Queríamos ser malos. Éramos adolescentes de 12 (yo) y 13 (él) ingenuos años, pero queríamos ser muy malos.
Ladrones de carros. Asaltar un banco. Espiar el desnudo púbico de una vecina descomunal (las escuelas al campo pronto suplirían esta perversa frustración). Y así hasta convertirnos en los héroes malévolos y lúcidos de las películas nocturnas del sábado por el Canal 6.
Él fue Ulises. Yo todavía soy Orlando Luis.
Una noche decidimos llevarlo por fin a la práctica. Nos pusimos de acuerdo a una hora recóndita para nuestras edades: ¡la una de la madrugada! En 1983 la una de la madrugada sonaba tan misteriosa como la eternidad. Hora de brujas encapuchadas y asesinos en serie de clase C que decapitaban.
Salimos sigilosamente de nuestras respectivas casas. Sin hacer ruido. Sin despertar a nuestros padres (todos vivos en esa época). Sin cerrar la puerta de la calle. La arrimaríamos un poco y ya: Ulises y yo, libres de remate en la esquina curva de Fonts y Beales. Los dos dispuestos a convertirnos en profesionales del gran atraco que nos haría millonarios en muy pocos minutos.
Comenzamos a alejarnos. Yo temblaba. De miedo, de excitación. Las luces del alumbrado público relumbraban con un brillo extraño. Estábamos vivos por primera vez en 12 (yo) y 13 (él) años. Salimos a la Avenida de Porvenir.
Entramos por el pasillo planeado. Saltamos a un patio. Subimos por la ventana enrejada de un garaje abandonado y nos vimos de pronto en la azotea del crimen. La luna sobre nuestras cabezas osadas y orates. La sangre a full.
Nos acercamos a la casucha. Tenía un enorme candado, tal como lo intuimos al estudiar en la distancia del día a aquel escenario. Envolvimos el candado en un trapo (de mi cocina) y Ulises sacó un martillete (traído por su padre músico desde Japón).
Contamos. Uno, dos…, aguantando la respiración, ¡tres!, y le rajé un martillazo al candado momificado que Ulises sostenía en su mano.
Fallé. O él tenía puestos los dedos en el peor lugar. Le escaché varios. No gritó, como corresponde a un buen villano cinematográfico, pero se le cayó el candado del trapo, que rodó sobre un zinc súbito dando unos campanazos del carajo. En medio segundo abajo encendieron la luz. Estábamos presos si no nos fugábamos.
Saltamos del techo. Más bulla. Perros ladrando. Corrimos a ciegas por el pasillo. Crucé la acera sin darme cuenta de que era la acera y terminé parado en medio de la Avenida de Porvenir. Con un carro imprevisto a esa hora frenándome en plena cara. No sé de dónde salió entonces la mano sana de Ulises, que me haló lejos de allí antes de que saliera el chofer a comerme vivo.
Corrimos alejándonos aún más de nuestras casas de puertas arrimadas. Es la estrategia de los lobos que quieren distraer al cazador del sitio exacto de su camada. Llegamos hasta Dolores. Doblamos por el semáforo hacia Octava y sólo ahí dejamos de correr. No estábamos ni agitados.
No teníamos ni trapo ni martillo ni nada. Habíamos perdido, además, el botín de varias jaulas de periquitos que pretendíamos robar para criar primero y luego montar un negocio clandestino de venta de pájaros. Éramos dos delirantes. Ulises más disparatado que yo, debo reconocerlo, que apenas me dejaba entusiasmar por su labia.
Regresamos a Fonts y Beales. Ningún ladrón verdadero había penetrado en nuestras respectivas casas. Parece que Cuba era muy segura en 1983. Nos despedimos sin palabras de ánimo ante el fracaso. Pero ese fue sólo el inicio. Después intentaríamos muchas atrocidades más: cada vez más arriesgadas, si bien siempre fallidas en el minuto cero.
Después nos hicimos grandes y Ulises tuvo novias que lo alejaron de mí durante años. Hasta que yo tuve novias que otra vez nos acercaron.
Él tocaba la batería desde la secundaria y se graduó de música para morirse desconsideradamente muy rápido. Enfisema. Un paro. En una fiesta. Un crimen imperdonable que varias veces nos anunció jugando. Por ésta, y por muchas otras cosas que ahora me callo, sé que mi amigo era un actor amado por los dioses (yo siempre más contemplativo y mediocre, condenado a envejecer).
Desde 1998 no lo veo.
Al inicio soñaba mucho con él. Ulises vivo. Ulises resucitado. Y siempre yo le decía lo mismo en cada sueño: “Qué susto, cojones. Estuviste muerto de verdad: ahora sí tienes que cuidarte…”
Y me despertaba con una alegría que se deshacía enseguida, dejándome un sabor salado en la garganta y una mueca de mierda tan pronto recordaba que no. Que desde 1998 hasta el fin de los tiempos nunca lo veríamos más. Ni yo ni nadie.
No nos despedimos.
A cada rato hablábamos con cariño de aquella noche iniciática de bandolerismo amateur protagonizado por niñitos mitad imbéciles y mitad intelectuales. Nos reíamos de las posibles consecuencias. Todavía me río yo solo hoy, pero con el mismo sabor salado de mis sueños con él, ya no en la garganta sino en mis labios (con el tiempo todo flota en la más pura y espuria superficialidad).
Adiós, Virgo (que a veces mal pronunciábamos Bizco para meternos con sus ojos de mil y una operaciones quirúrgicas). Adiós, Ulises XXXI (como en la serie de ciencia-ficción japonesa que vimos juntos, estando ya demasiados creciditos para ver muñes). Adiós, Ulises que nunca llegaste a la nada cubana del XXI.
En la funeraria de Luyanó no te quise volver a ver. Me abracé al cuello de Zoe, tu eterna primera novia, y por primera y eterna vez desde niño pude llorar.
Todavía me pasa.
Cada vez que lloro por algo ya son más espontáneas, pero menos auténticas mis lágrimas. Cada vez que lloro (incluso cuando mi padre), lo único que me viene a la mente entre espasmos entrecortados (típico del enfisema) es que lo sigo haciendo por ti.
Nunca se lo había contado a nadie.
Nunca te lo había contado. El año próximo cumplirías 40 años. Ya es hora de soltarse algunas verdades, ¿vale?
Cuando volvimos a mirar, todos estaban muertos.Lawton era un matadero. La Habana, un holocausto doméstico. No quedó ni un solo vecino en pie de la vieja época.
Nadie los podría nombrar ahora en el mundo. Nadie, excepto yo. El niño aquel que vino a verlos un rato en los años setenta. El vecinito de enfrente. El hijo de la vejez de Pardo y María, que llegó a Lawton con una lucidez de memoria enferma, en diciembre de 1971, y todavía no se ha marchado de allí. Todavía Landy no se cura de tanta muerte de la gente buena y linda que, en otra época, componían las cuatro esquinas de nuestro universo cerrado. Claustrofóbico, pero candoroso.
Últimamente, mientras más avanzan los sueños en soledad del exilio, más recuerdo a mis muertos. En más de un sentido, son míos. Se me murieron a mí. Ni ellos mismos se acuerdan de ellos ahora. Únicamente yo, en esta patagonia política que aún se llaman los Estados Unidos, cargo con ellos a mi espalda. Cadáveres de un tiempo original, donde cada cosa encajaba a la perfección en sí misma y todas parecían pertenecer a su espacio.
