he thought that yes, Trump’s rhetoric was racist and dehumanizing. I’m going to reproduce his tweets here, because I think they get at something that divides us, though I’ll beg your patience, as it’s going to take me a minute to get there:

 

This is a textbook case of how dehumanizing and racist rhetoric works. The question references a hypothetical MS-13 member. Trump immediately pivots to a vaguer “people trying to come into the country” who we’re “taking out.”

The point of that move is precisely to conflate groups: “people trying to come in” —> gang members —> “not people, animals.” Spend five minutes on any racist message board and you’ll find a dozen instances of the trope.

There’s always some real crime by some specific member of a disfavored group that gets invoked to rationalize the move to talk about the more nebulous “they” who are animals and savages. But the specific case is always a pretext for indulging the generalization.

But, of course, MS-13 isn’t representative of either the “people trying to come in” or the people being “taken out.” The point of the dehumanizing language is to reassure you it’s not necessary to think about who those people actually are.

Finally, even if we pretend the point here ISN’T precisely to blur the distinction between MS-13 and “people trying to come in”—even if we pretend he’s really JUST talking about MS-13 members, let’s note that the equation of crime with animality here is selective.

On the occasions Trump finds time in his busy schedule to condemn murderers who aren’t brown, the focus is typically on the act, rather on what biological category it puts the perpetrator in.

When a white supremacist murdered Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, we were enjoined to remember that there were “very fine people” on his side. It’s horror at brown criminals that gets expressed in language like “not even people, but animals.”

When Rob Porter is very credibly accused of beating up women he’s dated, we need to pause and show empathy and consider how it may ruin a good person’s life if the charges are false.

But those nebulous “people trying to come into the country” don’t require that sort of individualized consideration. We can casually talk about “bad people” and then dispense with the pretense of troubling ourselves about their humanity at all.

Such nice distinctions are for very fine human white supremacists and square-jawed domestic abusers with ivy league credentials. About animal herds, we can freely generalize.

 

Now, I disagree with Julian on one point: his wording implies that Trump does this deliberately, as part of some coherent agenda, when I think that people generally make these sorts of choices far below the conscious level. I doubt our president is any exception in that regard. But I’m in full agreement about the implications and effect of what he says. And therefore, that he shouldn’t say these things.

This may seem a tangential point, but in fact, I think it’s at the heart of what I’m saying, and why you find it so hard to swallow.

I went into this lengthy digression, and provided the full tweetstorm, because it’s worth looking at how close a reading of President Trump’s words you have to provide in order to make a convincing argument that they’re racist, or at least, racially “loaded and coded”, as one of my college professors used to say. It is possible to read Trump’s words simply as a comment on MS-13; it’s the context of his other speech, and the subtleties of race relations in 2018 America, that make them so troubling.

This is why conservatives can be sincerely bewildered, and angry, when the left complains about these sorts of remarks, and why the left can be just as sincerely, and justly, angry about them. Dialogue about race in modern America is rarely anyone screaming “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” It’s much more about microagressions and subtle systemic exclusion. So attempts to fight it often consist of, to steal another phrase from the left, “tone policing”. No one likes to be tone policed, and yet, I think we could all stand to spend more time guarding our tone, including myself.

But tone policing is inevitably a fraught enterprise, as any columnist criticizing Trump can tell you.  So much of his bad behavior consists of violating delicate political norms, and that nebulous yet powerful shield, “the rule of law”. By their very nature, these things are subtle and rarely overtly defined. So Trump’s critics frequently find themselves in the position of knowing that he is breaking something important, but being unable to convince other people that the things he has violated even exist.

All right, I’ve complained about Trump a bit, and now I feel better. Why do I bring this up here?

Well, because I imagine that you are able to see without much effort that Trump’s words were offensive, and dangerous. You slice effortlessly through the surface meaning to the subtleties that lurk beneath. And by now, you probably see where I’m going with this.

My objections to the report you wrote were subtle in that same way as the objections of Trump’s critics. You didn’t say “Conservatives are all awful people”; you just focused disproportionately on conservatives you find especially appalling, and lavished gratuitous scorn on them. You didn’t say “Let’s curtail speech rights”, you just proposed rules that disproportionately burden small and disliked minorities on your campus. You are telling me that the surface meaning of these words should not offend any reasonable conservative. And the surface meaning doesn’t. But conservatives read them in context, and look below the surface. And what I think they see there is a distinct lack of empathy for their concerns, shading over into practical actions which have the effect of making it harder for them to speak. Meanwhile, non-conservatives look at the surface and can’t figure out what the heck conservatives are so mad about.

This may shed some light on what I meant when I said that most of the commission members probably found antifa somewhat sympathetic. I don’t mean that you’re secretly all on the hard left, and approve of violence. I mean only that their broadest goals of economic redistribution and opposing Trump are probably something that most commission members find congenial, even if they’d argue strenuously about the extent of the redistribution, and the wisdom or morality of using violence to achieve those goals. When you start with that empathy, you will write about them differently than you do about people who seem merely alien; on one side you’ll see flawed behavior, and on the other, bad people.

