Former Williams President Morty Schapiro wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in March on the “The New Face of Campus Unrest.” It is not good. Let’s spend a week dissecting it! Today is Day 5.
The context of an incident matters, and it is near impossible for outsiders to glean the facts during the public battles that ensue after a high-profile event. College community members deserve to be in a safe and supportive environment, and it is our job to nurture that environment.
I made fun of this quote last week because it was so self-serving: No one not living on campus can ever “glean the facts” about a controversy, so all you rich alumni should just Shut Up and Write Big Checks.
But the truly annoying part of this op-ed is Morty’s failure to grasp the easy and obvious solution: Elite universities should not punish speech that is protected by the First Amendment. If something is legal for US citizens to say (or do) on Spring Street, then it should be legal for Williams students to say (or do) on campus. Why is this a good idea?
First, it makes 99% of the “controversies” that Morty is talking about go away. When silly student says X and other students complain, a college president/dean/professor can just reply “The First Amendment protects all speech, especially the speech you despise.”
Second, it educates the students doing the complaining. Many of them do not seem to really understand “uncomfortable learning,” a concept highlighted by Adam Falk is his induction speech. Speech that upsets you is speech that teaches you as well. At the very least, you learn that there are other (smart! educated!) Ephs with very different viewpoints. And that is a valuable education, good preparation for the rest of your life.
Third, it decreases the amount of complaining. So many students complain about speech they dislike because their complaints work. Morty mentions:
And don’t forget the racist YouTube video that went viral, leading to the expulsion of two students at the University of Oklahoma on March 10.
Morty fails (because he does not know?!) that this expulsion was almost certainly unconstitutional, that Oklahoma will, at the very least, be forced to readmit these students and, in all likelihood, pay them a substantial amount of money.
Summary: If colleges were to make their codes of student conduct identical to a First Amendment test, this entire issue — and the endless time it wastes — would go away.
Why won’t they do that? Why doesn’t Morty even discuss such an obvious and sensible idea?