No faltaba ni sobraba nada. La vida lucía entonces estabilizada. El paraíso es una visión con las rodillas puestas en nuestra infancia. Y la cabeza apuntando hacia ninguna parte. No pensábamos en nada. No pesábamos nada. Éramos de una raza estrictamente inmortal. En aquella Cuba inconsciente fuimos, por primera y única vez en el mundo, conscientemente cubanos.
Pero cuando volvimos a mirar, ya todos estaban muertos.
Lawton se vació de vida. La Habana se hundió en La Habanada. No quedó ni una sola memoria de la vieja época.Hoy estiro los brazos desde las universidades y aeropuertos de Norteamérica e intento tocar a mis vecinos en vida. Es una demanda metafísica, anacrónica, extemporánea, contra-contemporánea.
En más de un sentido, mis vecinos de toda la vida me han traicionado. De una parte, la lógica de la Revolución nos hizo talco, nos hizo ajenos, nos alienó: ya no somos aquellos que éramos, ni tampoco seremos aquellos que íbamos a ser. De la otra parte, la lógica de la muerte mansa nos fue ubicando en geometrías irreconciliables: por un ratico nuestros cuerpos parecen haberse extraviado, no coincidimos ya en los mismos barrios, nos hemos ido muriendo de la peor manera ―en la distancia de los desconocidos, en la desdistancia de los que nunca han coincidido.
Es decir, ni siquiera podremos morirnos todos en la verdad. Hemos vivido en algo mucho menos sólido que un sueño de infancia. Hemos vivido en una mentira incesante, en un perpetuo estado de negación. Cuando ya casi íbamos a ser nosotros, no fuimos ni siquiera otros.
Pero, por supuesto, esto tampoco nadie lo recuerda ahora en el mundo. Nadie, excepto yo. El niño aquel que vino para dar testimonio de los años setenta en los tiempos del totalitarismo invisible cubano. El vecinito de enfrente, vencido e invencible hoy a sus 45 desconsolados años. El hijo viejo de Pardo y María, que llegó a Lawton con una avidez de verdad pura, en diciembre de 1971, y todavía no se atreve a regresar de nuevo allí. Todavía Landy no sabe qué hacer con la muerte de tanta gente linda y buena que, en otra época, componían las cuatro esquinas de nuestro universo cerrado. Candoroso, pero irrecuperable.
Ustedes no me entienden, ¿verdad?
¿Ustedes tampoco se acuerdan nunca de mí? ¿Y de ustedes mismos, si es que estuvieron allí? Ustedes no se entienden, ¿verdad?
In September 2016, as soon as I arrived in Saint Louis for my PhD in Comparative Literature, I received an e-mail message sent by Washington University to all students. It included the Statement of Principle Regarding Freedom of Expression, recently signed by members of the Faculty Senate Council and ex-officio members of the Subcommittee on Free Speech of the university. [i]
Coming from a country like Cuba, where the Constitution explicitly prohibits all press and political organizations except those associated with the communist party, [ii] I was almost shocked by the democratic spirit of said Statement of Principle, which publicly legitimized that academic spaces in America were meant for “the open exchange of ideas and information”, in order to “confront difficult and controversial questions,” acknowledging that “the university must vigilantly encourage and facilitate freedom of expression around contentious topics,” as well as “it should both protect and promote actions that ensure the open expression of a full range of viewpoints.”
The Statement also explained that “the university should respect the expression of ideas, even those that are offensive or unpopular,” and that “the university community should continue to make resources available to its members to promote robust, wide-ranging debate and discussion.” Besides, “in allocating such resources, the university should focus on a principle of inclusivity, fostering as broad a range of ideas as possible from as many different constituencies of the university community as possible.” Furthermore, “the university should avoid all forms of punitive action in response to the expression of ideas, and it should likewise ensure that no one misuses the authority conferred by the university to restrict such expression,” because all academic development relies on discussing multiple viewpoints “not by interdiction, but by encouraging further discussion and opportunities for education about contentious issues.”
Otherwise, the Statement concludes, “our institution would no longer truly function as a university if it failed to provide the grounds for robust debate and deliberation,” given that “free and open discourse requires, in the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, ´not [only] free thought for those who agree with us, but freedom for the thought that we hate.´”
However, the limit to such a strong commitment to freedom of expression on campus was “unacceptably injurious or dangerous speech (meaning speech that harasses, defames, threatens, or unjustifiably intrudes on the privacy of specific persons),” a restriction justified not in legal but only in academic terms: that is, such speech simply “makes no positive contribution to the free exchange of ideas and can in fact discourage free discussion.” As a total outsider, or at least as a foreign reader in quite a state of innocence back then, I assumed that, with this last technicality, even hate speech at Washington University was not excluded for being hate speech as such, but by being an intellectual dead-end.
I felt empowered. I felt happiness. I felt radical hope. Not because I wanted to test the limits of institutional tolerance during my PhD, but because I could feel as something very personal that, for the first time in my whole life, I was living in a society which was truly making a formidable effort―despite all the abuses and setbacks along the history of the United States of America―to provide liberty and justice for all.
Later during the 2016 Fall Semester, especially after the presidential debate on campus between the candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, in a second and third reading, I started to wonder who at Washington University would be in charge of defining when a speech really “harasses, defames, threatens,” so that, in such cases, according to the same Statement of Principle, “the university is justified in taking reasonable, unbiased actions to facilitate orderly discussion in certain settings, especially non-public ones.”
Soon enough, I was involved in academic discussions in classes that almost automatically led from debates among colleagues to administrative denunciations against one of the colleagues. Now it felt like a war. Far away from my people and family, I felt brutally vulnerable. I felt fundamentally frightened and arbitrarily betrayed. I couldn´t know until very recently that, back then, I was just embodying the feelings of frustration communicated by Junot Díaz about the actual election of Donald Trump. [iii]
I realized how delicate was to put into day-to-day practice the theory of democracy nowadays. Given the politically polarized climate in the U.S. today, the pursue of justice turned out to be much more complex than a commitment of very well-intentioned and reasonable words.
Were the totalitarian temptations gaining space among American intellectuals or was it all again about the “arena for angry minds” of the paranoid-style in American politics? [iv] That is, a “sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy,” and, of course, “not speaking in a clinical sense,” since for Richard Hofstadter “it is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant.”
In the internet era, the oversaturation of information and the instantaneous connectivity have multiplied the toxic effects of what Hofstadter in the sixties already described as modern “villains” which are “much more vivid than those of their paranoid predecessors, much better known to the public”, while “the literature of the paranoid style is by the same token richer and more circumstantial in personal description and personal invective,” where “the theatre of action is now the entire world.” That´s why this author considers―in my opinion, with an inadvertent touch of paranoid thinking―that “in the end, the real mystery, for one who reads the primary works of paranoid scholarship, is not how the United States has been brought to its present dangerous position but how it has managed to survive at all.”
In any case, for Hofstadter “the paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms—he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization. He constantly lives at a turning point.”
This turning point called here and now has become a ubiquitous question that has reached the highest levels of the political discussion of the country today. For example, on July 2017, during a joint hearing at the U.S. House of Representatives, congressman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) opened his remarks with this statement: [v]
“College is a place for young minds to be intellectually bombarded with new, challenging ideas. Unfortunately, today, on many campuses students and faculty are forced into self-censorship out of fear of triggering violating a safe space, a microaggression, or being targeted by a bias response team. Restricting speech that does not conform to popular opinion contradicts the First Amendment principles and the right to speak freely without regard to offensiveness.”
