Free speech is in serious danger on college campuses. Everyone knows that. It’s common knowledge. Of course, it’s complete crap, but you hear it everywhere. Take President Salovey’s freshman address last year, when he informed his captive audience that the “freedom to express ideas has been threatened.” Salovey elaborated, “Invitations to provocative speakers have been withdrawn; politicians, celebrities and even university presidents invited to deliver commencement addresses have, under pressure, declined to speak to graduates.” Or take the words of another president. “I don’t agree that [students] have to be coddled and protected from different points of view,” Barack Obama told an audience in Iowa, shortly before parodying a college student who whines, “I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say.” Or take the recent debate sweeping across campus about racism at Yale, which Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, called “one of the most intense free-speech controversies I’ve ever seen.”

What all of these critics fail to understand is that there is, indeed, a threat to free speech on college campuses — but it isn’t the students. It’s university administrators. Allow me to explain.

First, let’s note that the so-called crisis of free speech decried by Obama, Salovey, Lukianoff and all the rest does not, in fact, exist. This crisis is actually just the cowardice of speakers unwilling to face free speech from a viewpoint other than their own. The examples inevitably brought up — of controversial commencement speakers like Condoleezza Rice, Christine Lagarde and Robert Birgeneau bowing out—usually skate over the fact that no one disinvited or blocked these speakers. Likewise, no one has shouted down or withdrawn invitations to Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock and the other comedians who have claimed to be unwilling to speak on campuses anymore because students are just too darn sensitive and can’t take a joke. (Likewise, no one restricted the rights of students who want to dress up in offensive Halloween costumes; they simply counseled sensitivity and thoughtfulness.)

In the face of potential criticism or protest over some of the messed up stuff they’ve done or said, these speakers and comedians have voluntarily opted not to put themselves out there. They are the ones unwilling to face speech that they disagree with. These speakers are avoiding campuses precisely because they don’t want to face the free speech of their ideological adversaries.

Or take the new cri de coeur from the anti-P.C. center and right: trigger warnings. Trigger warnings, many claim, promote censorship and limit discourse — and when did college students get so sensitive anyway? In reality, as a 2015 Harris poll illustrated, those on the right are far more likely to favor ideologically motivated censorship than those on the left. Rather, trigger warnings are simply a recommendation, a courtesy — not censorship. They are a long-overdue recognition that assault and violence are far more common than the stigmas of the past allowed us to acknowledge — especially for the most marginalized among us — and we should respect that.

The marginalized can’t be as effectively silenced any more — and that’s terrifying to those in power.

In a nation with literally thousands of colleges and millions of students, those claiming there is a free speech crisis on campuses — and, for the record, they’ve been claiming this for decades — have been forced to rely on a handful of misleading anecdotes. And anecdotes do not a crisis make.

Yet, as I wrote above, there is a crisis. It is not often a crisis of censorship or suppression, yet it is an important one. When one side of a “discourse” has a much louder megaphone than the other, and when it uses that megaphone to actively mislead, it is limiting the ability of the other side to get its point a fair hearing. Free speech is threatened when administrators tear down a poster pointing out a lack of faculty diversity and replace it with lollipop-laden pieces of propaganda. Free speech is threatened when the administration puts up highly misleading posters mere days in advance of a rally for graduate student unionization — and then claims the timing was purely coincidental. Posters that, by the way, completely ignored the issues the grad students were protesting over. Posters that were a patent attempt to obfuscate and distort, an attempt to avoid genuine engagement.

Free speech is threatened when a residential college master shouts down his students; even if they shout back, he has all the institutional power. Their “discourse” is neither open, nor equal, nor free.

Free speech is threatened when administrators shut students out of important discussions, such as those concerning divestment, but then bring them in after a decision has been made in order to pretend there was dialogue. Free speech is threatened when administrators paper over that whole reality with deceptive press releases or the conveniently timed announcement of half-hearted sustainability initiatives.

Misdirection and propaganda threaten free speech far more than trigger warnings do.

Free speech is also threatened when, as Tyler Blackmon ’16 noted in these pages, President Salovey announces in his freshman address that “petitions or protests” or the use of social media is contrary to a “rational, open discourse.” Salovey’s speech said students should have a dialogue about race — but only on his limited, self-serving terms. Dean Jonathan Holloway echoed this construction when he said, in a freshman address calling for a dialogue, that certain things are already “off the table.”

Free speech on campus is vitally important. But free speech is threatened when the whole discussion surrounding it ignores the real threat and castigates the most marginalized among us. Free speech is threatened when those who already have more power use it to mislead and to silence.

Scott Stern is a 2015 graduate of Branford College. He is a former staff columnist for the News. Contact him at scott.stern@yale.edu .

