letter to the editor

Letter to the Editor: Feb. 14, 2018


In last December’s issue Jimmy Graham, a sophomore Business major argued that UW-Parkside was unlike “many colleges” who “discourage free speech”. To some extent, I agree with Mr. Graham, since UW-Parkside does not inhibit the free exercise of constitutionally protected speech. But that is about all that I agree with from his argument.

Mr. Graham, like many other conservatives, lazily confuse “free speech” with the freedom to be free of the consequences of their ostensibly free speech. Moreover, many across the political spectrum, erroneously labor under the illusion that all speech is constitutionally protected; this too is a mistake.

While Mr. Graham may have had some negative experiences, they hardly compare to the institutional suppression of speech by others in this country, against those who suffer far greater consequences than his, for far longer periods of time (Colin Kaepernick being one particularly salient example).

I find it hard to credit his assertion that DePaul “did not promote free speech whatsoever”. If that were true, that school couldn’t have any curriculum in the social science or humanities, given the centrality of free speech in the classrooms to those disciplines. Indeed, it’s consistently ranked in the top 50 or top 20 film schools in the nation and in the top 25-18 drama schools in the nation thereby illustrating the absurdity of that claim.

He incredulously argues that the cancellation of his invited speaker was based on claims that “his views encouraged violence”. Surely Mr. Graham recognizes that universities have an in loco parentis responsibility to protect its students from violence wherever and whenever it might occur.

There’s certainly sufficient evidence that the mere appearance of some of the favorite conservative speakers (Milo Yiannopoulos for example) will predictably trigger a response in others to vigorously and sometimes violently, react to their presence. Thus for Mr. Graham to bemoan the cancellation of this event is tantamount to him gleefully looking forward to such reactions if only to substantiate claims, that university campuses are bastions of intolerance. When in fact, those institutions are doing their level best to ensure no one gets hurt and public facilities that we all pay for are kept intact.

In keeping with the espousal of his not too subtle ideological critique couched in a compliment, Mr. Graham then argues that “DePaul…is not the only school that is silencing the voices of conservatives” and that “across the country it is becoming seemingly more apparent that only one kind of thought will be tolerated”. Leaving aside how Mr. Graham’s many experiences with multiple universities across the country have equipped him to make such broad generalizations, his conclusion that public universities are somehow– in plain sight no less –stifling student speech by willingly hiring faculty with the knowledge that they’ll censor students in their classrooms, while paying them – is laughable in the extreme.

Mr. Graham’s diatribe traffics in the worse kind of political propaganda by reproducing a false persecution complex replete with anecdotal evidence, but woefully lacking in actual evidence or data to substantiate his claims. I’m glad he loves Parkside, but it’s no different than most public universities and their commitment to protect constitutionally protected speech as best as it can.

 

Michael Johnson Jr., Ph.D. Lecturer and Faculty Advisor, The Center for Liberal Studies

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