In the 1998 book The Shadow University, Alan Kors and Harvey Silvergate recall that “the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has provided the most authoritative and widely accepted definition of the contours of academic freedom in the United States”[vi] (50). In 1915, the AAUP released the document General Report of the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure, [vii] establishing “that truth was not a fixed absolute, but, rather, a goal continually pursued in an open and contentious intellectual marketplace,”v in order to “promote inquiry and advance the sum of human knowledge.” Thus, the very “first condition of progress” was the “complete and unlimited freedom to pursue inquiry and publish its results”. Particularly, universities were supposed to function as “a refuge from all tyrannies over men’s minds―those of the state, university trustees and administrators, and public opinion” (50, 51).
To prevent the “coercive shaping” of the student’s mind, the AAUP report stressed that professors should avoid “taking unfair advantage of the student’s immaturity by indoctrinating him with the teacher’s own opinion before the student has had an opportunity fairly to examine other opinions upon the matters in question, and before he has sufficient knowledge and ripeness of judgment to be entitled to form any definitive opinion of his own.” Universities, contrary to “‘proprietary’ institutions ‘designed for the propagation of specific doctrines,’ such as church-supported, religious, and denominational institutions,” were supposed to owe devotion mainly to the notion of “public trust” (51).
In 1916 there was an important addition to the AAUP report, a concept which decades later was named by Walter Metzger as “mutual dissociation,” in his article The 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. [viii] This concept is “that the professor does not speak for the institution, nor the institution for the professor.”v Then, the 1940 updated AAUP report made explicit that, to foster freedom of thought on American campuses, not only “the rights of the teacher in teaching” but also the rights “of the student to freedom in learning” were to be protected. And with the 1967 AAUP Joint Statement on Rights and Freedoms of Students, [ix] it was recognized the inseparability of “freedom to teach and freedom to learn”v (51).
University professors should “encourage free discussion, inquiry, and expression” in the classroom, and students should be “free to take reasoned exception to the data or views offered in any course of study and to reserve judgment about matters of opinion.” This was also extended to the notion that “the student press should be free of censorship.”. It was then when the AAUP acknowledged the importance of “due process hearings” for students, with all guarantees for a fair evaluation and resolution of each case, based exclusively on the evidences presented in favor and against a given student (51, 52).
In 1987, the book The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom [x] caused a major impact on these issues, inside universities as well as in the American cultural debate. In his Foreword, the Nobel Prize winner Saul Bellow concedes that he has “never viewed the university as a sanctuary or shelter from ‘the outer world,’” but he supports “the heart of Professor Bloom’s argument,” which is that “the university, in a society ruled by public opinion, was to have been an island of intellectual freedom where all views were investigated without restriction.” In Bellow’s vision, “liberal democracy in its generosity made this possible.” But, “by consenting to play an active or ‘positive,’ a participatory role in society, the university has become inundated and saturated with the backflow of society’s ‘problems.’” That is, for Bellow, “the university has become society’s conceptual warehouse of often harmful influences,” given that, “increasingly, the people ‘inside’ are identical in their appetites and motives with the people ‘outside’ the university” (17, 18).
Even in 1987, “the heat of the dispute between Left and Right has grown so fierce in the last decade that the habits of civilized discourse have suffered a scorching,” since “antagonists seem to no longer listen to one another” (18).
For Alan Bloom in his famous book, “every educational system has a moral goal that it tries to attain and that informs its curriculum,” as much as “it wants to produce a certain kind of human being.” In the case of America, any “democratic education, whether it admits it or not, wants and needs to produce men and women who have the tastes, knowledge, and character supportive of a democratic regime.” For this author, the abandonment of such a “moral goal” would be highly irresponsible in social terms, given that “when there are no shared goals or vision of the public good, is the social contract any longer possible?” (26, 27).
It is quite provocative when Bloom affirms that “only in the Western nations, i.e., those influenced by Greek philosophy, is there some willingness to doubt the identification of the good with one’s own way” (36). For him, this is leading to a “cultural relativism” that eventually “succeeds in destroying the West’s universal or intellectually imperialistic claims, leaving it to be just another culture.” (39). And here Bloom’s goal is to question any methodology where students learn “to doubt beliefs even before they believed in anything” (42).
Regarding Western culture, it would be worth mentioning the effort of John R. Searle to enumerate the “basic principles” of “the Western Rationalistic Tradition.” In the 1997 book Academic Freedom and Tenure: Ethical Issues, [xi] Searle summarizes said “basic tenets” as “a set of propositions”: 1) “Reality exists independently of human representations;” 2) “At least one of the functions of language is to communicate meanings from speakers to hearers, and sometimes those meanings enable the communication to refer to objects and states of affairs in the world that exist independently of language;” 3) “Truth is a matter of the accuracy of representation;” 4) “Knowledge is objective;” 5) “Logic and rationality are formal;” 6) “Intellectual standards are not up for grabs. There are both objectively and intersubjectively valid criteria of intellectual achievement and excellence” (201–207).
Two years after The Closing of the American Mind, in the 1989 book Essays on The Closing of the American Mind, [xii] the ideas of Allan Bloom were discussed in detail by many intellectuals, including Allan Bloom. The editor Robert Stone mentions in his Introduction that “people usually think and act as they have been taught” and that “what Americans are taught today is influenced primarily by what goes on in the elite universities.” But then he generalizes that “the lessons taught in the elite universities are simply dreadful: truth, God, justice, and beauty are mere historical myths; therefore all morality is relative and arbitrary,” in a way that “higher education abdicates its role to teach what citizens need to make them both virtuous and competent,” and, as such, “it has failed democracy as well as impoverished the souls of today’s students” (xiii, xiv).
In the interview with Allan Bloom included by Stone in this compilation of essays, reviews, op-eds, letters to the editor, etc., Bloom criticizes both “radical individualism” as well as “radical egalitarianism” and “cultural relativism,” since they “encourage the separation of individuals” and cause a constant “quest for roots, for settling down and finding trust―there is such insecurity―that opening students’ minds to free inquiry about the nature of things is barely possible.” It follows for Bloom that students now tend to judge that “free inquiry is too dangerous, too unsettling” for them (192). The outcome, as Bloom said in his 1988 interview with New Perspectives Quarterly, is that in America “individuals place the highest priority on the right to ‘feel good about myself.’ That kind of ‘rights morality’ easily becomes a cover for self-indulgence and neglect of one’s duties” (193).
Much more recently, in 2017, the sociologist Frank Furedi has written very critically about the status of freedom of speech in Western universities. From the title of his book, What’s Happened to the University? A Sociological Exploration of its Infantilisation, [xiii] Furedi addresses, somehow following Bloom´s spirit, the irresponsibility of younger generations in contemporary capitalism, in a somewhat school-trained attitude which combines moral childishness and intellectual intolerance.
Furedi seems convinced that, “over the past 40 years, universities have become a target for linguistic policing,” because “the words people use in higher education are constantly evaluated from the standpoint of what the political philosopher Vanessa Pupavac has characterised as linguistic governance, which turns the spoken and written word into a legitimate object of formal regulation.” For him, this governance “has become so internalised” that “its enforcement need not be relegated to appointed censors,” since “the practice of ‘watching your words’ is actively encouraged by contemporary campus culture.” This is not only intended “to prohibit certain taboo words” or “to ensure that language is policed to enforce campus harmony”―an “inclusive and respectful communication ecology”―but “it also serves as a medium for the alteration and management of behaviour,” in order to avoid “the unpredictable consequences of genuine controversy and serious debate.” Furedi believes that nowadays even “the term ‘controversial’ is often used with a negative connotation, to describe topics and issues that have the potential for creating offence” (89).
