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Feb 20, 2004 8:43 pm

A Free Speech Market ...

Today, at Critical Mass, Erin O'Connor cites the example of the College Council at Emory University rejecting the College Republican's request for funding of a campus speech by David Horowitz as an example of the chilling effect of speech codes. I generally agree with her that campuses ought not be any less free in speech than the rest of society and that the burden of proof is on code supporters.

Yet, O'Connor does not strengthen her case by citing a case involving Horowitz. He's been on the Emory campus recently, so there isn't any question about his being allowed to speak there. The question is whether common funds should be used for a return appearance. Frankly, both Stanley Fish and the Chronicle of Higher Education do higher education a disservice by giving Horowitz a platform. Despite his claim to being one of the top 100"public intellectuals" in the United States, the man is a demagogue who has little regard for the truth. He told Emory University students that they were getting only"half an education" because the University's faculty was uniformly leftist. Are Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Harvey Klehr chopped liver? No. They are among the most prominent academic conservatives in the United States. Just don't bother Horowitz with facts that don't fit his schtick.

I may suffer from in loco parentis nostalgia, but I wish that Fox-Genovese and Klehr would take the campus Republicans aside and suggest other speakers: David Brooks, Harvey Mansfield, Richard Posner, Andrew Sullivan, and many others. There are any number of worthy speakers who can represent the conservative temperament very well. Gaudy demagogues like Ann Coulter or David Horowitz don't. In moments of better judgment, Erin O'Connor knows that. Whatever edit-genie got into her account of College Republican chairman Edward Thayer's words and substituted"Hoodwink" for"Horowitz" got it right.

Update: Erin O'Connor replies here. Unlike O'Connor, I would argue that academic communities should make qualitative choices among the speakers it invites. Michael Moore, David Horowitz, Al Sharpton, and Ann Coulter don't make the qualitative cut, as far as I'm concerned.

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Grant W Jones - 2/23/2004

I don't disagree with any of that. It is just that there are distinctions between a political conservative and an academic conservative which should be kept in mind when the discussion includes non-academics.

I guess my point about the student politicos is that they should be reminded, like all politicos, that they are supposed to represent everyone, not just their friends.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/23/2004

By the way, the students making these decisions about whom to invite to speak on the campus are as likely as you are to invoke the consumer/investor metaphor to protect student prerogatives to make these decisions and, in doing so, shun the kinds of intrusions by older persons in the decision-making process that you call for. I think that leaves you with a problemmatic metaphor. I reject its utility.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/22/2004

You and Andrew Sullivan may have missed Horowitz's latest twist. He has repented of his support of gay marriage, apparently because of his resentment of judicial activism. If DH were authentically a civil libertarian, I should think that he would not abandon a commitment simply because it is advanced by means he has reservations about.
I have no qualms about your list of academic conservatives, any more than you should have about my listing Klehr or Fox-Genovese.
It is important not to confuse two different issues: one about speech codes on which I am inclined to agree with O'Connor; and one about invited and subsidized speech, which refers to someone like Horowitz, Michael Moore, or other gaudy demogogues. In the latter case, like you, I have argued for a "nanny" intervention, not with veto authority, but with a consumer reports recommendation that argues in favor of high quality. High quality can be had in conservative and liberal flavors. It should not be uniformly one or the other.
All sorts of evaluative judgments by peers and administrators are used to guarantee delivery of contracted services. They are offered at much less cost than those of, say, the football coach at the University of Colorado. I should think that you would want something like that outrage to keep things in perspective.

Grant W Jones - 2/22/2004

I am not trying to be difficult. But there are different meanings for the word "conservative." For example, David Horowitz is usually called a conservative, but he is for gay marriege. I don't think Horowitz has much use for religious conservative types. On other issues, Horowitz is very conservative.

I may have misunderstood you, if you were asking for an example of an academic conservative. That is a much broader question and depends on the context. In their fields, I suppose, Steven Pinker, Mark Skousen, Bernard Lewis [or is he retired?] or Bjorn Lomborg could be called "conservative." But that is very different from political conservatism. In a discussion on Horowitz, I thought that was your question.

As for the student politicians, it is not their money they are playing with. They have a fiduciary responsibility to all enrolled students. Which means they should treat all student groups according to the same standards. Clearly, they do not. Some responsible adult should step in and insure fairness. I don't think this is asking too much. Or perhaps the student council's irresponsible behavior is consider training for professional politics/corporate management. I think this issue is most definitely "on topic" It is not their money.

