>> I'm Margaret Hoover.
Is free speech under attack on college campuses and beyond?
Today on "Firing Line."
♪♪ >> "Firing Line with Margaret Hoover" is made possible by... Corporate funding is provided by... >> On the American right, there has long been a high-degree of anxiety about the state of American academia.
It's a perennial theme.
This show's original and equally perennial host, William F. Buckley Jr., came to national prominence upon writing "God and Man at Yale," a conservative criticism of Yale University's liberal academy nearly 70 years ago.
Years later, he mounted a public campaign to become a trustee of his alma mater on a platform opposed to the changes foisted by the 1960s.
But if this age-old angst of conservatives is over alarmist, is there cause for a sincere concern about the state of free speech on campuses?
As trigger warnings and safe spaces and microaggressions have made their way from universities to our workplaces and communities, there is evidence that what starts on elite campuses has a ripple effect across our culture.
My guest this week thinks the risk to free speech and viewpoint diversity on campus is a trend that should not be left unchecked.
And to combat it, he is doing exactly what William F. Buckley Jr. did 50 years ago -- mounting an independent campaign to become a trustee at Yale.
Jamie Kirchick is a Yale graduate, a visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a widely published journalist and author of "The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues, and the Coming Dark Age."
Jamie Kirchick, welcome to "Firing Line."
>> Thank you.
>> Explain to me first, and to our audience, why issues of governance at an elite university are of broader importance to the American public?
>> Well, elite universities are training the future leaders of the United States -- future presidents, corporation heads, foundation leaders, journalists, particularly at a place like Yale.
>> So they have an outsized influence, disproportionate influence.
>> They do.
And I do think, as you mentioned earlier, that trends that often incubate on college campuses can then sweep the country.
>> Your experience at Yale University, as you just said, was very different from some of these incidents that we've seen across the country.
>> Of course, your inclination to defend Yale's values and run for the Board of Trustees, or to be a Yale trustee, was predicated on an event that happened in 2015.
So, in the fall of 2015, an administrator, a non-academic official, sent an e-mail to the entire student body basically advising them on what sort of Halloween costumes they should avoid wearing.
This was in the absence of any real prominent case of Yale students wearing racist or offensive Halloween costumes.
It was an unnecessary, patronizing e-mail to send to people who are old enough to fight and die for their country, vote in elections.
Some students felt this way.
They wrote in to one of their professors, the Master, which is a term that no longer exists at Yale, by the way, because it's been deemed racist by some people.
They wrote to the Associate Master of their college, a professor named Erika Christakis, complaining about this.
She wrote an e-mail to her students questioning whether or not it was the role of university to be instructing students as to what sort of Halloween costumes they wear and also telling students, "You know what?
If you don't like a costume that one of your peers is wearing, you can go up and tell them.
Have a conversation about it.
Or ignore them."
Well, the response to this e-mail, from a pretty loud minority of students, was incredible.
There was a mob, is really the only word to describe this.
Surrounded Erika Christakis' husband, Nicholas Christakis, and berated him for two hours, screaming in his face, calling him a racist, demanding that he apologize for his wife.
And Yale buckled.
Yale did not stand up for these two professors.
Erika Christakis left Yale, doesn't teach there anymore.
Nicholas stepped down from his position as the Master of Silliman.
Two years later, Yale actually awarded two of the students who led that mob with a prize for racial reconciliation.
So, the message coming out of the Yale administration was basically, "You can scream and yell at tenured professors, you can call them names if you don't like an e-mail that they sent."
This is a horrible message.
It's basically telling students, telling young people, that this is an appropriate way to behave.
And I can tell you, so many alums were angry about this, of different generations, different races, different ideological views.
And we felt that we were not having a voice in this conversation, so that's really the reason that I decided to run.
>> What is your sense of why this has happened?
It's a very different -- You write very eloquently about an experience that you had when you were a Yale student.
>> You went to see a poet laureate, the poet laureate of New Jersey, who recited a poem, and you engaged in a very different way.
I was a freshman, 19 years old, Jewish, had never really experienced anti-Semitism in my life.