The intellectual infantilization of the American university would then be derived from a campus culture where the practice of denunciation has substituted the exercise of a challenging debate. For Furedi, this involves a certain “lack of confidence about the capacity of humans to react to controversial issues in a reasonable and mature manner.” Given the “climate of concern about the risks surrounding the response to speech,” said risks are “often seen to outweigh the benefits of open debate” (90).
Furedi explores how, in his opinion, universities tend today to turn students “into infantilized supplicants demanding protection,” including “the socialisation of young people through a medicalised narrative that, in a one-sided manner, stresses their fragility and vulnerability,” instead of developing the capacity to “educate them for a life of freedom and independence” (15, 16).
In this respect, Furedi criticizes several issues. For example, the “shift towards the politicisation of cultural identity” (54), where a “failure to affirm is habitually interpreted as a slight or an injury to a particular group’s identity,” and any “act of miscommunication or a form of behaviour that is experienced as nonaffirming is likely to provoke a hostile reaction and denounced as an insult or an act of disrespect.” For Furedi, “the synthesis of the narrative of vulnerability with the demand for respecting cultural identity”, which “is often communicated through a language that dwells on past injustices,” has now “encouraged individuals to perceive themselves as victims of history” (55). For this author, “the modern university is founded upon liberal ideals that promote a vision of universalism” and, as such, all “cultural politics”―based on “identity,” “lifestyle affiliations,” “ethnic origins,” etc.―in principle will “directly contradict those of the university” (68).
Another issue is the acceptance of a “microaggression theory” that “both universalises the consciousness of victimisation and contributes to the legitimation of the claims of damaged identity,” which contributes to “encourage and validate a disposition to be outraged,” while it “fuels a sense of hypervigilance towards potential acts of bias” and it “provides a narrative that helps interpret the ontological insecurity faced by an individual” by “offering a wide-reaching account of prejudice.” For Furedi, “those accused of committing an act of microaggression are not simply condemned for their words but also for the hidden meaning and intent that might lurk beneath their remarks” (107). In general, he concludes that all this is being implemented by universities mainly as a “powerful tool for the policing of academics,” where usually “the charge of microaggression conveys the presumption of guilt” (117). What´s more, this author thinks that the widespread “influence of the concept of microaggression” is reflected in the “growing conviction that people’s inner life is a legitimate terrain for intervention by policy makers and experts.” That is, that now many find rather necessary the existence of a “moral authority to make pronouncements about how people should think and, if necessary, reeducate them about the assumption they hold” (122).
Much more worrying for Furedi is the “acceptance of the view that debate and controversy are a source of psychological harm” on campuses (85), when it should be “the job of academics to ensure that debate and argument is conducted in a manner that what is judged are the ideas that are raised and not the person who raised them” (77).
Furedi wonders how the “university, which is historically devoted to academic freedom and relative openness to new ideas, should have adopted such a prescriptive and censorious orientation towards interpersonal and public communication” (92). In any case, for Furedi “purifying language” as a “moral enterprise,” by “cleansing society’s vocabulary of toxic words, stigmatizing them, and rendering them taboo” (93, 94), can only “constrain free and spontaneous verbal communication” under the binary of “appropriate and inappropriate” (95), thus permitting “the prevalence of a climate of intolerance and mistrust” (97).
Furedi refers to some efforts that have attempted to become an academic canon of “censorship as semantic therapy,” like the 1996 Watch Your Language: Guidelines for Non-Discriminatory Language, [xiv] one of the first “self-consciously promoted” examples of this “shift from targeting taboo words to modifying linguistic behaviour” (97).
This brochurexii aspires to facilitate “an understanding of how we discriminate through assuming the normality and neutrality of our own identity group, or of another more dominant group,” given that “among the things that language perpetuates are the prejudices of the society in which it evolves” (iii).
For Furedi, “once people are judged too vulnerable to be able to handle the power of words, it is only a matter of time before human communication itself becomes a target of mistrust” (104, 105). When “mental enslavement trumps the capacity for autonomy,” then “citizens cannot exercise independent judgment” and “they require someone else to do it for them.” And here Furedi mentions the 1996 book Freedom’s Law: The Moral Reading of the American Constitution, by Ronald Dworkin: “We retain our dignity, as individual, only by insisting that no one―no official and no majority―has the right to withhold an opinion from us on the ground that we are not fit to hear and consider it” (104).
Furedi also insists that “when society’s freedom has been under threat, universities have played an important role in resisting it.” That´s why for him “the threats to academic freedom from within the university are more insidious than external ones because they make members of this community directly complicit in the devaluation of the liberties that they enjoyed in the past” (171).
The relevance on campus of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution has being questioned too. In American universities, it is usually assumed that “the First Amendment guarantees our right to speak as we wish.” [xv] While the First Amendment is widely invoked to protect the rights of problematic lecturers and performers on campus, other thinkers are stating that this amendment does not apply within universities, for it refers only to the laws that the government may or may not approve: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
In a 2017 article by professor of law Robert C. Post, [xvi] it is argued that “we are witnessing an escalating chorus of complaints that modern universities are trampling on the First Amendment.” According to Post, this “controversy about free speech in American universities bespeaks fear that the next generation of Americans will not have been educated to engage in public debate.” And then he explains that “the language and structure of First Amendment rights, however, is a misguided way to conceptualize the complex and subtle processes that make such education possible,” since “First Amendment rights were developed and defined in order to protect the political life of the nation. But life within universities is not a mirror of that life.”
According to Post, beyond the notion that the First Amendment “prevents the state from excluding persons from public discourse on the basis of what they have to say,” this applies only if “we are talking about public discourse: the free flow of ideas in newspapers, in public squares, on debate stages, on theatrical stages, in art galleries and concert halls.” For him, “outside of the sphere of public discourse, equality is not so obviously desirable” and “there are in fact many areas of our social life where we expect persons to act with competence, and where the law properly defers to accepted bodies of knowledge.”
For Post, “universities exist to serve the twin missions of education and the creation of knowledge” and, as such, they “hire and tenure faculty based on the quality of their ideas,” just as the “purpose of universities is to teach students how to discriminate between better and worse ideas, as well as to determine what we know on the basis of our best possible ideas.” So that “no university, public or private, could perform its mission were it not permitted to evaluate the merit of ideas,” and, consequently, “universities can and must engage in content discrimination all the time.”
In summary, for Post “members of the university community” do enjoy the “the right to academic freedom,” but “not First Amendment freedom of speech.” Because, “to the extent that the educational mission of higher education includes the inculcation of critical thinking, it requires universities to instill in students the capacity to face and evaluate ideas, however threatening or dangerous they may seem.” For this purpose, “universities must thus distinguish between offensive ideas and personal incivility,” but Post insists that “the First Amendment makes no such distinction” in this respect.
In the same edition of the Post´s opinion, it is published the view of Erwin Chemerinsky, [xvii] another professor of law who is convinced that “current college students are often ambivalent, or even hostile, to the idea of free speech on campus” because they “are driven by a desire to protect their classmates from hate speech.”
Chemerinsky is surprised by the fact that, although “disputes over free speech on campus have long occurred”, “usually in the past, it was students who wanted to speak out and campus administrators who tried to stop demonstrations,” but “now it often is about outside speakers and outside disruptors” to whom “the campus is just the place for their battle.” So that “it is now often students and faculty calling for preventing the speakers while campus officials are steadfastly protecting freedom of expression.”