Finally, I would be interested in your answer to my question on who/what insures that academia delievers the service contracted for, without gouging the consumer/taxpayer. I'm serious.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/22/2004

Mr. Jones,
When you asked me to define what I meant by a conservative in re: Fox-Genovese and Klehr and said that your model of a conservative was Barry Goldwater, you made conversation difficult. I didn't say that credentialed people only should be allowed to speak on campus. I didn't even say that Horowitz, et al, should not be allowed to speak on campus. Students, not faculty or administrators, made the decision not to pay DH to yet a second time on campus. You're having a little trouble staying on topic and understanding a line of argument you are predisposed to disagree with.

Grant W Jones - 2/22/2004

Your definition could be applied to both those on the political right and left. I'm sure you don't mean to imply that either Klehr or Fox-Genovese value order and hierarchy over freedom, do you? Also to be a guest speaker one doesn't have to have academic credentials. That would seem to defeat the whole point of getting diverse viewpoints, from outside the academy, on issues of the day. Different standards on what's appropriate would seem to be in order. Too many students just want to be entertained or have their prejudices validated.

An important issue, as always, is who pays the piper. If these student activities funds are being paid for by the entire student body through required fees, then does the student council have any right to prevent a group from inviting any speaker it chooses? If the speaker is within the bounds of civil discourse, I think not. Do you consider Horowitz outside the bounds of civil discourse?

Certainly, in many, but perhaps not all, universities one can find conservative faculty if one looks hard enough. But they may not be in one's field, and it may be expecting too much of a nineteen-year-old undergrad to do so. I don't think Horowitz is out of line in asking that required readings for courses in the humanities and social sciences be balanced. After all, there are precious few issues in history, political science, philosophy, etc. that have been "solved." Personally, I've found that some professors are much better at this than others and some courses I have found the reading material to be hopeless. But, that's why there are libraries.

Students, and their parents, are paying big money for a service. Unlike most services it is hardly possible that the consumer can fairly judge the product. The student by definition can't judge the merits of an education they have yet to recieve. And their parents are not around. This places a large burden on the faculty and the administration to insure that the consumers are getting what they are paying for. The problem is that this seems a little too much like the fox watching the chickens. Education is a market that abounds in asymmetrical information. It is a valid area of concern for all citizens.

Sorry for writing at such length, have a good weekend.
Grant Jones

Ralph E. Luker - 2/22/2004

Mr. Jones, I agree that Jello Biafra is a poor choice for a campus speaker, perhaps even worse than Horowitz. My point in mentioning Klehr and Fox-Genovese is that Horowitz's rhetoric about having only "half an education" was misleading to students on a campus where several of the country's leading academic conservatives taught.
Academic conservatives are often not so political in the same sense that Barry Goldwater and David Horowitz are. BG did not have and DH does not have the credentials to merit an academic appointment.
You want a definition? Let's say a conservative is one who places a high value on tradition, is accepting of the necessity of hierarchy, and, when pushed on the matter, is likely to emphasize the necessity of order over the value of freedom.

Grant W Jones - 2/22/2004

Dear Prof. Luker, do you always get so upset when asked to define your terms? Actually, Barry Goldwater is my model of a conservative. Does he pass muster with you?

I'm not in contact with Klehr or Fox-Genovese, I'm just familiar with them through their work. Given that, I don't know or care what their politics are. I'm assuming that you mean "conservative" in the political meaning of the word in a discussion involving Horowitz. You brought them up and I just asked you to amplify.

As to having a "ideological roll," I'll cop to that. Don't you? So What? Again, what does that have to do with the campus Republicans choosing their own speakers and representatives? Spending student services money on bringing in Horowitz is beyond the pale, but Jello Biafra is OK. That's just bizarre.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/21/2004

Mr. Jones, I suspect that you are on some ideological roll here and I doubt that any evidence will give you pause in it. If David Horowitz is your model of a conservative, it would be hard to qualify any academics as such. If Mao is the model of a "liberal," Hubert Humphrey wouldn't qualify. I doubt that either Fox-Genovese or Klehr would quibble, as you do, with my characterization. If they had qualms about it, they would have let me know because I sent them a copy of my posting. You aren't satisfied, even though they seem satisfied?

Oscar Chamberlain - 2/21/2004

Many of my students seem pretty impatient with conservative/liberal labels. If this is fairly common, it makes judging their choices by comparison with traditional ideological poles pretty useless.

On the other hand, the students who get involved in student organizations may be more self-consciously ideological than their peers.

Grant W Jones - 2/21/2004

Do you consider Jello Biafra as a quality speaker for a serious academic setting? O'Conner has a good point. When was the last time a request to fund a leftist speaker was turned down? There is a clear double-standard at work here.

