Emma Jacobs reports on a panel hosted by the Columbia Political Union last night in Hamilton, in which three experts concurred on the importance of not concurring.

sdfYesterday’s panel on Academic Free Speech brought in three guests who found they didn’t have too much to disagree about.

Greg Lukanoff, the president of FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, spoke first.  He is, predictably, a fan of free speech.  He gave a brief history of FIRE, founded, he told the audience, in 1999, in response to the infamous “Water Buffalo Incident,” which happened in ’93.

In Lukanoff’s eyes, Columbia’s got an awful free speech record. Besides arguing that storming the stage at the Minuteman event showed a lack of faith in the power of your own case, he also took a swipe at the University’s “Victorian” censorship in response to incidents like the hockey team’s recruiting posters, and brought up FIRE’s case against the social justice requirement at Teacher’s College, saying it confines all students’ personal definitions of social justice.  He told us he’d seen just about everything in his years at FIRE, and if he writes a book, he’ll be calling it “Orphan of the Culture Wars.”

Arthur Eisenberg, of the NYCLU for the past 35 years, also likes free speech. Eisenberg went over the “market place theory of free speech,” which says that the best response to bad speech is more speech—theoretically, the offensive speaker will realize that you’re right and change their mind.  He pointed out we have professors to thank for academic free speech in private universities who had to convince universities to consciously incorporate free speech protections to protect their scholars from the bullying of politicians and university trustees.

MEALAC had to come in somewhere. Eisenberg referred to the students’ complaints as typical conservative arguments.  I wondered whether liberals might ever object to professors making their point a little too forcefully in class, but the consensus seemed to be that only a conservative could object to agenda-driven teaching.

Allan Lang, the student rep on the panel from the World Can’t Wait campaign, pointed out some problems with free speech on campus: apparently holding an event deemed “controversial” costs $1000 per hour for security?  Lang ran into this problem while trying to organize a panel on whether President Bush should be impeached for war crimes, which, he claimed, really shouldn’t be that controversial anyway.

According to Lukanoff, courts have ruled that school fees have to be handed out on a content-neutral basis: because we all pay, the university can’t discriminate on how money goes out based on the content of an event.  He said FIRE had worked on prohibitive security fees before and suggested that Lang send the case in. Watch out Columbia…

Lukanoff (very quick to assure the crowd he was not a Republican), Eisenberg (who may have voted Republican once), and Allan Lang (well, he works for World Can’t Wait)  agreed on the need for a diversity of political perspectives in every debate on campus. Even if what happened in the room last night wasn’t the best example.