Chemerinsky agrees “that the students’ desire to restrict hurtful speech came from laudable instincts,” but he claims to “worry, too, that students do not realize the degree to which free speech has been essential for the advancement of rights and equality.” Hence, his conclusions are different from his colleague Robert C. Post: “the law of the First Amendment and the principles of academic freedom are clear and long established,” and “the Supreme Court repeatedly has said that the First Amendment means public institutions cannot punish speech, or exclude speakers, on the grounds that it is hateful or deeply offensive. This includes public colleges and universities,” where “every effort by the government to regulate hate speech has been declared unconstitutional.” For example, despite that “over 25 years ago, more than 350 colleges and universities adopted hate speech codes,” “every court to consider such a hate speech code declared it to be unconstitutional,” as “the codes inevitably were far too vague in terms of what speech was permitted and what was prohibited.”
Chemerinsky does not deny that “the First Amendment applies only to the government,” but, according to the legal practice, this include “public universities,” and he encourages that “private universities should follow these same principles” for “they are essential to academic freedom, which is at the very core of a university’s mission”. For him, the law simply “does not allow a public university to exclude a speaker by claiming that the viewpoint expressed would be so offensive to students that it would interfere with their education.” And he starts from the assumption “that education is enhanced when there is more speech, not when government officials have the power to censor and punish speech they don’t like.” In conclusion, for Chemerinsky, “under current First Amendment law, a public university clearly would be acting unconstitutionally if it excluded a speaker from campus based on his or her viewpoint.”
A number of these ideas and cases is compiled by Erwin Chemerinsky and Howard Gillman in the 2017 book Free Speech on Campus. [xviii] Both authors consider that nowadays “many students associate free speech with bullying and shaming,” since the impact of social media is making “students think immediately of the harms, not the benefits, of speech.” From here, “some students extend the language of ‘harm’ and ‘threat’ to apply not only to traditional examples of so-called hate speech, but also to the expression of any idea they see as contrary to their strongly held views of social justice:” they just “expect that a supportive campus environment is one in which their views are not challenged,” and so they are “then demanding protection from the threat of having to listen to such views” (14, 15).
Chemerinsky and Gillman regret that despite their “hope for a middle ground,” without being “limited to choosing between the absence of free thinking and a completely unregulated marketplace of ideas,” in practice “there is no middle ground:” “either there is complete protection for the expression of all ideas and views, or there is an orthodoxy of belief.” That is, “institutions of higher education can either protect an orthodoxy against challenge or be willing to permit all ideas; they can either treat students as disciples or help them become disciplined independent thinkers” (62, 63).
For Chemerinsky and Gillman, “history demonstrates that there is no way to define an unacceptable, punishment-worthy idea without putting genuinely important new thinking and societal critique at risk.” Because, “when people ask the censor to suppress bad ideas in higher education, many important and positive ideas never have the chance to flourish, and many dangerous or evil ideas are allowed to thrive because they are not subjected to evaluation, critique, and rebuttal” (62, 63).
These authors propose that “we should think of campuses as having two different zones of free expression: a professional zone, which protects the expression of ideas but imposes an obligation of responsible discourse and responsible conduct in formal educational and scholarly settings; and a larger free speech zone, which exists outside scholarly and administrative settings and where the only restrictions are those of society at large” (77).
In the case of hate speech, Chemerinsky and Gillman mention the definition given by Jeremy Waldron in his 2012 book The Harm of Hate Speech: “the use of words which are deliberately abusive and/or insulting and/or threatening and/or demeaning directed at members of vulnerable minorities, calculated to stir up hatred against them” (83).
It is evident then that hate speech is not mainly understood as violence against those in power, but when it is directed against the powerless social sectors. A similar notion―published on the same day of the VOX dossier on freedom of speech on American campuses―was subscribed by a staff editorial of Student Life, [xix] the newspaper of students at Washington University in Saint Louis: “Punching up is when a person with an identity that has been historically persecuted makes a joke at the expense of someone with an identity associated with power. Punching down is when a person with an identity of power makes a joke at the expense of someone with a persecuted identity. To put it more concretely, punching up is the victim taking a shot at the bully, twice their size. Punching down is the bully picking on someone smaller than them. We commend the first because it shows bravery and toughness, despite a bad situation, and condemn the second because it’s unfair and cruel. So remember: Punching up is OK, punching down is not.”
Yet, Chemerinsky and Gillman recall the American constitutionalist tradition where courts always rule in the spirit that “expression of hate is protected speech, and the government may not outlaw symbols of hate” or “suppress a speaker because of an anticipated audience reaction” (90). The point is that, “when it comes to the regulation of so-called fighting words,” “a law punishing fighting words in general will be struck down as too broad and vague (that is, it covers too much), but a narrower law, focusing just on certain kinds of fighting words, will be struck down as an illegitimate content-based distinction (that is, it covers too little)” (95). For these authors, “allowing speech to be censored or punished because it causes an immediate emotional reaction gives the government an unlimited power to restrict expression” in all kind of institutions nation-wide (92).
Unfortunately, the implementation of speech codes in universities has been used not only “against the kinds of purely hateful slurs,” but “against people who expressed opinions that others objected to” (99). As expected, “censorship of words leads inevitably to the censorship of ideas” (109). And, although Chemerinsky and Gillman admit that “the motivations behind the desire to punish hateful speech are laudable,” they concede that “so far, however, the legal and definitional challenges of translating these motivations into workable codes have proven impossible to overcome” (103). The question is then how universities can “create a conducive learning environment for all students,” while at the same time “universities can’t and shouldn’t try to ban hate speech” (110).
In summary, for Chemerinsky and Gillman “protecting hate speech is necessary because the alternative―granting governments the power to punish speakers they don’t like―creates even more harm. The argument in favor of hate speech laws is essentially an argument for granting people in authority the power to censor or punish individuals who insult, stigmatize, or demean others, and it is inevitable that such vague and broad authority will be abused or used in ways that were not contemplated by censorship advocates” (108).
Regarding this issue, Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic published in 1997 a book titled Must We Defend Nazis? Hate Speech, Pornography, and the New First Amendment, [xx] where they criticize, for being “free speech absolutists,” those persons and institutions―“such as the ACLU ”―which are “invoking such doctrines” as that “speech is different than action,” that “more speech is the cure for bad speech” (149), and that all this is protected by what these authors call an “unfettered First Amendment” (41).
Delgado and Stefancic explain how “hate speech lies at the periphery of the First Amendment” because “it implicates the interest of another group, minorities, in not being defamed, reviled, stereotyped, insulted, badgered, and harassed.” Thus, “permitting a society to portray a relatively powerless group in this fashion helps construct a stigma-picture or stereotype,” and “this stereotype guides action” as much as “it also diminishes the credibility of minority speakers, inhibiting their ability to have their points of view taken seriously, in politics or anywhere else―surely a result that is at odds with the First Amendment and the marketplace of ideas” (158, 159). Thus, Delgado and Stefancic claim that “nothing in the Constitution (at least in the emerging realist view) requires that hate speech receive protection” (161).
Regarding universities, Delgado and Stefancic are against those who support “the ideal of the university as a bastion of free thought” by “describing the campus as ‘the locus of the freest expression to be found anywhere,’ where the unpopular truth may be ‘pursued―and imparted with impunity’” (54, 55). They discuss, one by one, many of the previous points against the regulation of hate speech, including the notion that “hate speech should not be driven underground, but rather allowed to remain out in the open” (114), that “prohibitions against verbal abuse are unwise because they encourage minorities to see themselves as victims” (115), and also “the ‘two wrongs’ argument, which holds that hate speech may be wrong but prohibition is not the way to deal with it,” since it means an “impoverishment of the national discourse on free speech” (118).