Grant W Jones - 2/21/2004

I'm familiar with Klehr's work on the Cold War and the CPUSA. How does being a "traditionalist" make him any more conservative than Hubert Humphrey or Harry Truman? Klehr's views on this issue of historical interpretation doesn't tell me anything about his politics or views on other historical issues. You must know more about his other views than I, please share.

On what grounds do you label Fox-Genovese a conservative? Is disagreement with the conventional wisdom on feminism now enough to get one labeled "conservative?"

Ralph E. Luker - 2/21/2004

Well, Oscar, it was of course uniformly white, except perhaps for the few South Asian graduate students, and male dominance was assumed, tho separate and more limited admissions to the Women's College guaranteed that on the whole the female students were far smarter than we were. Yet, there was a sufficient sense that things might and ought to be otherwise that we formed an all white youth branch of the NAACP and had coming, just a year or so behind me, women like Sara Evans who figured out that women didn't need to pretend not to be smarter than we were.

Oscar Chamberlain - 2/21/2004

Your comment on ideological diversity at duke makes me wonder if it was an exception or if some of the portryals of American universities then as being stifling places has been overblown.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/21/2004

No "nannies"; just a reliable Consumer Report.

Austin K. Williams - 2/21/2004

Selling shoddy wares in the "marketplace" of ideas? Seems that would take care of itself. No nannies needed.


Timothy James Burke - 2/20/2004

Well, exactly--but that might be the quintessential thing that you have to learn by experience, Ralph. And that is one place where perhaps Erin and I diverge somewhat. One of the things you learn about inviting assholes to speak is that assholes really do hurt people's feelings, and also cost you the respect of people who aren't hurt by assholes but who are disappointed that you've just blown good money on paying for an asshole in a world where there are many non-assholes making some of the same points in much more reasonable ways. These are things that the College Republicans at Emory only learn when both unreasonable people tell them about how hurt they feel by Horowitz and when reasonable people get up in within the public sphere of the college and say, "Really dumb idea, guys".

It's perfectly right to say that neither sentiment should assert a formal right to restrain speech. But at the same time, if the huge majority of a community say, "What a terrible thing to do", of course it has a chilling effect. How do you distinguish between the bad, illegitimate chilling effect that aims to intimidate and the completely legitimate chilling effect that massed and simultaneous free speech might have on people who aren't sociopaths? I think that might be a hard thing to distinguish; some of the critics of contemporary campus politics seem to think it's an easy distinction to make.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/20/2004

On the first point, Oscar, I don't recall the speakers I heard at Duke in the late 1950s and early 1960s as having been drawn from very narrow ideological windows. There were unstated gender and racial constraints, but the ideological spectrum was pretty broad. In candor, I'd have to say that when I've taught in HBCU institutions, the gender and racial constraints on the selection of speakers and artists was at least as strong and unstated as it ever was at Duke.
If students control speakers' series across the board or select speakers series+ (what's the plural of series?), then colleges and universities must tell complainers inside and out "It's not our fault. These are students' decisions." One of the last places where I taught was so impoverished that there was _no_ money for any speakers, concerts, films, or art exhibits, so I'm not up to speed on how these things now work, but if there had been money the decisions would have been made by inclusive committees in which faculty, administrators and students were represented.
On your third point, as I said, I'm calling for an educating function here, not a veto.

Oscar Chamberlain - 2/20/2004

I understand your desire for more solid visitors, but the shift to student controlled speaking calendars was on the whole a good legacy of the 1960s. It did, after all, emerge as a reaction to the very narrow ideological window that universities had traditionally imposed.

It does have problems. As an example, sonservatives have complained about the choices made at the larger of my two campuses. However, as one stated after he investigated, those making the choices had paid their dues by getting involved and conservatives could do the same. (Now, if the student participation process were rigged in some manner, then there would be serious problems.)

There is also the "fun asshole" problem. It's real, but I see no good way to interpose a veto without creating more problems than would be solved.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/20/2004

Your and Erin's points about formal decision-making are, of course, well taken. I think I disagree with your big IF. If the market is free and there are subsidies to use in selecting from the wide range of an open market of speakers, I'm arguing that there are certainly better uses of university and college funds than to spend them on a known entity of poor quality. There's an educating responsibility for faculty which is far removed from a formal veto. It was telling that in an e-mail to me an Emory student favoring the invitation to Horowitz said that he is "an asshole but an entertaining asshole." It suggests that students have been making invitation decisions based on "entertainment" value and fails to see that "assholes" should be treated from a sanitary distance.

