Geoffrey Stone presented an excellent lecture last night on campus. The topic was on academic freedom and free speech on campus.

I will try to present his main points, but there is no way I can approach his eloquence or the purity of his argument.

  1. Academic freedom is relatively new phenomenon. Until the mid-20th Century, professors and students were routinely fired/expelled for presenting views at odds with the general beliefs of the college.
  2. Freedom of speech in general had been used as grounds for imprisonment using the Sedition Act passed during WW1 during the Wilson administration. This continued until the Supreme Court reversed those decisions about 40 years later (timing may be a little off).
  3. All ideas and speakers should be allowed on campus, regardless of whether the ideas are deemed hurtful or offensive to others. This has been made formal policy at the University of Chicago. Many other universities and colleges have adopted nearly the same policy, including at least one institution that had previously withdrawn a speaker invitation.
  4. All others should feel comfortable challenging ideas they find hurtful or offensive. However, disruption of the engagement or threats of unrest were not appropriate actions.
  5. Universities/colleges that shield the community from ideas are not properly preparing students to deal with these challenges in the real world.
  6. None of us should be so arrogant as to think that all our beliefs, regardless of how certain we are, should be considered truth. In other words, we could be wrong.
  7. Allowing censorship of ideas we find offensive opens the door to others who might censor our ideas.
  8. Censorship of ideas is likely in the long term to hurt minority groups more than the majority.

I hope this is a decent summary. I welcome any additions/corrections from anyone else who attended. I wish more people had come.

With regard to local issues, he did point out that Williams had withdrawn invitations to speakers among a list of other colleges who had recently taken similar action.

I view having this speaker as a great move for the college. Bravo! I hope that Williams will adopt a policy similar to that at U Chicago.

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