  • dzmlsience

    There was one statement in this article that is verifiably true. The last one: “Free speech is threatened when those who already have more power use it to mislead and to silence.” The columnist might care to reflect on just who wields the power on a modern American college campus. Reading Orwell might also prove profitable. The academy has sown this bitter crop and now, it seems, certain opportunists have decided that it is time to harvest.

  • germ_16

    Free speech is threatened when you silence dissenting views. Like pushing to fire Christakis because you disagree with his views on free speech. This isn’t “progress”.

  • Ralphiec88

    The notion that anyone who has been admitted to Yale is “marginalized” is laughable. You want to know what marginalized really looks like? Work a blue-collar job for a year. Draw a 5 mile radius around Yale and see how the people in that circle live and die.

    • jamesgd

      the notion that blue collar workers are marginalized is laughable. be homeless for a year to see what marginalization really is. no, scratch that. homeless arent either. go live in a famished village in africa to really know. no, scratch that. go live as a child sex slave in thailand. no, scratch–you know, its hard to pin down this marginalized thing. almost like its relative. hmm…

      • Ralphiec88

        I simply offered that as a way to see how so much of the US lives. You’d find good people, bad people, marginalized people, and the ability to put some of the grievances aired this week into perspective. As you point out, people on the margins of the US workforce still have a pretty good life compared to people on the margins in other societies. Which is what makes some of the wailing and gnashing of teeth put forth this week by students fortunate enough to attend one of the top schools in the nation seem so out of touch.

  • andy 123

    On Mizzou campus, plenty of staff and students were perfectly willing to use violence against an Asiad with a camera who wasn’t a threat to anyone. Further, your own little special snowflake, Jerelyn Luther, literally screamed “Shut up” and shouted down a professor. On a normal college campus with an honor code, that would be grounds for suspension or expulsion. So yes, free speech has been suppressed by group think, but we are about to see a lot of voices raised very loudly. We can only hope that this debate, as it develops, is limited to loud talk. However, if Ferguson is the prototype, it is unlikely that it will.

    • jamesgd

      you want her suspended or expelled for her speech, for the sake of free speech… makes sense.

      • Ralphiec88

        No, she should be suspended for trying to pick a fight with and then screaming expletives and insults at professor of the school she attends. Trying to pass that off as “free speech” is absurd.

    • Mulberry Field

      #glassfloor

  • Publius

    I must give credit where it is due. This is a well-crafted article because he takes a commonly held norm (that the Left does everything they can to silence the Right) and twists it around. And it almost works. Unfortunately, most people reading this are Yale grads and are able to see right through such a ruse. (Even if you agree with his political views, you can’t possibly believe his rationale here…)
    Here’s the truth: The Left often seeks to silence their critics. This is a commonly held belief that even a far-left liberal has to acknowledge if he/she is being honest. (Case in point…when is the last time a liberal commencement speaker was protested against by Conservatives? The answer: Never) Why does the Left want to silence their critics? Some would say it’s because they are immature and petulant. This is part of the reason. But the real reason is that the Left has weaker arguments, and if a long-form debate is allowed, those weak ideas would be exposed.

    • jamesgd

      youre using “protest” and “silence” interchangeably, when theyre opposites in this context. you dont have a right to not be called offensive. get over it.

    • 100wattlightbulb

      I might add- when was the last time a Conservative was given an honorary degree or invited to teach a seminar (a REAL conservative)?

  • Phil Ostrand

    Please read a history of the Maoist re education camps. I am sure you will find it both instructive and illuminating. Free speech is not free. How many students used Veterans day as an occasion to thank those who have served our country?

  • PTTurboe

    Children.

  • Will Rogers

    Free speech is threatened when student mobs spit on people who are leaving a conference on freedom of speech. The current mob at Yale is following the playbook of German youth in the 1930s.

  • Guy

    You’re right, in the case of Condoleeza Rice, she was not disinvited from Rutgers. She was, however, subjected to a barrage of insulting and threatening protests prior to her arrival. Any sensible person would’ve withdrawn. So, correct in fact, but way, way, way off in truth.

    As for Christakis and Shrieking Girl — “he has the institutional power.” What nonsense. Adults don’t speak to each other by screaming epithets at those with whom they disagree. Christakis was wielding no “power,” merely listening patiently. Your reliance upon the tiresome tropes of the social justice left (“institutional power,” indeed. What course did you learn that in?) negates the entirety of your argument.

  • ydnreader

    Why is Mr. Stern still here?

  • YaleStudent13

    “First, let’s note that the so-called crisis of free speech decried by Obama, Salovey, Lukianoff and all the rest does not, in fact, exist. This crisis is actually just the cowardice of speakers unwilling to face free speech from a viewpoint other than their own.”