Timothy James Burke - 2/20/2004

I shoot my mouth off all the time about the decisions student groups make, but Erin's point on this issue, as I understand it, is valid--if there's no structural or regular role for me in reviewing those decisions, then my opinion is just my opinion--it shouldn't have politically binding force on student deliberative bodies unless that's the way the campus is. I can think of very, very few campuses where the faculty or even the administration maintain a formal hand in judging each and every budget request by student groups. That's left to student councils and the like, usually.

Horowitz has been here recently--I welcomed the visit (e.g., I thought there were no grounds for criticizing the invitation as such: it was perfectly legitimate for the College Republicans to do it if they wanted to). If they invited him again this spring, I'd probably take a potshot at them for being unimaginative and boring, sure. But I wouldn't try to usurp the rights of the Student Council to figure out how to fund things--that's their problem. And it would seem to me to be problematic if they suddenly changed their standard procedures just to prevent that one speaker from coming. If, on the other hand, they had a long tradition of reviewing cases on a merit-by-merit basis, there is a completely neutral, value-free ground for saying no to Horowitz IF you've had him there very recently. That would be a dumb, boring expenditure of money. (I'd say the same if Jello Biafra had been to Emory recently--but if he hasn't, then the cases aren't parallel.)

But in any event, unless the local norm is otherwise, it's the students' problem.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/20/2004

Your point -- that we don't know what the tradition of review of such requests has been at Emory -- is surely germane. If student funding requests have been routinely approved in the past and this rejection is a radical departure from such tradition, then the case against reinviting Horowitz seems to me to be severely weakened.
On the other hand, I am disappointed, even disturbed, that neither Erin nor Tim see much of a role or responsibility for _teachers_, for g_d sakes, to have a hand in elevating the choices their students will make. Do you _never_ tell your students that a crock is a crock? Are you, too, self-censoring?

Timothy James Burke - 2/20/2004

There's really two issues here. The first is, are the reasons against a return visit by Horowitz at Emory being offered by many on the Emory campus sound? The answer to that is no--Erin O'Connor is perfectly right about that.

The second problem is this: how should a deliberative body (say, a student council) decide how to respond to requests from student groups for funding? Do you allocate money based on a strict formula of proportionality (the more members, the more money) or on other grounds (merit of proposed spending, fiscal responsibility of past spending, efficiency of services or value delivered to the campus as a whole, desire to fund a wide range of activities and interests).

The latter is the more typical set of logics used. If the College Republicans and all other political groups have tended in the past to receive a set amount of funding and been regarded as autonomous in their decision to spend it however they like, it's wrong for anyone to intervene in their decision to invite Horowitz for a second round. I might view them as unbelievably boring in that desire, but if the tradition is that groups make those decisions themselves, then you have to stick to that. If on the other hand, student groups always have large funding requests examined on their merits, then I think you could say there is a strictly non-political merit assessment here where you can say, "Listen, we just had this guy here: go back and find another speaker you want who costs the same amount of money." I can't see how anyone could quarrel with that, if there was precedent at Emory for that kind of case-by-case assessment of merit for these sort of events.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/20/2004

You have it almost exactly wrong, Mr. Williams. Mr. Horowitz _has_ spoken at Emory. No one stifled his speech then. No one presumes to stifle his speech now. He is free to travel to Atlanta and speak all he wants to. We make choices all the time. The college council chooses now not to underwrite DH's expenses and give him a handsome honorarium. You would deny the college council the right to make that decision.
Precisely because I believe conservatism should be well represented in academic communities, I believe the college council made a good decision.
I apologize if I have struck fear in your heart. I attempted an appeal to reason.

Austin K. Williams - 2/20/2004

"...there isn't any question about [Horowitz] being allowed to speak [at Emory]."

I'm inclined to believe this is PRECISELY the question under consideration. Mr. Luker's less than ringing endorsement of campus free speech ("generally agree", "ought" - as opposed to "absolutely agree" and "must") perfectly sets up the doubletalk yet to come in his attack on Horowitz.

Right, wrong or indifferent, there is simply no one as directly on point regarding campus speech today as David Horowitz. His "Reparations" exercise was aimed at the heart of the beast and created an historical record that can be fully dissected by both coders and codees. His current enterprise, the "Academic Bill of Rights" is similarly positioned for vigorous and productive debate.

Mr. Luker, rather than engaging in this discourse ("bring it on" being the appropriate response), calls instead for the lying demagogue to be replaced by Luker's version of "worthy" conservative speakers, who no doubt present less of a threat to Luker's pretensions and sensibilities. Scary.

Austin K. Williams

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