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Free Speech

English Prof Makes the Case for Berkeley Censoring Ann Coulter

Written by Philip Hodges

In an op-ed for New Republic, assistant professor of English at Colby College in Maine Aaron Hanlon argued that colleges have the right to decide whom gets invited and disinvited. He says that those criticizing Berkeley’s decision are mischaracterizing their disinviting as ‘censorship,’ ‘silencing’ of conservatives, and doing it as a means of placating the entitled ‘snowflakes.’

Hanlon says it’s not about that. Having the right to free speech is not the same as having the right to a college platform. “Disinviting right-wing provocateurs isn’t a suppression of free speech,” he writes. “It’s a value judgment in keeping with higher education’s mission.”

Tucker Carlson had this guy on to discuss his op-ed.

TUCKER CARLSON: So, pardon my surprise that a liberal art professor would be defending squelching free speech. I read your piece in “The New Republic.” Outline for us quickly if you would your justification for not allowing people you disagree with just speaking on college campuses? 

HANLON: Sure. So, I am actually personally very speech permissive, I would say I am pro-speech, almost absolutist on speech. But my view is basically that universities, institutions of higher education, should be able to make value judgments about quality of speaker, not ideological tests. Not about whether the speaker is a popularity contest, but judgments about the quality of the speaker and that speaker’s suitability for a speech at an institution of higher education.  

CARLSON: Okay. So, free speech, and it has been defined pretty precisely by the Supreme Court, is not curtailed by other people’s views of it. In other words, you have an absolute right to say what you think, to deliver your political opinions in public. And the truth is, you know if college is a bridge that freedom of speech on the basis of political preference. They don’t like people for their views, for their conservative views and prevent them from speaking. Why would you defend that? 

HANLON: I wouldn’t, in fact, and that is not the argument. The argument is not that there should be a test based on the political views of the speaker. The argument is that there should be a consideration of the relative quality of the speaker and the suitability of the speaker for the educational mission of an institution of higher education.  

CARLSON: Oh, okay, so, those are so subjective, those terms, that they allow a college to stop a speech they disagree with, which is of course exactly what happens. I can’t think of an occasion in the life of Colby College, for example, when conservative students have stopped a liberal speaker. It is always the other way around. So, what are the criteria? Why is Ann Coulter for example who is raising big public policy issues immigration, why is she not suitable? 

HANLON: Well, a couple of points on this. One is that, if you look at, it’s a wonderful service by the foundation for individual rights and education, fire, provides a database of disinvited speakers or dis-invitation attempts. And if you look at that, you will see that it is actually not always from the left that the dis-invitation or no platforming happens. So, let me just correct that. But the fact of the matter is —

CARLSON: Can you name a single example where a speaker has been physically prevented from speaking by conservative students? 

HANLON: I know basically that Barack Obama and Alice Walker have been sort of denied or at least — 

CARLSON: No, they were not stopped from speaking. Nobody put their bodyguards in the hospital. Nobody threw rocks against the building are pounded on the windows. Conservative students have not, that I am aware of, but I would denounced it immediately if they did, stopped any speakers. And yet, you see it on the left and eat your piece doesn’t say one word about that. I wonder why? 

HANLON: Actually, I am pretty explicit in that piece and another piece that is about my opposition to any kind of violent or disruptive protest of any speaker, any ideological persuasion. I wouldn’t defend any of that type of action. And at Berkeley, of course, the conflict is not just left-wing radicals being violent. It’s also right-wing radicals putting on body armor and coming there for a fight, as well.  

CARLSON: Okay. But the right wingers, to the extent they exist, are not the ones who stop the series of speakers from speaking. They are 100 percent on the left. And you don’t mention that in your piece and you don’t suggest any punishment for those people, if you are mere free speech absolutist as you claim you are, what should happen to people who prevent someone from expressing his or her political views? 

HANLON: Well, as I have said and as I have made very clear in my public writing, I do not support anybody of any ideological persuasion forcibly shutting down speech. The issue is that conservative groups on campus have intelligently discerned a strategy whereby they invited speakers who are deliberately provocative, often not interested and actually debating ideas, and fulfilling an educational mission on their visits to an institution. They invite those speakers and quite frankly, a lot of people on the left fall into the trap.  

CARLSON: (LAUGHS) So, really, you are blaming the victim here. Because people are, quote, “deliberately provocative.” Can you hear yourself? You are a college professor and you are against intellectual debate that is, quote, “deliberately provocative.” Shouldn’t it be deliberately provocative? 

HANLON: Intellectually provocative, I mean, intellectual debate was the word that you used. But I would think I would characterize Milo putting up pictures of students and professors at his stock and making fun of them as intellectually provocative. That is provocative. And there are plenty of places that students, faculty, and anybody else can go to get provocation that is not particularly well thought out. I mean, that is what the internet is for. So, should we then turn our institutions of higher education into a kind of wild west-style sort of recapitulation of the internet? 

CARLSON: No. We should allow some diversity of views and you don’t. And so, you are saying basically, these people’s views aren’t worthy of hearing, we are editing them out. Why not burn their books? Why is it different? What are you suggesting? 

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: No, it is a serious question.  

HANLON: Because you can read their books. I take the question seriously. I mean, the point is that a college has a mission that extends beyond simply provoking students with whatever material is out there. There is no ban on student’s reading Ann Coulter’s books.  

CARLSON: But there is a ban on hearing —  

HANLON: No, there’s no ban on hearing students getting involved in any kind of politics.

CARLSON: There is a band on hearing Ann Coulter on campus. And colleges, as you know, blame the speaker for inciting the violence of others who disagree. And I guess my question, as someone who says he supports free speech, where is the punishment for the people who are prohibiting the exercise of free speech? Why aren’t you mad at them? You seem to be blaming the people who dared to have ideas you don’t agree with.  

HANLON: Oh, I mean, I am of course mad at people who are shutting down speech forcibly. Right? But I think —

CARLSON: What should happen to them? Should they be expelled? 

HANLON: I think that — I am not really in — it’s not my interest in adjudicating punishment to these people.  

CARLSON: Why not? 

HANLON: In other words — because it’s not my role. I mean, I don’t do that.  

CARLSON: What you mean it’s not your role? 

HANLON: I’m not disciplinarian.

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by EagleRising.com


About the author

Philip Hodges

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