Tweets by @Stanford_Daily


OPINIONS

Censors at Stanford

Earlier this year, Harvard Crimson columnist Sandra Korn ignited a national debate by arguing that Harvard should “give up on academic freedom”—or more precisely, give up on academic freedom for those who challenge her worldview. “When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue,” she said bluntly. “Why…should we put up with research that counters our goals?”

One Crimson commenter pointed out that in a previous age, Galileo’s deeply offensive heliocentrism probably would not have survived Ms. Korn’s censorious scrutiny. But Korn has trouble finding any actual examples of people who should be censored at Harvard in 2014, as the political scientist Patrick Deneen observed. The only person she can come up with is Harvey Mansfield—“a single conservative octogenerian,” whom, Korn suggests, should not have been allowed to publish one of his books. Right-wing views are so rare on modern elite campuses that left-wing calls for censorship are barely necessary.

A similar irony is present in the activities of anti-free speech activists on Stanford’s campus. Those few campus organizations they want to suppress are small and politically powerless, so the anti-free speech activists have no problem overpowering them with their superior political muscle.

I’m referring, most recently, to the Graduate Student Council’s decision to revoke the funding for a conference hosted by the Stanford Anscombe Society, a little-known, socially conservative group. The conference in question, called “Marriage, Family and the Media,” is intended to “promote the values of marriage, family and integrity to the broader popular culture.” The Council initially granted the Anscombe Society’s request for $600 dollars of funding, but withdrew the money last month after an outcry over the Anscombe Society’s view that marriage is “a union, until death, between one man and one woman,” as well as the list of speakers, which includes scholars who have argued against same-sex marriage.

For those of us who care about free inquiry and a marketplace of ideas—that is, those of us who think the Enlightenment was a good thing and the American liberal tradition has it right—the minutes from the Council meeting are truly painful to read. The President of the Undergraduate Senate, Ben Holston, said “this event as it stands… given that they have said the event is supposed to ‘promote one-man, one-woman’…is unacceptable on [the] Stanford campus.” This is a truly remarkable statement: The tiny minority of Stanford students who oppose same-sex marriage aren’t just wrong—they shouldn’t even be allowed to make their case.

Brianne Huntsman, who organized opposition to the event, said that “Stanford is supposed to be a safe space” for gay and lesbian students and that the event would make Stanford “unsafe.” Naturally, she cited no evidence that the event would threaten anyone’s safety. That’s because, as people who follow these types of debates know, “unsafe” can be an Orwellian code word—a trump card that anti-free speech activists sometimes use to shut down ideas they disagree with. As one of the invited speakers, Ryan Anderson, noted wryly on Twitter: “I lectured at Stanford’s Law School last year. No one’s safety was harmed in the process.”

Moreover, one member of the Council, Eduardo Gonzales-Monaldo, said the student government “would not fund any event that makes anyone feel unwelcome or uncomfortable.” This is an absurd proposition. If it were upheld in practice, it would mean that political student groups—from the Students for Palestinian Equal Rights to the Stanford Libertarians—would be virtually unable to hold any events at all. Any students who claimed offense would have veto power, and political dialogue on campus would wither and die.

The question that bewilders me most about these students’ intolerance of dissent on this issue is: What are they afraid of? The vast majority of Stanford students—myself very much included!—support same-sex marriage rights. The reason we support same-sex marriage rights is because its proponents have made a much more compelling case—not because they systematically suppressed those who disagreed. Indeed, for much of its history, the gay rights movement has been a victim of unconscionable political censorship. The Council’s attempt to suppress this conference is a betrayal of the principles of tolerance and fairness that the gay rights movement has always embraced.

To make matters worse, the lobbying effort by Stanford’s anti-free speech activists led the university administration to impose an additional $5,600 dollar “security fee” on the event, even though the Anscombe Society never requested any security. After a media outcry, the administration “found” funds to pay for security. But the Council continues to withhold the $600 that it initially granted the group.

As the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has pointed out, the Council’s action may well be unlawful under California’s Leonard Law, which prohibits universities from engaging in viewpoint discrimination in the distribution of funds collected through student fees.

So it is disturbing that the Council can get away with this. But it is even more disturbing—and ominous for the future of our democracy—that Stanford’s student leaders all seem to agree that suppression and coercion, rather than dialogue and debate, is the appropriate response to dissenting ideas.

Contact Jason Willick at willick@stanford.edu.

  • M,

    This article equates not giving a group money with censorship, “suppression,” and “coercion.” I’m really not sure why denying to give out money amounts to “coercion.”

  • M2

    Awesome article,

  • Ethan

    “To make matters worse, the lobbying effort by Stanford’s anti-free speech activists led the university administration to impose an additional $5,600 dollar “security fee” on the event, even though the Anscombe Society never requested any security.”
    Nope. From my experience in the planning of a large event (one much smaller than Anscombe Society’s conference) for Stanford Students for Queer Liberation, I’ve learned that Student Activities and Leadership (SAL) requires all large events to have security, and SAL requires student groups to pay for that security. Student groups except for Anscombe, apparently…

  • Very good

    This is a great argument in favor of free speech, but as someone noted below, it does not follow that all speakers should be funded since there is limited funding.

    I do think that if the audience is allowed to speak at the end of the event (I don’t know if this would happen), the event has potential to benefit the LGBT community, because the speaker’s views should be easy to refute. In this case, I think the event should be funded. The LGBT community should attend and counterargue. Merely protesting outside, as happened in Petraeus’s talk, serves no purpose — everyone knows there is a dissonant view, you need to show why it is better.