    For context, the list below also states that the three cases (Condoleezza Rice, Christine Lagarde and Robert Birgeneau) described above were cases in which the speaker withdrew in the face of protest. The list however also contains others who did in fact have their invitations formally rescinded. I have not checked the validity of each of these entries. If these are accurate, the list contains, by my count, 57 events where speakers at universities had their invitations formally rescinded and 19 events where the speakers withdrew in the face of protest in the period from 2000-2014. So, roughly 3 out of 4 times in which a speaker did not speak it was because he/she had his/her invitation rescinded.

    This seems like something that probably should have been addressed in this op-ed as it is the second hit on google when you search “campus disinvitations”

    https://www.thefire.org/list-of-campus-disinvitations-2000-2014/

  • YaleStudent13

    “First, let’s note that the so-called crisis of free speech decried by Obama, Salovey, Lukianoff and all the rest does not, in fact, exist. This crisis is actually just the cowardice of speakers unwilling to face free speech from a viewpoint other than their own.”

    For context, the list below also states that the three cases (Condoleezza Rice, Christine Lagarde and Robert Birgeneau) described above were cases in which the speaker withdrew in the face of protest. The list however also contains others who did in fact have their invitations formally rescinded. I have not checked the validity of each of these entries. If these are accurate, the list contains 57 events where speakers at Universities had their invitations formally rescinded and 19 events where the speakers withdrew in the face of protest in the period from 2000-2014.

    https://www.thefire.org/list-of-campus-disinvitations-2000-2014/

  • td2016

    What?!! ANOTHER Scott Stern column? Was this thing found in the back of the YDN lunch room freezer or something? It’s as stale as a thirteen month old chicken breast sandwich.

    Look, it is perfectly possible for a student from any background to feel isolated and overwhelmed at Yale, in part because it IS such a fabulous place with so many incredible, wonderful people. And it makes sense that those who feel that way from a shared background will have some things in common. Having admitted such students the University recognizes that it should make them welcomed and make them feel welcomed. Nobody wants students to feel bad about Yale or themselves. That’s what I think Hollaway and Salovey are getting at, and I think they are right to devote additional resources to that end.

    But none of that justifies the incivility, exaggeration, hyperbole, demands for restrictions on expression, self-indulgence and sometimes repressive and outright criminal behavior of some of those who consider themselves aggrieved. And those excesses definitely include almost all criticisms of the Christakises, who are definitely on the side of the angels in this matter.

    And NOTHING justifies bringing back Scott Stern. Virtually everything in this column is wrong headed and counterproductive. “Misdirection and propaganda threaten free speech far more than trigger warnings do?” Well, one man’s misdirection and propaganda is another man’s visionary truth. This column is paradigmatic propaganda and misdirection to me. Is Stern a threat to free speech? No, just to good writing.

    I don’t advocate silencing a tedious bloviator like Stern, but there’s no reason to reach out to him now. We didn’t need this.

  • 100wattlightbulb

    Where art thou Yellow Wasp and River Tam?

  • cloudman

    If anyone believes that social equality on campus, let alone in Paris or Missouri, can be guaranteed, think again. Since 9/11/01, we live in a world quite changed, which diversity is not welcomed in places like Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan, perhaps even Peoria.
    Furthermore, you came to Yale to study at the highest academic levels, to achieve excellent grades and recommendations, and to explore areas unknown to you before.
    Those goals are naturally stressful, daunting, even scary. There is an intrinsic competition academically and socially unlike what one experienced in high school. You are in the big leagues now.
    The values behind freedom of speech are emphasized in our Constitution, in the Woodward Report, and many other excellent academic institution. So, naturally having ethnic diversity competes with complete freedom of speech. What you take for granted in New Haven, CT may not be so obvious in Saint Cloud, MN or another town.
    However, words do have consequences. Over thirty years ago, Dr. Richard Granger was Master of Morse College. Some upper class students did not get along with him very well, and they noticed his full figure and his face had jowls like a walrus. They often played the song “I am the Walrus” by the Beatles to mock him. They even considered making a paper mache Walrus head to go up on the dining hall wall to complement the Moosehead on the Ezra Stiles College dining hall wall. Today, Morse College still has the Walrus as its mascot. Words live on indefinitely. What began as a mocking insult has become an institutionalized mascot.
    I wonder what the legend of the shrieking girl and Master Christakis will become?

  • Mulberry Field

    The pink elephant in the room is that at most universities students from poor backgrounds are in contention for the title of most marginalized group on campus. I’m sure a Vanderbilt would have more in common with the Shah of Iran’s son than the son of a fast food worker. The upper/middle class can be accused of being ignorant of their priveleges just as much as whites or any majority can be accused of being oblvious to their status. It seems that the New Yale think that being a more racially diverse class will achieve more than being a more economically diverse class.

