Later in the debate, during a back and forth with Wendy Kaminer, who was arguing that free speech is threatened on campus, Harper said:
Wendy, it could be that maybe we're talking to completely different students and hearing completely different things, because quite honestly, when we have students in our studies who are talking with us about the realities of race on their campuses… when we hear students of color unpack these painful stories and these microaggressions and stereotypes and other things that have happened to them, we ask them, ‘What is it that you want the institution to do?’ Never once, not once have I heard them say anything about a speech code.
I don’t doubt Harper's account of his own research.
But I fail to understand how any scholar who takes the campus climate and last semester’s protests as a core focus of their research could miss student demands to punish speech. The Wall Street Journal reported on a survey of 800 college students that found 51 percent favored speech codes. Yale protestors formally demanded the removal of two professors from their jobs in residential life because they were upset by an email one of them wrote. Missouri law students passed a speech code that Above the Law called Orwellian. Amherst students called for a speech code so broad that it would’ve sanctioned students for making an “All Lives Matter” poster.
At Duke, student activists demanded disciplinary sanctions for students who attend “culturally insensitive” parties, mandatory implicit-bias training for all professors, and loss of the possibility of tenure if a faculty member engages in speech “if the discriminatory attitudes behind the speech,” as determined by an unnamed adjudicator, “could potentially harm the academic achievements of students of color.”
At Emory, student activists demanded that student evaluations include a field to report a faculty member’s micro aggressions to help ensure that there are repercussions or sanctions, and that the social network Yik Yak be banished from campus.
Activists at Wesleyan trashed their student newspaper then pushed to get it defunded because they disagreed with an op-ed that criticized Black Lives Matter. Dartmouth University students demanded the expulsion of fraternities that throw parties deemed racist and the forced a student newspaper to change its name.
Need I go on?
Harper’s ally in the debate, the Yale philosophy Professor Jason Stanley, didn’t perform any better. During portions the event, he claimed that folks on the other side, who say free speech is under threat, aren’t really engaged in a debate about free speech––he said the real debate is about racism and anti-racism and about leftism. In this telling, free speech is being invoked as a cover, in service of less-sympathetic agendas.
That grossly distorted the positions taken by his opponents at the Intelligence Squared debate. And the broader claim about free-speech defenders—which is lamentably common in public discourse on the subject—can be refuted a dozen different ways. Here’s one: Many college newspapers are struggling with free-speech issues that have nothing to do with race or leftism, as David Wheeler reported.