Delgado and Stefancic defend the idea that “liberty, including free speech, and community exist in a reciprocally dependent tension. Each presupposes the other,” but any “dialogue is fruitless without something approaching equality among speakers.” So, for them, “speech, if misused, can be used concertedly to oppress minority groups” (131).
David E. Bernstein in his 2003 book You Can’t Say That! The Growing Threat to Civil Liberties from Antidiscrimination Laws, [xxi] maintains that, “public universities, like all government entities, must comply with the First Amendment” and, therefore, he disapproves that “many public universities have established speech codes to censor expression potentially offensive to women, African Americans, or other groups protected by civil rights laws” to “prevent the creation of an illegal ‘hostile environment’ on campus” (59).
Bernstein is conscious that “under the fighting words doctrine, the First Amendment does not protect speech likely to incite the listener to imminent violence” (60), but still he reports how “many public universities retain speech codes despite the lurking First Amendment issues,” and how “some codes are so broad that, when taken literally, they are absurd” (61). However, Bernstein believes that “private universities are not government actors and therefore are immune from the dictates of the First Amendment. The Constitution does not stop them from enacting speech codes” (64). In fact, “the First Amendment prohibits the government from requiring private universities to administer speech codes”. But then Bernstein recalls a number of cases where the U.S. government “threatened to strip private universities of federal funding if they don’t enforce speech restrictions to ensure that their students are not exposed to a ‘hostile environment.’” For him, “there is no practical difference between the blatantly unconstitutional act of the government’s directly censoring speech at private universities and what the government actually does, which is to enforce laws that create legal liability for private universities that fail to proactively censor speech.” Of course, “the latter course may be less obviously Orwellian than the former, but its effects, that is, government censorship, are the same” (65).
In any case, “the danger to academic dialogue caused by restrictions on purportedly offensive speech outweighs the potential benefit of reducing offense to students. Indeed, sometimes the only way to get students to genuinely confront and engage in controversial issues is to risk offending them. The appropriate policy is one that fully protects professors’ classroom speech, as long as the speech has a reasonable relationship to the topic at hand […], and as long as the offending speech does not constitute harassment behavior clearly directed at particular students” (66). The main concern for Bernstein is to prevent that speech regulation “undermines the university’s claimed commitment to academic freedom” (67).
On October 21, 2003, the conservative writer David Horowitz’s “Academic Bill of Rights”  was “introduced as legislation in Congress” and “proposed in many states legislatures,” according to the recount of John K. Wilson in his 2008 book Patriotic Correctness. Academic Freedom and its Enemies [xxii] (61). Wilson affirms that “Horowitz’s manifesto is part of a carefully planned assault on academia,” and that year “the American Association of University Professors  called it ‘a grave threat to fundamental principles of academic freedom’” (61).
Wilson accuses Horowitz of elaborating a dangerous document for freedom of speech both for professors and students, since it “could allow virtually any kind of faculty expression to be punished, and no due process mechanisms are specified to address these controversies” (69). Paradoxically, Horowitz claims for a depoliticization of university education. Reason enough for the National Coalition Against Censorship to Horowitz´s project “a wolf in sheep’s clothing,”  with the agreement of Wilson in 2008: “During the McCarthy era, the enemies of academic freedom were often explicit about their attack on academic integrity. Today, the enemies of academic freedom like David Horowitz are cloaking their assault on liberal professors in the guise of student academic freedom” (97).
Another approach to the expanding tension between politicians and academics, is provided by R. Radhakrishnan in a chapter included in the 2009 book Dangerous professors, Academic Freedom and the National Security Campus. [xxiii] For this author, “the very mandate of academic knowledge production is to examine the mutually constitutive relationship between bias and freedom.” That is, “how does bias articulate itself toward freedom, and how does freedom acknowledge its rootedness in the history of bias?” Radhakrishnan suggests that “no one” is “guilty of politicizing academia,” since “it is always already political and necessarily and unavoidably so.” Hence, “the basic question is not how the academic site should escape the mark of the political or depoliticize itself in the name of procedural neutrality, but rather, how should academia wear the mark of the political, but with a difference” (75, 76).
Some policies from the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education have been taken as threats to freedom of speech on campus. Samantha Harries and Greg Lukianoff, in the 2016 book Liberty’s Nemesis. The Unchecked Expansion of the State, [xxiv] condemn “OCR’s unprecedented intrusion into campus life” regarding the 2011 “unprecedented Dear Colleague letter on the subject of school’s obligation, under Title IX, to respond to claims of sexual harassment and sexual violence.” Harries and Lukianoff mention several organizations that have “pushed back” for understanding that said obligation “posed a substantial threat to student and faculty speech” (174, 175): Foundation for Individual Rights and Education (FIRE), American Council of Trustees and Alumni, Goldwater Institute, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Student Press Law Center.
Both authors agree that “the consequences of this federal overreach have been disastrous” because “student and faculty expression is governed by campus harassment policies fashioned in response to OCR directives that impose vague, subjective restrictions on speech protected by the First Amendment,” and also because students and faculties now “face a chilling effect on their own expression both inside and outside of the classroom and fear a formal complaint filed by offended, hypersensitive students” (179). Harries and Lukianoff propose that, as “fortunately, OCR is not above the law,” “litigation under the First Amendment and the Administrative Procedure Act can and should correct the agency’s overreach,” since “only the criminal justice system provides those accused […] the necessary procedural protections to ensure a fair verdict in which all parties may trust” (180).
In all these debates the concept of political correctness is key, a term which sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset [xxv] says it “refers to the efforts by campus advocates of left-liberal politics to control the content of speech, courses, and appointments, and to impose their views with respect to multiculturalism, minority rights, and feminism” (71). This author explains that “such behavior is not unique to academe or to leftists, feminists, or environmentalists,” and, in fact, “social conservatives in this country are much more aggressive outside the academy in efforts to impose their morality on the body politic” (89).
The battleground is depicted in a simplified form like this: “universities must be free places […] open to talent, to critical ideas, to the possibility of revisionism from many sources” (91); “the left intelligentsia, who once argued that economic power frustrated their access to the media and undermined academic freedom, currently seek to deny these to those who challenge their beliefs with respect to ethnic, racial, and gender issues, and sexual behavior and preferences” (90); “repression from the left, even though drawing its legitimacy from populist values, must suffer the same fate as repression from the right once did” (91).
Martin Lipset recalls that the notion of “repressive tolerance” developed by Herbert Marcuse “during the 1960s and early 1970s” provoked a certain “opposition to free speech” and the “critique of the free circulation of ideas as suffocating revolutionary approaches, which had considerable support among New Left students” (86). And Martin Lipset contrasts this with the “only policy possible in a university worthy of the name,” as “enunciated in 1975 by the Committee on Freedom of Expression at Yale, chaired by C. Vann Woodward: […] If the university’s overriding commitment to free expression is to be sustained, secondary social and ethical responsibilities must be left to the informal processes of suasion, example, and argument” (91).
The volume of information about freedom of speech on American campuses is increasing very fast recently. Some notable books are Free Speech on Campus (2000 [xxvi] and 2017 [xxvii]), Campus Speech in Crisis, [xxviii] Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus, [xxix] Illiberal Education, [xxx] What Price Utopia?, [xxxi] Lessons in Censorship, [xxxii] Unlearning Liberty, [xxxiii] and The Boundaries of Freedom of Expression and Order in American Democracy. [xxxiv] As expected, in an open society like the United States much is to be said about how much is to be said.
