Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

What Snowflakes Get Right: Free Speech, Truth, And Equality On Campus

Ulrich Baer (Vice Provost, NYU), What Snowflakes Get Right: Free Speech, Truth, and Equality on Campus (Oxford University Press 2019):

What Snowflakes Get RightAngry debates about polarizing speakers have roiled college campuses. Conservatives accuse universities of muzzling unpopular opinions, betraying their values of open inquiry; students sympathetic to the left openly advocate against completely unregulated speech, asking for "safe spaces" and protection against visiting speakers and even curricula they feel disrespects them. Some even call these students "snowflakes"-too fragile to be exposed to opinions and ideas that challenge their worldviews. How might universities resolve these debates about free speech, which pit their students' welfare against the university's commitment to free inquiry and open debate?

Ulrich Baer here provides a new way of looking at this dilemma. He explains how the current dichotomy is false and is not really about the feelings of offended students, or protecting an open marketplace of ideas. Rather, what is really at stake is our democracy's commitment to equality, and the university's critical role as an arbiter of truth. He shows how and why free speech has become the rallying cry that forges an otherwise uneasy alliance of liberals and ultra-conservatives, and why this First Amendment absolutism is untenable in law and society in general. He draws on law, philosophy, and his extensive experience as a university administrator to show that the lens of equality can resolve this impasse, and can allow the university to serve as a model for democracy that upholds both truth and equality as its founding principles.

New York Times op-ed:  What ‘Snowflakes’ Get Right About Free Speech, by Ulrich Baer (Vice Provost, NYU)

Inside Higher Ed, ‘What Snowflakes Get Right’

Book Club, Legal Ed Scholarship, Legal Education | Permalink


It’s astonishing and presumptuous that a professor of comparative literature, who may not even understand that the Freedom of Speech protected by the U.S. Constitution applies directly only to state schools, and who appears to have no legal training, would purport to tell the world what that protection involves - something determined by the decisions of our courts, and not by the hopes and wishes of professors.

It would be as if I, as a professor of law without any training in German or comparative literature, were to write a book explaining how verbs are conjugated in German, or asserting as a fact that Shakespeare was really a German national who wrote in his native language.

It certainly is not correct - as virtually every First Amendment scholar will attest - that universities can subject speakers and ideas to a test of whether their appearance contributes to or conflicts with the university's mission.

If this were so, any university which asserted that its mission was to promote only libertarian principles could refuse to allow speakers who might question any of these ideas to speak on campus, even if the overwhelming majority of students wished to hear his ideas.

Let us hope that his own university does not base its policies regarding speakers on the his unfounded writings about the law.

Posted by: LawProf John Banzhaf | Oct 15, 2019 8:56:33 PM

The Eagles had a great answer, "Get Over It."

Posted by: Tom N. | Oct 15, 2019 12:21:17 PM

In other words, free speech for me, not for you

Posted by: Mike Livingston | Oct 15, 2019 4:06:34 AM

The NYT article this refers to read as a naive rationalization of intolerance to differing opinions. The majority of the protesting "snowflake" students haven't had any 'experiences' worthy of allowing their censorship. And he holds up Yale as a model? Absurd.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Oct 15, 2019 3:37:40 AM