The Boston Globe probably has the best take about what has been happening to the student newspaper I advise, and what my response has been thus far. The why, however, is perhaps best characterized by the introduction I gave for Adam Kissel of the Foundation For Individual Rights In Education when he spoke on campus Friday in response to the recent controversy:
Over the past few weeks we’ve been hearing a lot of sentences that start with the words “I’m all for free speech, but…”
The problem is, there is no “but” when it comes to supporting free speech rights. Being all for free speech means you protect the right of all speakers — and, perhaps most importantly, you protect the right of speakers who have views that challenge your own, or even offend your own.
Our guest today understands that perhaps better than anyone. Adam Kissel is with the Foundation for Individual Rights In Education, a group that works tirelessly as a watchdog to make sure the free speech rights of students are protected on college campuses.
I first heard of Adam two years ago when I read an article that contained his quote that appeared in the Comment’s and announcing this event: “If you go through all four years of college without being offended, you should ask for your money back.”
Adam speaks to the ideal version of what a college education should be: a place where your own knowledge, ideas and values are allowed to crash into the knowledge, ideas, values of your professors and classmates and, hopefully emerge four years later stronger, if not completely rethought and reworked.
My own college education was not like that, and after reading Adam’s quote I have spent a lot of time talking with my students. What I have found out is their experience is often one like mine, where we simply gave answers we felt were in line with the professor’s view on whatever the subject was. This isn’t a good recipe for developing the critical thinking skills college is supposed to instill in its students.
Adam arrives on campus at a time when copies of the student newspaper are being stolen and when the independence and existence of that paper has been threatened by the administration. One of the variations of that sentence we heard this week is “I’m all for free speech, but it has to be responsible.”
The problem is, students cannot learn how to use their free speech rights responsibly if those rights are taken away. I am pleased and honored to welcome Adam Kissel to Bridgewater State University.
In addition to FIRE, the Student Press Law Center has gotten involved in the case and sent this letter to the president of Bridgwater State University on Thursday.
Update: The Brockton Enterprise also has a fair story on the issue that’s worth reading. The reporter spent a good deal of time on campus and brought in a lot of different voices, including students who are not involved in the debate and a journalism ethicist.
I support the students I advise, as well as the decisions hey have made. But I also support the rights of their critics to criticize their work. What I can’t support is the threat of censorship, which to me is censorship. Once the paper is censored, and once the chilling effect resonates throughout the campus, this and any other debate are no longer possible.