Recently, I put forward a resolution to Central Student Government (CSG), A.R. 6-042, entitled “A Resolution That Commits Robustly Both This Body and the University as a Whole to Free Speech, or, the ‘Dangerous School’ Resolution.” The vote was held on March 28; my resolution was defeated. The recent, deeply disturbing events at Middlebury College initially prompted me to enter the public arena and defend a principle that I believe is absolutely critical to the purpose of this university, the maintenance of a free society, and the pursuit of Truth: free speech.
I did not have to subject myself to the sort of parliamentary obstruction, lines of loaded questioning, and disrespect that marked my appearances before the Assembly; after all, I am graduating in April. But I could not in good conscience sit idly by and allow my university to remain vulnerable to the sorts of violent mob coercion we’ve seen rip through our nation’s elite universities in recent months and years. So I tried to make a difference. Apparently, some persons who try to make a difference are more equal than others in CSG’s eyes.
I am deeply disappointed to report that my tepid hope that CSG might prove to be even just a remotely useful institution—that it would exceed my very dim view of it and perhaps rise up just a little bit to the importance of the moment—was shown to be utter folly. CSG enthusiastically lived down to my completely accurate critique of it, embracing wholeheartedly its pathetic fecklessness and inflated sense of self-importance.
I will avoid describing the sorts of procedural underhandedness that accompanied my proposed resolution, the sorts of underhandedness that did not accompany various other resolutions I saw brought to the Assembly. My resolution was smeared as “contentious.” With respect, I resent this characterization.
That there is not broad agreement that free speech ought to be a universally beloved value serves only to show how coarsened our shared political life has become, how politicized even our university—and universities across the country—has become. Free speech is not a partisan, Left-Right issue. It is, rather, the “great leveler”; it allows all persons, without regard for social identity—whether “oppressed” or “privileged”—to speak, persuade, and learn. It is because of free speech that our society may identify problems, discuss them candidly, come to a consensus about what to do, and then continue to survive.
Disappointingly, CSG did not share my view. Here are the two “Resolved” clauses of my resolution (hyperlinks were footnotes in the original):
RESOLVED, CSG will release an official statement (1) reaffirming its commitment to the First Amendment in all its fullness and to Students’ Right to Free Speech listed under Article VIII Section 1 of the “Constitution of the Student Body of the Ann Arbor Campus of the University of Michigan,” (2) making it clear that our community is committed to non-obstructionism with respect to events on campus (i.e., protests are allowed only insofar as they do not deprive other students of their right to speak, invite others to speak, and hear others speak), (3) endorsing the Chicago Principles of Free Expression as official university policy regarding speech, and (4) calling upon the University to include viewpoint diversity—particularly political diversity—in its diversity policies and in its efforts to diversify the faculty and the curriculum; AND BE IT FURTHER
RESOLVED, the University will be encouraged to echo items (1) and (2) in the previous “Resolved Clause” with a statement of its own, update its “Freedom of Speech and Artistic Expression” statement to endorse the Chicago Principles of Free Expression, and (3) commit to improving viewpoint diversity of its faculty per the information found at HeterodoxAcademy.com….
My resolution sought to protect each and every person’s right to free speech, particularly their right to invite speakers to campus, but also their right to protest. This, in my view, is a commonsense goal; the vast majority of CSG disagrees.
During the proceedings, CSG members disingenuously conflated lawful, peaceful protests—protests that allow campus events to proceed to their completion and which I support—with tantrums-cum-riots—infantile displays of irrational revulsion to ideas that do us all a disservice: stifling free expression, perpetuating a dangerous herd mentality, and leading in at least one instance to the physical assault of a left-wing scholar (nobody’s safe!).
My resolution would have committed CSG—now revealed to be nothing more than a spineless body of self-important brown nosers—to rejecting illiberalism, anti-intellectualism, mob violence, and the notion that words are tantamount to literal, physical violence.
Certain members of CSG also unmasked themselves as would-be censorious authoritarians. Members explicitly stated that certain views were not welcome on campus. They would gleefully deprive you—an autonomous moral agent—of the right to hear what you want to hear and to then make your own judgment on the information.
I don’t buy into identity politics; but CSG does, and I can’t help but note that yesterday, a room full of predominantly white persons felt it to be their duty to shield minority students from ideas that they, the white students, deemed “harmful.” I thought being a “White Savior” was abhorrent and deeply “problematic”?
CSG apparently doesn’t know the meaning of “irony”—just as it fails to understand what the First Amendment actually means.
President David Schafer queried me as to whether this resolution’s purpose—to reaffirm our institutional commitment to free speech—was “redundant” because we were already bound by the First Amendment. I was not able to make all of the points I would have liked to have made then, but I would say this now.
Why do presidents consistently reaffirm our nation’s commitment to various themes and norms on their Inauguration Day? Why do couples renew their wedding vows? Why do students in class when engaging in discussions on race and racism, and when they want to play Devil’s advocate, preface their unpopular position by saying/affirming, “I don’t believe this, but …”? Why does CSG reaffirm its commitment to “diversity, equity & inclusion” when purportedly racist events happen at EMU; Charlotte, NC; and Tulsa, OK?
Because even a child understands the power of (symbolic) reaffirmation, of recommitting oneself to ideals the pursuit of which likely has become less vigorous with the passage of time.
The most disheartening part of this outcome is that CSG could not see past its own narrow, self-centered political ideology to understand that free speech protects all people, regardless of their worldviews. Perhaps it’s because they intuitively understand that this world-class university won’t ever fall into the hands of those nasty, bigoted right-wingers.
I hate to appeal to base emotions, but everyone can see where I’m going with this. What if it does happen? Wouldn’t you want to provide for such an “apocalyptic” outcome? Alas, never underestimate the damage a fancy title attached to an utterly inconsequential “leadership” position can do to otherwise functional brains. Faux power seems, as the old saw goes, to corrupt in just the same way as real power does.
Despite how this turned out, I remain proud of the stand I took these last few weeks. Now, if it wasn’t blisteringly obvious before, nobody can honestly say that CSG fairly represents all students’ interests. It doesn’t. It is nothing more than a social justice cult. In fact, it should rename itself exactly that: the SJC.
But until they do, #DissolveCSG