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USD Debates Free Speech On College Campuses

March 7, 2018 1:35 p.m.

USD Debates Free Speech On College Campuses

GUEST:

Matt Zwolinski, director, University of San Diego Center for Ethics, Economics and Public Policy

Related Story: USD Debates Free Speech On College Campuses

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

There have always been limits on the American ideal on free speech, shouting fire in a crowded theater, typically one of those limits, but what constitutes shouting fire on a college campus? In San Diego, a student try to stop a course on the films of Woody Allen, because of sexual molestation accusations against the filmmaker, efforts to stop it, are controversial, they asked the question, is free speech under threat on America's college campuses? Joining me as Matthew, Professor of philosophy at the University of San Diego.
>> Great to be back.
>> Is there really a tradition of free speech on college campuses, or has that always been an ideal rather than a reality? But to some extent, it has always been an ideal, we have held up universities as the one place in American society where nothing is off limits, where any ideas on the table, and we let people fight it out, out of the marketplace of ideas, we are likely to get the truth, or something approaching the truth, historically we have never quite lived up to that ideal, forces of power in the administration, the government, outside community, have always attempted to censor ideas in the University. But we have seen a trend in the last year or so where those forces have kind of picked up the pace.
>> How is the assault on free speech manifesting itself on campuses today?
>> The most obvious ways are incidents involving speakers that have been invited to campus by student organizations, protesters often involving students, but also also involving people from outside the community, have attempted to shut down the speaker, instead of giving the country point of view, they attempt to shut them down, or in some cases, physically assaulting the speaker, one of the most noteworthy cases was Charles Murray at Middlebury College, a faculty member that was escorting him was physically assaulted, Milo Yiannopoulis at Berkeley, and the federal society at Lewis and Clark, there was a shutdown attempt from a speech.
>> The center for ethics, economics and public policy takes on the free-speech debate Friday, there will be two speakers who come at the issue from different angles, tell us about them?
>> Two speakers, one of whom is Stanley Fish, a noted literary critic at Florida international University, and he is sort of a free speech skeptic, which is not to say that he doesn't think it has value at all, but he doesn't think it is the highest value in the universe, he things universities are institutes with a mission dedicated to the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge, and free-speech can often go hand-in-hand with that higher mission, but sometimes they come into conflict, so sometimes you might have a faculty member who is using their classroom as a kind of bully pulpit to indoctrinate their students, that is free-speech, but is the kind that doesn't have anything to do with the pursuit of knowledge, and you might say the same thing about someone like Milo, it doesn't look like he is there to advance the quest for knowledge, it looks like he is there to provoke orbs that people, and to mock people. Speech absolutist, it would take that stand as well?
>> That's right, a gentleman named Greg Lukianov, an attorney, and in the foundation for rights in education, he says yes, we should be relatively absolute list -- absolutist, about free speech, because it is really hard to discern in advance what kind of speech is going to be useful in the advance of knowledge, and we are subject to all kind of biases in doing so, the people who are making the calls about what kind of speech is permissible, and what kind of speeches and, they have their own agenda, so he probably finds Milo as offensive, but he says there is a place in defending it, because all in all, we are better protecting some speech then getting some individuals power to choose which one is legitimate and not.
>> USD made headlines from this inviting a theologian -- dis-inviting a theologian, because of her stance on gay marriage, doesn't that fly in the face of what you're talking about?
>> Yes that was controversial, and one that except -- upset a lot of faculty members, a lot of them thought that since the invitation had already been extended, we already knew what reviews were prior to issuing the extension, the invitation, that it is a bad move to resend it, and one that is not in keeping with the overall values of the University, and promoting expression, and a lot of people works -- upset at the time, things of change, taking issues of seriously, and the center is a big part of that, a big part is to bring in faculty members with different views about important public policy issues of the day, and present them to students in a way that allows them to make up their own minds.
>> This is just one of a series of those talks and debates that you're having at the center?
>> That is right, debates in the past on issues of immigration, on the $15 minimum wage law, and in the process of planning next year's debates right now, one of which is likely to be on gun control.
>> I have been speaking with Matthew Zwelinsky, professor of philosophy at San Diego University.

>>> The debate on is free-speech under threat on American college campuses takes place this Friday afternoon at four clock, on campus, at the Institute for peace and justice.