“All I want for Christmas is white genocide,” on Twitter, by Drexel University professor George Ciccariello-Maher. [xxxv]“
We have been assaulted: it is an act of terrorism,” commenting in classroom about the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, by Orange Coast College professor Olga Perez Stable Cox. [xxxvi]
“In other words, deal with your white sh*t, white people. Slavery is a *YALL* thing,” on Twitter, by incoming Boston University professor Saida Grundy.[xxxvii]
“Let´s cut to the chase: If you’re defending Israel right now you´re an awful human being,” on Twitter, by University of Illinois professor Steven Salaita.[xxxviii]
“I am a homophobe, and proud,” on a personal blog post, by professor Jonathan I. Katz at Washington University in Saint Louis. [xxxix]
“Whatever else can be said of them, the men who struck on September 11 manifested the courage of their convictions, willingly expending their own lives in attaining their objectives,” in a short essay by professor Ward Churchill from University of Colorado Boulder. [xl]
“What is worse, a white man punching a black man, or a white man calling a black man a nigger?”, by Princeton University professor Lawrence Rosen while lecturing in a class. [xli]
Out of proper context, all these and many other recent examples―whether explicitly offensive or not―could be included in the category of senseless provocations aimed to hurt the feelings and even the life of others.
If regarded as “fighting words,” then speech is “not constitutionally protected,” since such words, “by the very act of being spoken tend to incite the individual to whom they are addressed to fight—that is, to respond violently and to do so immediately, without any time to think things over.” But, in practice, “fighting words is an exceedingly narrow category of speech, encompassing only face-to-face communications that obviously would provoke an immediate and violent reaction, such that both the speaker and the provoked violent listener would be in violation of the law.”
According to the 2012 Guide to Free Speech on Campus of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), [xlii] “this doctrine is old, and for many observers, it has been so deeply contradicted by a number of later Supreme Court cases as to be essentially dead,” although “some federal and state courts have continued to invoke the exception in recent years in certain extreme, limited instances.” In any case, “even if we accept fighting words as a viable legal doctrine, there is much confusion in popular understanding about the very term” (33, 34).
In this respect, the FIRE Guide proposes that “in sum, the fighting words doctrine does not allow, as the University of Wisconsin learned, prohibition of speech that ‘inflicts injury.’ College administrators who seek to justify speech codes by citing the fighting words doctrine demean not only the minority groups deemed incapable of listening peacefully to upsetting words and ideas, but demean as well the entire academic community.” For FIRE, “a student on a campus of higher education, just like any citizen in a free society, is entitled, in the words of the childhood rhyme, to protection from ‘sticks and stones,’ but not from ‘words.’ Free people have much recourse against name-callers, without calling upon coercive, censorial authority” (40).
Obscene expressions would be another extreme case for legitimately prohibiting and legally punishing speech in America. But again, according to the 2012 FIRE Guide, “almost all sexual expression enjoys full constitutional protection,” except in the “three narrow exceptions” of “obscenity, child pornography, and ‘indecent’ expression,” which are “limited exceptions” and “are rarely applicable in the campus context.” That it, there is not “a First Amendment right to produce, transmit, or even, in many situations, possess obscene material on campus,”  which in turn “may be loosely understood as ‘hard-core’ depictions of sexual acts,” that lack “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value” (42, 43).
Regarding the category of “indecent speech,” the 2012 FIRE Guide affirms that it “is almost always protected by the First Amendment” and that “the government must give all of the traditional protections granted to other expressive activities to indecent speech,” again “except in certain situations involving the possible exposure of children to indecent speech” (44). In general, “public universities cannot outright ban or punish speech that is indecent.” In fact, at least in one court precedent it was “held that the Constitution’s protection of indecent speech applied to campus, and that the student therefore could not be disciplined” because the “mere dissemination of ideas—no matter how offensive to good taste—on a state university campus may not be shut off in the name alone of ‘conventions of decency’” (45).
If, instead of being regarded as “fighting words,” radically provocative speech by students and professors is to be interpreted as “hate speech,” some additional considerations need to be addressed.
It is interesting to consider beforehand the position adopted in 2014 by the Harvard student Sandra Y. L. Korn, [xliii] when she supported disruptive activism on campus against opinions which are “deemed racist and classist.” For her, to “infringe” on academic freedom is “not the most important question to ask,” because the “student and faculty obsession with the doctrine of ‘academic freedom’ often seems to bump against something I think much more important: academic justice.” That is, she thinks that “the liberal obsession with ‘academic freedom’ seems a bit misplaced to me.” And, accordingly, this author “would like to propose a more rigorous standard: one of ‘academic justice.’”
For Korn, beyond “the ‘freedom’ game” of “economic freedom” and “academic freedom,” “only those who care about justice can take the moral upper hand.” So that, although “it is tempting to decry frustrating restrictions on academic research as violations of academic freedom,” both “student and worker organizers” should “instead use a framework of justice,” so that after “we give up our obsessive reliance on the doctrine of academic freedom, we can consider more thoughtfully what is just.”
A number of leading American universities, however, have released statements which modulate this urge for “justice” while sacrificing “freedom” on campus. The 2015 Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression from the University of Chicago [xliv] defends that, “although members of the University community are free to criticize and contest the views expressed on campus, and to criticize and contest speakers who are invited to express their views on campus, they may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe.” Even more, “the University has a solemn responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it.” Otherwise, “as Robert M. Hutchins observed, without a vibrant commitment to free and open inquiry, a university ceases to be a university.”
Despite the fact that, although many U.S. universities―including Washington University in Saint Louis―have released declarations on freedom of speech inspired in the 2015 Chicago Statement, it is noticeable that some of the original claims of said document somehow seem in contradiction with the prevalent practice of political correctness nowadays. For example: “It is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive;” “debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed;” “concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community;” “it is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose;” and “the University is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the University community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn.”
In this context, “the term ‘hate speech’ is frequently applied as a synonym for speech that is racist, sexist, homophobic, or similarly pejorative.” But the 2012 FIRE Guide [xxxvii] explains that “even these types of speech, however, are protected by the First Amendment,” even when “a significant number of Americans incorrectly believe that hateful speech is not protected by the First Amendment.” The rationale behind this is that, “in order for speech to be truly free, speech that conveys deeply offensive messages, including hate, must be protected,” given that “a free people have recourse to reason, evidence, outrage, and moral witness against such speech,” and therefore they “do not need to turn to coercive power to silence it” (108, 109).
Of course, it is not “admirable to use hate speech merely because the First Amendment allows it,” but the 2012 FIRE Guide recalls that many “colleges and universities, alas, often label as hate speech expression that is perfectly serious, thoughtful, and communicative, simply because it offends the sensibility of a handful of students, or, more likely, a handful of administrators.” Here FIRE supports explicitly the logic “that the right answer to hateful speech is more speech, and not silence—or silencing.” (109, 110)
A particularly complex issue is when it comes to define “parody and satire,” since in American universities, given the highly polarized social climate, “many administrators have either lost their sense of humor or substituted it with a stifling and misguided paternalism that makes many forms of humor impossible.” For FIRE, “this is tragic, because parody is both an invaluable component of life in a free society and a crucial form of dissent and social criticism.” Besides, “parody, as free speech, enjoys sweeping constitutional protections,” just like “spiteful political cartoons,” are in America these are “time-honored ways of communicating opinions.” In fact, “often, parody and satire succeed in their mission only when they inflict distress” (110, 111).