A student group invited this poet, Amiri Baraka, who had written a poem blaming or accusing Israel -- the Israeli government -- of calling all the Israelis in the tri-state area on 9/11 and telling them not to go to the Twin Towers that day.
Blatantly anti-Semitic, conspiratorial poem.
He was invited to read this poem, and he read it in front of a room full of students, and he got a standing ovation, and I was in the room.
Now, you know, I could have, like students today, organized a mob to shut him down, tried to get the professor who invited him fired, screamed and yelled and whined.
I didn't do that.
I went to the event, I sat in the back of the room, I took notes, I wrote a column about it for the Yale Daily News, I actually got up and questioned him in the Q&A, he mocked me in front of a room full of my peers.
It was a really harrowing experience.
You know what?
I wouldn't have traded it for the world.
I became a stronger person.
I learned how to confront really difficult, vexing situations and how to process it and write about it.
And if I could've done that as a 19-year-old with a real, legitimate bigot, anti-Semite, then surely students at Yale can deal with e-mails they don't like about Halloween costumes.
>> So, something has happened in those intervening 10 years.
>> People have various theories about it.
You know, one theory is that there's a generation that was deeply socialized on the Internet and through social media that had the ability to really create an environment that protected them from being exposed to challenging views.
They could block people they didn't like to hear.
They could only listen to and get newsfeeds of articles that they essentially agreed with, creating a sense of confirmation bias online but has then expanded to the university.
Does that resonate with you?
>> I think that's definitely one part of this.
And it's sort of the social media -- Twitter, in particular, and Facebook -- they do sort of encourage a kind of groupthink mentality.
You're putting something up there, and you're judging its worth by the number of likes you get or the number of retweets you get.
And so it encourages this sort of -- And it's as you say -- you can block views that you don't like.
I certainly think that social media played a role.
I'm not sure.
I also have this hypothesis that perhaps the election of Barack Obama inspired so many people and the hopes and the expectations of his presidency were so high, the notion that he would cure the country of racism, that he would bring people together, clearly that didn't happen.
It's not his fault it didn't happen.
>> The country's become more politically divided and tribalistic, as we know, in all sorts of realms, whether it's race or age or class or region.
And I think this is an element of this.
And we see that academia and the university as becoming part of the blue tribe.
You have the red tribe, which is NASCAR and Middle America, and you can list a whole sort of -- all sorts of institutions and parts of American life that fit under the red tribe, and academia, which should be in the middle... >> Right.
>> ...is now part of the blue tribe more than it's ever been before.
>> When you ask students on campus what is more important to them, is it diversity/inclusion or is it free speech?
They say, a majority of them, that diversity/inclusion -- 53% prefer diversity/inclusion to free speech.
>> I actually dispute the premise of this question.
They're not mutually exclusive.
In fact, they go together.
>> Diversity/inclusion is free speech.
It's having a multiplicity of viewpoints and being able to express them.
You know what?
Sometimes those viewpoints are gonna be nasty and offensive, but that's part of living in a diverse country, which America is more diverse than any other society on Earth.
>> Isn't that the problem, though, on campuses is that there is seen that you cannot -- that free speech must stop at the point where diversity/inclusion start?
>> Problem is that these two values, which should go together, like salt and pepper, are being portrayed as somehow hostile to one another.
And they're not.
They're actually very concomitant with one another.
>> There's this idea, though, that censorship is protecting minorities and it's protecting people and that that's good for people 'cause it helps protect them and helps advance them.
>> I find this argument so wrong.
I mean, if you look at every civil-rights movement in America, from the African-American civil-rights movement to the gay civil-rights movement, used free speech and free association to achieve their goals.
What was it that Martin Luther King did?
He gave speeches, he marched, he participated in civil disobedience.
The gay-rights movement is largely accredited with having begun in the Stonewall Riots.
Well, what was the cause of the Stonewall Riots?
It was gay people exercising their constitutional right to gather together in a bar and being prevented from doing so by the police, who would come in and extort them and carry them off in paddy wagons to prison.