  • Caroline

    I initially intended to insert a link to FIRE’s long, long list of speaker disinvitations, but I see that YaleStudent13 has already done so. I think that this should be proof plenty to demonstrate that much of what you say in this “article” is simply and demonstrably false.

    I would add that your claim that “Likewise, no one has shouted down or withdrawn invitations to Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock and the other comedians who have claimed to be unwilling to speak on campuses anymore” is similarly incorrect. As you can see here http://www.thecollegefix.com/post/19918/ and here http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?ca=b51d44f0-24ca-4574-92a0-6b2388789cf1&c=f083d660-b6b3-11e3-b03e-d4ae5284205e&ch=f1664720-b6b3-11e3-b07f-d4ae5284205e , students have indeed attempted to withdraw invitations to comedians. In this particular case, the administration wisely stopped them. I find it extremely ironic that, as the second link shows, one of the groups that wanted Maher’s invitation rescinded claims that its goals include “encouraging dialogue” and “protecting civil liberties.”

    Finally, I find it simply ridiculous that you are attempting to portray Mr. Christakis as an oppressor when he chose to engage with students in an honest and commendable effort to understand what they found so terrible and painful about proposing that perhaps administrators shouldn’t tell allegedly intelligent adults how they can and cannot dress. Mrs. Christakis’s email made it quite clear (to anyone who actually read it, that is) that she encouraged actual dialogue about any issues with Halloween costumes, and this position was supported by her husband’s willingness to be shouted at and insulted for an hour. When students demand that faculty members be fired for having opinions they don’t agree with, THAT is oppression.

  • marcedward

    “castigates the most marginalized among us”

    You are among the most privileged students in the USA. I doubt you’ve ever not known if you can afford your next meal or if you can make rent. Just sit down and shut up.

  • freespeechgal

    At Yale and other colleges, conservative speakers are shouted down, conservative students are spat upon, and if you dare to challenge a politically-correct liberal’s opinion, the students call for you to be fired. That’s happened at Yale. And look at Weslyan, where a student wrote an opinion article in the student newpaper questioning whether the Black Lives movement was on the right track and then the school’s student government association voted to slash the newspaper’s budget. That’s censorship and shows complete ignorance of the First Amendment! In America, intelligent people are supposed to look at ideas from both sides (or multiple sides) and allow free discourse and debate. To shut someone down and punish him or her because that person has a different opinion than you do is fascist, totalitarian, and un-American. Yale and Weslyan should be utterly embarrassed by such disgraceful behavior. George Orwell must be turning over in his grave.

  • Doug

    If we’re going to start censoring speech on campus, can we please start with Marxism and all its offshoots, including Critical Race Theory, Critical Legal Theory, Post-Colonial theory, and so on? Thanks.

  • Will Rogers

    I’m starting to get the impression that these “opinion” articles in the Yale Daily News are written by a small group of people who are generally regarded as village idiots by the vast majority people who actually read the paper – which one would assume includes many well-known and influential graduates of Yale. I was wondering how many of these readers are actually embarrassed to read so many articles in the Yale Daily News that make Yale – and by extension its graduates – look ridiculous in the eyes of the public. It is one thing to graduate from a high school whose school newspaper is run by incompetent students – but to have that experience after graduating from one of the top five universities in the country must be particularly galling and humiliating.

    • dzmlsience

      I have been trying to remain generous in my estimation of these young writers. It is hard for me to remember how silly my own writing might have been at this age. But I am running out of patience and generosity. Some of this stuff is just plain dumb and I have to wonder how some of these kids made it through admissions. In particular, how they made it through the interview process. I highly doubt that the majority of columnists I’ve read here would have successfully made it through an alumni interview with me.

      Still, I want to remain generous. The spelling and grammar appears to be impeccable.

    • Jawaralal_Schwartz

      Hey, Will–“well known and influential graduates” don’t read this newspaper. Only people like us, do. Get it, eh?

  • Gary Pavela

    Strong emotions, but I’m not sure what the author is proposing.

    Perhaps some specificity would help. Does free speech protect the marginalized? Or is it a diversion used by oppressors?

    I’ve provided a link below to a federal court decision (Joyner v. Whiting) protecting the rights of a black student newspaper editor who had provocative things to say about white students on his campus. It’s still cited and remains good law.

    https://scholar.google.com/sch

    In the same vein, the link below states the result of a federal investigation into efforts to silence Palestinian activists who reportedly threatened a “safe space” for Jewish students at UC-Berkeley. Again, the First Amendment protected “provocative” minority viewpoints.

    http://news.berkeley.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/DOE.OCR_.pdf