For Ricard T. De George, [xlv] for example, “as a moral matter, hate speech should not be countenanced on a campus, and should be morally condemned.” But the critical point would be “how broadly or narrowly hate speech is to be construed.” On the one hand “academic freedom does not protect personal insults or abusive or profane speech by the teacher or by the students,” but on the other hand “academic freedom protects the rights of teachers and of students to defend or argue for certain public policy positions or for the ethical justifiability of certain controversial practices in appropriate classes at appropriate times” (95).
For De George is also important to keep in mind that “freedom of speech allows people to make judgments and express opinions without being able to defend them.” In this sense, even when “censuring hate speech is always appropriate” on campus, this author questions the effectivity of imposing speech codes in universities, for “they sanction some type of prior censorship and so set a precedent for restricting speech of other kinds.” Here De George concludes that “not all unethical activity must be made illegal or be restricted by rules,” especially when “the rules of civility can be fostered and encouraged and hate speech discouraged without speech codes” (95–97).
In any case, what should be avoided, according to University of Colorado Boulder tenured professor Patricia Adler―who in 2013 had to quit teaching a deviance course on prostitution because the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences announced to her that “some participants might be uncomfortable,” even when “none had in fact complained” [xlvi]―, is “a culture of fear” out of “the bureaucratization of the university.” For Adler, “if a lecture makes anyone uncomfortable, the university will ignore common sense and worry more about ‘the risk’ someone might be offended than whether this is information professors have a right to teach, and students have a right to learn.”In an op-ed [xlvii] published in The Washington Post last year, Howard Gillman and Erwin Chemerinsky similarly agree that, first, “campus leaders who are declaring their commitment to protect controversial speakers should also make it clear that they will not take unilateral actions against faculty—or students—for the views they express as long as they act appropriately within the campus’s professional settings,” and, second, that the importance or freedom of speech on American campus today is beyond the radicalized opinion climate outside academies: “There are people on the right who decry the violent harassment of conservative speakers but encourage the harassment of left-wing faculty. There are also people on the left who believe we should censor or harass certain right-wing speakers but object when left-wing faculty become targets of vitriol or worse. We think a consistent rule is better: On campuses, no one should be censored or punished merely because of the ideas they express, and we should all stand against threats, harassment and violence.”
This was the civic spirit of academic freedom that I ingenuously imagined in September 2016 when I arrived in Saint Louis for my PhD in Comparative Literature and, almost immediately, I received that e-mail message from Washington University that included the recently released Statement of Principle Regarding Freedom of Expression.
Two years later, despite a culture of debate that could be displaced by the cult of denunciations, I still insist in reimagining my ingenuousness. I do believe in the brutal beauty of dialogue as the search for truth, a self-evident and unalienable right of all individuals, as long as no human person is ever discriminated for any reason by other human person.
 However, regarding the private life of the individual, the 2012 FIRE Guide emphasizes that, “given a free society’s interest in privacy,” “the government may not criminalize the simple possession of obscene matter within one’s home. (This is not so with material involving the sexual depiction or exploitation of children.)” (44).
[ii]Constitution of the Republic of Cuba, 2002. Article 5: “The Communist Party of Cuba, Martian [inspired by the Cuban National Hero José Martí, N. of A.] and of Marxist-Leninist, the organized vanguard of the Cuban nation, is the superior leading force of the society and the State, organizing and guiding the common efforts aimed at the highest goals of the construction of socialism and advancement toward the communist society.” Article 6: “The Union of Young Communists, an advance organization of the Cuban youth, has the recognition and encouragement of the State in its preeminent function of promoting the active participation of the young masses in the tasks of socialist construction, and of suitably training the youth as conscious citizens, capable of assuming greater responsibilities each day for the benefit of our society.” https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Cuba_2002.pdf?lang=en
[v] Challenges to Freedom of Speech on College Campuses. Joint Hearing before the Subcommittee on Healthcare, Benefits and Administrative Rules and the Subcommittee on Intergovernmental Affairs of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. First Session, 115th Congress, serial No. 115–30. 27 July 2017. https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CHRG-115hhrg26855/pdf/CHRG-115hhrg26855.pdf
[vi] Kors, A. Ch. and Silvergate, H. A. “What is Academic Freedom?” The Shadow University. The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses. New York: The Free Press, 1998. 50-66.
[vii] “General Report of the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure.” Freedom and Tenure in the Academy. Van Alstyne, W. W. (editor). Durham: Duke University Press, 1993. 393-406.
[viii] Metzger, W. P. “The 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure.” Freedom and Tenure in the Academy. Van Alstyne, W. W. (editor). Durham: Duke University Press, 1993. 3-77.
[ix] “Joint Statement on Rights and Freedoms of Students.” Freedom and Tenure in the Academy. Van Alstyne, W. W. (editor). Durham: Duke University Press, 1993. 411-418.
[x] Bloom, Allan. The Closing of the American Mind. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987.
[xi] Searle, John R. “Rationality and Realism: What Is at Stake?” Academic Freedom and Tenure: Ethical Issues (Richard T. De George). Lanham, Oxford, New York, Boulder: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1997. 197-220.
[xii]Essays on The Closing of the American Mind. Edited by Robert L. Stone. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 1989.
[xiii] Furedi, Frank. What’s Happened to the University? A Sociological Exploration of its Infantilisation. London and New York: Routledge, 2017.
[xx] Delgado, R. and Jean Stefancic. Must We Defend Nazis? Hate Speech, Pornography, and the New First Amendment. New York and London: New York University Press, 1997.
[xxi] Bernstein, D. E. You Can’t Say That! The Growing Threat to Civil Liberties from Antidiscrimination Laws. Washington, D.C.: CATO Institute, 2003.
[xxii] Wilson, J. K. Patriotic Correctness. Academic Freedom and its Enemies. Boulder and London: Paradigm Publishers, 2008.
[xxiii] Radhakrishnan, R. “Academic Freedom. What Is It About?” Dangerous Professors, Academic Freedom and the National Security Campus (edited by Malini Johar Schueller and Ashley Dawson). Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2012. 64-79.
[xxiv] Harries, S. and Greg Lukianoff. “Threats to Due Process and Free Speech on Campus.” Liberty’s Nemesis. The Unchecked Expansion of the State. Edited by Dean Reuter and John Yoo. New York and London: Encounter Books, 2016. 169-180.
[xxv] Martin Lipset, S. “The Sources of Political Correctness on American Campuses.” The Imperiled Academy. Edited by Howard Dickman. New Brunswick and London: Transaction Publishers, 1993. 71-95.
[xxvi] Golding, M. P. Free Speech on Campus. Lanham, Boulder, New York and Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2000.
[xxvii] Ben-Porath, S. R. Free Speech on Campus. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017.
[xxviii] Campus Speech in Crisis. What the Yale Experience Can Teach America. New York and London: Encounter Books, 2016.
[xxix] Downs, D. A. Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus. Oakland (CA), Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid and cape Town: The Independent Institute & Cambridge University Press, 2005.
[xxx] D’Souza, D. Illiberal Education. The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus. New York: Vintage Books, 1992.
[xxxi] Patai, D. What Price Utopia? Essays on Ideological Policing, Feminism, and Academic Affairs. Lanham, Boulder, New York, Toronto and Plymouth (UK): Rowman & Little Field Publishers: 2008.
[xxxii] Ross, C. J. Lessons in Censorship. How Schools and Courts Subvert Students’s First Amendment Rights. Cambridge (MA) and London: Harvard University Press, 2015.
[xxxiii] Lukianoff, G. Unlearning Liberty. Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate. New York and London: Encounter Books, 2012.
[xxxiv] The Boundaries of Freedom of Expression and Order in American Democracy. Edited by Thomas R. Hensley. Kent (OH) and London: The Kent State University Press, 2001.