So, you know, every minority group, every social-justice movement in this country has used the First Amendment to achieve its goals, and I think it's really dangerous to now have people say, "Well, we need to basically betray the legacies of these movements and shut down speech."
>> In addition to the inclination to shut down speech, there are organized groups who are trying to combat it.
One of them is Heterodox Academy, which you may know about it.
And this is a group of 1,800 professors -- tenured professors -- faculty, and students -- graduate students -- who all acknowledge there is a lack of, specifically, political and ideological diversity on university campuses.
I mean, 1,800 professors across the country who are acknowledging that there's a problem and then creating space -- a safe space, if you will -- to have this viewpoint diversity isn't nothing.
>> No, it's not.
I think we're seeing -- I don't know if "backlash" is the right word, but there's definitely a movement... >> A correction, maybe a market correction.
>> And the problem is that, if this market correction isn't, you know, welcomed in a health way, you will see a backlash, and you will see conservative state legislatures, governors -- You're already starting to see this.
They're gonna cut down on funding.
They're gonna just cancel funding to universities and colleges at all.
And so that's a really dangerous road to go down.
>> You see that happening, on the one hand, and on the other hand, you see legislatures -- There are some 16 legislatures across the country that have actually passed or considered some kind of legislation, entitled free-speech protection legislation.
>> And that is, by the way, in blue states and in red states across the country.
And so, to your larger point that, you know, what happens in elite universities actually resonates more broadly in the culture.
I mean, the perception is really important.
We can sit here and say, "Well, this is just a handful of university campuses.
It's rich and entitled students to begin with."
It's become this sort of conservative, red-meat issue that isn't -- that's being blown out of proportion.
But you know what?
And what happens at Yale matters more than what happens in lots of other places in the country.
And that's just the way things are.
And people oftentimes will vote based upon perceptions.
I think this is something that all of us should've learned after the election of Donald Trump is that a lot of people were fed up with a culture that they considered to be too politically correct.
And you and I might think that it's silly to vote for someone for president based upon this rationale, that the role of the president is not to be an arbiter of, you know, cultural controversies and that you're not electing a man to offer his opinions about whether or not NFL football players should be sitting or standing for the national anthem.
But you know what?
That's how human emotions work.
People see what's happening on college campuses, they get angry, they get fed up, and there are actual political consequences for this.
So I tell my liberal, left-wing friends, "Look, you might think that this is being blown out of proportion.
There are real live political consequences to what's happening on college campuses."
>> Well, and you see a political ramification on college campuses, as well.
In other words, if there are conservative students or students whose views they don't feel get airtime, how are they responding on college campuses?
They're responding by inviting provocateurs to their campuses.
They're inviting Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos.
>> "Provocateur" is not the right word.
That's a little too nice.
They're inviting inflammatory bomb-throwers.
And it's unfortunate, because -- >> But to them, it's -- In politics, you have this sort of sense of physics, right?
In physics, every action creates an equal and opposite reaction.
And so it is this opposite reaction to... Maybe they're more than provocateurs, maybe they're inflammatory, but it is a response to the inflammatory experience they feel that their speech has been silenced.
>> This is another unintended consequence, I think, of this sort of censorious, left-wing attempts to shut down speech is that you drive the conservative students into a corner where they almost want to invite speakers only to elicit those sorts of responses, and it's this sort of Weimar dynamic.
And so instead of inviting thoughtful conservatives to campus like Margaret Hoover or David Frum or Bret Stephens... >> Or Jamie Kirchick.
They're inviting Milo Yiannopoulos, or they're inviting Ann Coulter, and they get exactly what they want -- they get riots and they get to portray themselves as victims.
So I would, if I were a faculty adviser to the conservative or Republican student club, I would say, "Why don't you invite a thoughtful exponent of conservative values and not some bomb-thrower?"
That said, I would also say to the left-wing students, "The worst thing that you could do to Ann Coulter is to ignore her.
Don't go to her lecture.
An empty lecture hall, with no protests, just an empty room, would be the most offensive thing to her.
But it's so difficult to convince either side to do what I'm telling them.
