Hattip to Eugene Volokh at the Volokh Conspiracy. Remember Mireille Miller-Young, an associate professor of “feminist studies” at the University of California Santa Barbara, who is currently charged with assault, battery and vandalism in regard to taking a sign from a teenage pro-lifer? Go here to read all about it. Now you would think that an institution supposedly dedicated to the pursuit of learning would have something to say about a professor who is apparently unable to control herself when confronted with views that she despises. Michael D. Young, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs at UCSB did address it in this open letter to students. He comes out in favor of free speech, but somehow does not name the professor, the incident, and, echoing segregationists of the past, seems to blame the problem of intolerance on campus on outsiders:
Over the past several weeks, our campus has been visited by a number of outside groups and individuals coming here to promote an ideology, to promulgate particular beliefs (at times extreme beliefs), or simply to create discord that furthers a certain personal agenda. Some passionately believe in their causes, while others peddle hate and intolerance with less-than-noble aims. Whatever the motives and goals, the presence of such people and groups on campus can be disruptive and has the potential to draw us into the kind of conflict that puts at risk the quality of exchange of ideas that is fundamental to the mission of our university.
What is happening now is not new: evangelical types have been visiting UCSB and university campuses since time immemorial. What we see at UCSB today is simply the most recent generation of true believers, self-proclaimed prophets, and provocateurs. During the past few weeks, UCSB has been visited by various anti-abortion crusaders. Some have been considerate and thoughtful in promoting their message; others have openly displayed images that many in our community find distressing and offensive. We have also seen earnest and thoughtful religious missionaries, and we have seen proselytizers hawking intolerance in the name of religious belief. As a consequence of interactions with the more extreme of our visitors, students have expressed outrage, pain, embarrassment, fear, hurt, and feelings of harassment. Moreover, I have received requests that the campus prohibit the peddling of “fear,” “hate,” “intolerance,” and “discord” here at UCSB.
Those of you who know me are aware that I have strong views on the matter of intolerance. You also know that I hold equally strong views on the sanctity of free speech. If you have heard me speak at Convocation or at anti-hate events, or if you have seen me officiating at the Queer Wedding, you know that my message on both counts is clear. Recent events lead me to believe that this message bears repeating.
First, the principle of freedom of expression resides at the very foundation of our society and, most certainly, at the foundation of a world-class university such as UC Santa Barbara. Freedom and rights are not situational: we either have freedom of speech or we do not. We cannot pick and choose which views are allowed to be aired and who is allowed to speak. If that were the case, then only those in charge — those holding power — would determine who gets to speak and whose views are heard.
Second, freedom is not free. The price of freedom for all to speak is that, at times, everyone will be subjected to speech and expression that we, ourselves, find offensive, hateful, vile, hurtful, provocative, and perhaps even evil. So be it! Law and policy ban only an extremely narrow band of speech and expression — “yelling ‘fire!’ in a crowded theatre,” for example, and child pornography. The price we pay to speak our own minds is allowing others to speak theirs, regardless of how oppositional their views are to our own. Our Founding Fathers — all white men of privilege, some even slave owners — got it right when designing the First Amendment of the Constitution.
Having firmly stated my support for freedom of expression, I hasten to follow with a lesson my mother taught me when I was a small child, a lesson that has remained with me the rest of my life and that I relay to our entering students every fall at Convocation. My mother taught me that just because you can say or do something doesn’t mean that you should. Civility plays an important role in how we choose to exercise our right to expression. We all have the right to say odious things, to display offensive slogans and placards, and to hurt and disrespect groups and individuals that disagree with us. The question is: should we? Should we engage in these behaviors just because we can or because they serve our political, religious, or personal agendas?
At UCSB, our students have proven that we are better than this. While it has not always been easy, time and again UCSB students have demonstrated that they can disagree about the critical issues of our time — fundamentally and passionately but within a framework of humanity and civility, respecting the dignity of those whose views they oppose. Time and time again, UCSB students have demonstrated that they understand their role in defining the character and quality of this campus community — revealing their unwillingness to lower themselves to the tactics of those whose agenda comes wrapped in intolerance and extremism.
And now we are tested once again, outsiders coming into our midst to provoke us, to taunt us and attempt to turn us against one another as they promote personal causes and agendas. If we take the bait, if we adopt negative tactics and engage in name calling, confrontation, provocation, and offensive behavior, then they win and our community loses. Continue Reading