    Then again, knowing what would in practice happen if the event is funded, I’m not sure I would fund it.

  • guest

    it is worth noting that the GSC actually granted the $600 to Anscombe, but rescinded it after there was pushback from the LGBT community.

    not really a limited funding issue if we’re being honest. same meeting that granted Anscombe $600 granted over $1000 each to Peruvian students social event and BGSA jazz and black liberation event. the minutes are posted online.

    LGBT students were not barred from any of the events, and it would be unusual for speakers not to allow at least a few minutes for Q&A.

  • guest

    as a student leader of a couple politically-neutral student organizations, I am completely unaware of what you are talking about. I have been to several student-run events at Bechtel hosting hundreds of people and have never noticed any security around…

  • 4ths8

    No it does not. The main thrust of Willick’s argument is that he finds the student leader’s outlook disturbing, e.g. “Ben Holston, said ‘this event as it stands … is unacceptable on [the] Stanford campus’.” The funding issues were only part of the story.

  • TJ Terdmeister

    Ahhh. The myth of free of speech on a college campus, funding or not. Those with the biggest mouth have the power. But, of course, they claim to be **inclusive, open-minded and rigorous of thought**.

  • Stanford student

    There’s a lot that was left out of this article which leads to a very biased account of events. The GSC and queer leaders offered to fund and host an event with Anscombe. Students also advocated the event as it is currently structured be open to the entire Stanford community free of charge. No one objected to free speech. This event was denied funding because it creates a private space to say hateful, one sided, things about a minority group.
    Evidence of why this event is harmful was provided by other students. Read the GSC minutes.
    Furthermore, SAS is not small and not powerless. As they stated, they don’t need the money and have over 20k of outside funding, and an off campus support team with media contacts.

  • Ethan

    I stand corrected. I’m curious as to what criteria SAL uses to require security at large events, then.

  • ugh this again

    Ah, another straight white male thinks its okay to invalidate our identity. No biggie, been happening for quite a while now.

  • consistent standards

    Please consider this instead of switching to defence mode. This is exactly the kind of attitude that turns me and so many other progressive, pro-LGBT rights individuals off LGBT activist culture. No, a group should not be exempt from scrutiny because they are perceived to be ‘the good guys’. No, a person’s race and gender does not affect the validity of their opinion and ad hominem attacks rightly make anyone who uses them seem less credible. You disagree with the author. You should be heard. Please, I implore you, make an argument that addresses the author’s claims (not an attack) like the others did. We won’t bite

  • ugh this again again

    well, if you must, it’s that certain ideas shouldn’t be legitimized on a podium at stanford. its the very same reason why you’d balk at inviting a segregationist to give a speech. there are no /two legitimate/ sides of this issue. there’s right and fucked up. i’m all for critical debate, but critical debate cannot be whether or not I (or anybody else) should have access to civil liberties. that’s like inviting a whole bunch of men to discuss the virtues and ‘pitfalls’ of women’s suffrage.

    so in a nutshell, fuck that.

  • sickofprejudice

    Oh, I was unaware that Anscombe invited speakers who support equality. From the publicity materials, it appears that all speakers are against equality and many (if not all) have participated in hate speech against LGBT people. I’m sure that you would not expect an African American to attend a KKK event, would you? Then why expect LGBT people to attend an event designed to denigrate and dehumanize them?

  • lol

    “certain ideas shouldn’t be legitimized”

    “there are no /two legitimate/ sides of this issue”

    “i’m all for critical debate”

    this would be hilarious if i didn’t know you actually believed what you wrote. people like you are scary as hell.

  • mixed feelings

    so, simple disagreement = prejudice, hate speech, denigration, and dehumanization.

    that’s funny because i’m seeing all those traits manifesting, but from you.

    you are the monster you want to destroy.

  • Disappointed

    I truly hope that you don’t go to Stanford–that this university is not bestowing a degree upon someone with such a limited view of political discourse in a liberal society. Your willingness to declare an idea, not only wrong, but completely unacceptable to discuss, is an affront to the foundation of freedom of speech, and to the civil liberties you claim to espouse.

  • Guest

    The event had $20,000 of off campus funding at $2,200 from The Stanford Fund. Despite having university funding, the event was closed to students. A $20 registration fee was imposed to silence dissenting viewpoints as one of the speakers remarked rather candidly at the event. To hear more about what actually happened at the event, listen to this youtube clip from one of the speakers. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQBuL9T9gPE

  • Guest

    The event had $20,000 of off campus funding and $2,400 from The Stanford Fund. Despite having university funding, the event was closed to students. A $20 registration fee was imposed to silence dissenting viewpoints as one of the featured speakers explained rather candidly during his talk. To hear more about what actually happened at the event, listen to this youtube clip from one of the speakers. https://www.youtube.com/watch?…

  • Stanford student

    The event had $20,000 of off campus funding and $2,400 from The Stanford Fund. Despite having university funding, the event was closed to students. A $20 registration fee was imposed to silence dissenting viewpoints as one of the featured speakers explained rather candidly during his talk. To hear more about what actually happened at the event, listen to this youtube clip from one of the speakers. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQBuL9T9gPE

  • Guest

    I think it has to be an event that may generate controversy or involve high profile speakers
    to require security.