>> But, actually, what we don't want to do is either protest or ignore.
The idea is to encourage students to engage the ideas on their -- >> In thoughtful debate.
>> In a thoughtful debate and in a respectful debate.
I mean, that's exactly what we ought to be encouraging, and it seems that we've gone so far beyond that not just on our college campuses, to your point, more broadly in our culture.
>> I agree.
>> NFL players kneel, they're expressing their speech.
The President of the United States decides that they have offended him.
They then decide that they're not gonna go to the White House to celebrate the win of the Super Bowl.
And then, you have an entire trend that has played out that started at an elite university and has played out on the national stage with the President of the United States and the nation's pastime.
>> Well, there's certainly alarmism, and we shouldn't exaggerate the problem, but there is a problem.
And I'm someone who graduated Yale in 2006 -- not that long ago -- and I can tell you that what I'm reading about on college campuses, including Yale, wasn't happening when I was a student.
Something's happened over the past decade.
>> Buckley had a long debate about what the proper role of alumni should be, and I'd like to show you what he said to the president of Sarah Lawrence University.
>> Dr. Taylor, do you admit that the constituency of a private college ought to include the alumni?
That is to say, ought the alumni to have a voice in setting the standards and the objectives of a particular college?
>> Not really.
I think the business of the university is with the scholars and the students, and the alumni who are those who, if one has been successful in educating them, will understand the purpose of the university as being the continuing winnowing and sifting of the truths and passing them around to the students who are there.
>> I'm glad you didn't say that was a silly question because you're not an alumnus.
[ Laughter ] If this is the case, are the alumni entitled to say that winnowing and sifting truths has the effect, from time to time, of identifying certain things as untrue and that, therefore, those untrue things ought to be not taught?
>> Buckley was on your side there.
>> He was.
I just would remark that it's rare that you see any college presidents smoking pipes anymore.
>> [ Laughing ] >> That was fun to see.
I absolutely agree.
I think what we see, actually, at Yale -- and at many universities now -- is that the students have more power and more say not only than the faculty but the alumni, and it's basically the students are now seen as almost customers, and the universities are, basically, providing services to them, whereas -- I'm sorry -- it should be the other way around.
I mean, the university is not a democracy, in this sense.
Students are coming there to learn, to be taught, and the alumni should have certainly more of a role in the management of the university than the students.
It's the alums who've been through the process of being educated there and who have a stake in that institution.
They give money, they care about the legacy of the institution, and I don't want to sound like an old fogey, but they're older and wiser than the 18- and 19-year-olds who are just showing up on campus.
>> But what if there is a fundamental misunderstanding that you and I and maybe an older generation have about what the expectation of a college education and a degree from the university is?
And what if, actually, expectation is simply, "I show up, I have a fun time for four years, I get confirmation bias.
Critical thinking maybe not as necessary as you liberal-arts classicists think is necessary."
And, by the way, they're paying $70,000 a year, so they're the customers.
Is there a market failure for universities?
>> I do, and I wonder if this is a broader problem with our society that there hasn't been an attempt to really correct this, and that most liberal-arts colleges are moving in this sort of service-oriented direction.
There are some holdouts.
I mean, the University of Chicago, I think, has a very good reputation for being kind of stubborn in its ways.
And you see in the university president and the dean writing letters to all the incoming freshmen, basically telling them what's what.
>> You want me to tell you what he said?
>> Yes, go ahead.
>> It was funny, because Jay Ellison, who is the Dean of Chicago Students said... >> Every university president and dean should be sending letters like that to the incoming class.
>> Certainly, that's what you think, but if that's not what a majority of students think and they're the ones paying the tuition, is there a market failure?
>> It seems that way.
And I guess the only way for it to be fixed is for the industries -- the professional industries that these young people are going into -- will have to basically send the message that "We're being inundated with people who, frankly, aren't prepared to work for us," and living in a disputatious society, which is what America is.
Or they haven't been given the psychological tools to navigate the problem that you encountered when you were on campus when you encountered, head-on, blatant anti-Semitism.
>> How do you navigate that?