And look, I also understand why the left is anxious and angry about Trump. I am too. But by the same token, I understand why the conservative minority on campus is anxious and angry about the way left-wing cultural hegemons talk about them, and to them. I understand why each side does what it does, and why those actions provoke unwise reactions from the people on the other side. I just wish everyone would agree to stop the cycle.

If I seem to be wandering a little afield of our discussion, let me now circle back: a report that tried to see conservatives as contextually and empathetically as it saw the left would, I think, have differed from what you actually produced in important ways, ones that would have made for a more full-throated defense of free speech, and for less anxiety about the fate of conservatives on campus.

Instead of merely repeating conservative reports of bias against them on campus, using the minimum number of carefully neutral words, that report would have striven to indicate that it found those concerns credible, in the same way that it strove to indicate sympathy with people of color who found a large police presence on campus traumatizing. That report would have contextualized right-wing grievances as well as left-wing ones. It would not have wasted space gratuitously impugning the motives of provocative conservative speakers, something that’s entirely irrelevant to their right to speak–or if it did so, would have given equal time to discussing the baser motives and probable character defects of people who attack innocent bystanders with flagpoles. And a report that came from a more conservative-sympathetic place would not have appeared somewhat reluctant to uphold the speech rights of provocative conservatives—at least, not unless it also explored the possibility of curtailing the campus speech rights of left-wing speakers whom the right finds provocative. (I would bitterly disagree with you if you did go in this direction, but recognize that it would be at least fair.)

Most importantly, that report would have been very wary of any recommendations that were apt to disadvantage groups representing a small ideological minority on campus, because everyone’s spidey-sense would have begun to tingle about the possibility of structural discrimination against an outgroup.

Which brings me to Professor Rossman’s tweet, because I hope that I’ve now given you enough context to understand why (I think) he said what he said, and why I agree with it. That is, saying conservative students shouldn’t invite pointlessly provocative speakers is our critique to make because we can give their actions an empathetic reading.  You are of course also absolutely entitled to condemn it. But your condemnation will be somewhat wanting, not to mention practically ineffective, unless you can first say “I’ve heard you, and I understand why you want to do this. You just shouldn’t.”

To resort to analogy: imagine a rich guy telling a poor teenager that he should get his act together and pull himself up by his bootstraps. It makes an immense difference whether that rich guy was born to a single mother in a trailer, or to an heiress on Park Avenue. They might both be making the same argument about the moral virtues and practical benefits of hard work and self-reliance. They might even both be right. But one person can be presumed to have a sympathetic understanding of the teenager’s situation, and a respect for the person he is speaking to. The other guy is just righteously lecturing a stranger about a situation he doesn’t fully understand.

Obviously,  I’m not claiming that Professor Rossman and I have made some brutal upward climb through the mean streets of Washington journalism and the sociology profession. I’m just saying that when we’re speaking to right leaning students, as a right-libertarian and a conservative who work in culturally left spaces, we have some credibility to deliver those kinds of lectures. It also probably means that we’ll deliver a different, and hopefully more effective lecture: one that acknowledges their feelings and goals, and tries to point them in a better direction for the conservative moment, and for themselves as moral actors. I think the left could deliver that lecture too—but to be taken seriously, it would need to come from a place of deeper empathy than I saw in the commission’s report.

I’ll close by reiterating that these are indeed subtle things, which inevitably leaves much room for argument. It’s a matter of whose feelings you worry about when you choose words or emphasis; how sensitive you are to the burdens that others unlike you carry; who you see as a responsible actor, and who you view as being provoked by the other side; whose goals you find worthy and whose you think destructive. And I’d emphasize that I’m not trying to argue that conservatives are deeply wronged by errant liberals; as I say, what I see in our broken political culture is not simply righteous victims and evil villains, but a destructive iterative process in which both sides at least occasionally occupy the roles of victim and victimized.

I hope, perhaps naively, that this process could be brought to a halt if everyone tried to develop the empathetic readings of their outgroups that they find easy to deliver for their ingroups. I know it’s not an easy task that I’m proposing, and I fail at it myself more often than I’d like.

But I think that in this case, at this time, it’s especially important that we do try. In the free speech movement, Berkeley has one of the proudest legacies in American history. You’ve been given what I think of as a sacred duty to safeguard that inheritance. And I do appreciate what Berkeley has done in that regard, under very difficult circumstances.

But I also hear a sense of grievance, in the report and in our correspondence, at having to perform that duty for the likes of Milo and the handful of students who invited him. That sense of grievance is where all speech restrictions start—“Yes, of course, free speech, but those awful people are saying dreadful things.” The first green shoots of that seed are rarely official censorship; they’re little rules that are ostensibly facially neutral, but have the not-necessarily-unanticipated-effect of making it hard for small, disliked minorities to enjoy the same speech rights as larger and more sympathetic groups. You have proposed one such restriction, and apparently gave serious consideration to another. That is what worried me about the report, and I’m afraid that you haven’t allayed my concerns.

And look, I understand why you’re grieved. For one thing, these disruptions cost you a lot of money; for another, it’s only human to get mad when people are saying nasty things about you. But then the same could be said of the students who are inviting the provocateurs. Professor Rossman and I are asking those conservatives to be a little better than just human when they’re planning events on campus. And I’m also asking the same of Berkeley when it reacts to them.

 

Cordially,

Megan McArdle

 

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