I want to get to sort of a larger point that you deal with in your book, because it seems to me that there actually is a direct line between your interest in becoming involved in free speech on campuses and the threat to free speech that liberal democracies are facing in Europe and around the world.
You've written about this in your book, "The End of Europe."
>> Well, there are European artists who live under -- and editors, and I'm friends with some of them -- who live under 24/7 police protection because they publish, say, cartoons that some people find offensive.
I was in Copenhagen not long ago and went to a dinner with a Swedish cartoonist who had drawn some images of the Prophet Muhammad that placed his life under threat.
We had to meet in an undisclosed location in an apartment somewhere in Copenhagen with plain-clothed policemen at the door.
This is in 2016.
I mean, this is absolutely outrageous.
I mean, it hasn't gotten to that point here in the United States -- yet.
But I will notice -- I will point out that after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, when people were murdered just for publishing cartoons, an organization that I'm a proud member of, PEN, an international writers congress, gave an award to the surviving members of Charlie Hebdo.
And what happened?
Well, over 200 members of PEN tried to stage a protest of this, insisting that Charlie Hebdo was racist, essentially implying that these cartoonists got what they deserved.
And I'll point out that, actually, to bring it back to Yale, Garry Trudeau, who is probably one of the most famous cartoonists in the United States, a Yale grad, who started "Doonesbury" while a student at Yale, gave a speech where he basically spit on these cartoonists and said, "Well, they were punching down and that real humor punches up."
I mean, this was just a disgraceful -- The reaction among so many people in the intelligentsia to what's been going on in Europe with the murderous assaults on journalists and cartoonists, the absolute cowardice among many people in my profession is an utter disgrace, and it just shows you how -- how fragile this right to free speech really is.
>> You talk about the assault of free speech in Europe, and there are some who believe that the media is the target of free speech here in the United States, that there is an attack against the news media, especially by politicians calling news media "fake news."
>> So far, we haven't seen the government actually crack down on free speech in this country, and, absolutely, having a president who has no respect whatsoever for the independence of the media -- I mean, it's one thing to criticize the media if you don't like what they're reporting -- all presidents do that -- but the vitriol and the sustained assault on the media as almost an inherently illegitimate institution is very worrisome, to the point where you now see public-opinion polls -- I believe something like 40% of Republicans actually think that the government should be able to shut down news outlets that are considered, you know, "unfair" or whatnot.
So there's a long process that these sorts of attacks on the media can have in undermining support for a culture of free speech.
>> And the difference here is the delegitimizing of speech rather than the shutting down of speech.
>> And thank God we're not seeing that here.
>> And I actually think -- >> And that is alarmist.
We don't want to sort of go out on a ledge and suggest that that's the direction we're headed, but, again, we -- the safeguards of liberty and democracy are vigilance.
And I think most Americans understand this.
Most Americans are inclined towards supporting free speech, and they're inclined to understanding that "You're not gonna like what everyone has to say, and it might upset you, but you know what?
You don't have to listen to it.
You can change the channel, you can read a different newspaper if you want."
I think most Americans understand that fundamental value.
>> It seems to me that this is a time for those who defend liberal democracy and defend these Western values to not give an inch when it comes to something so basic as free speech.
>> It's the most important right that we have.
Any other issues that you care about, whether it's healthcare or police/criminal reform, all very important issues, you can't express yourselves and you can't get change if you don't have free speech.
How are you gonna make your argument to the American people, to your community?
How are you gonna publish op-eds?
How are you gonna launch movements for various forms of social justice, to change your community for the better -- how can you do that without freedom of speech?
It's what distinguishes us from societies where differences are not sorted out by the exchange of ideas in a peaceful way, where they're sorted out by violence.
I mean, that's what separates us from real dictatorships, sort of these tribal societies where people are constantly fighting with one another.
>> Well, Jamie Kirchick, thank you for coming on "Firing Line," because that is the tradition of "Firing Line" is free speech, a free exchange of ideas, and it is a critical part of defending liberal democracy, and I welcome you here for making your case.
>> Thanks a lot.
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