“University of California Jewish Student Campus Climate Fact-Finding Team” Calls for Banning “Hate Speech”

Fortunately, it appears that UC President Mark Yudof — a noted First Amendment scholar — is not going along with this. Here’s the relevant passage, which the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education rightly condemns:

2) UC should adopt a hate speech-free campus policy.

While many campuses have adopted hate-free campaigns or issued commitments affirming the free and open exchange of ideas while maintaining a civil and supportive community, UC does not have a hate-free policy that allows the campus to prevent well-known bigoted and hate organizations from speaking on campus (aside for time, place, and manner provisions), such as the KKK. UC should push its current harassment and nondiscrimination provisions further, clearly define hate speech in its guidelines, and seek opportunities to prohibit hate speech on campus. The President should request that General Counsel examine opportunities to develop policies that give campus administrators authority to prohibit such activities on campus. The Team recognizes that changes to UC hate speech policies may result in legal challenge, but offer that UC accept the challenge.

Now I’m pretty sure that attempts by the KKK to organize speeches on UC campuses are very rare. But of course if the KKK did show up, I’m pretty sure that the effect would be more of an outpouring of support for Jewish and non-white students, through university officials’ and student groups’ uniformly condemning the speakers, counterdemonstrating, and the like. Indeed, a university campus is a place where counterspeech is especially likely to be effective in combating such overwhelmingly condemned evil speech, both intellectually (in the sense of providing a persuasive response, if any is likely to be required) and emotionally (in the sense of making the targets of the speech feel welcome and valued on campus).

But of course this isn’t about the KKK: It’s about what the authors view as speech that is morally tantamount to the KKK’s, but that nonetheless enjoy enough support that it’s more likely to be heard on campus and less likely to be sufficiently condemned for the authors’ tastes. Indeed, one of the coauthors of the report apparently made this clear in an interview, according to the San Francisco Chronicle:

The report points to anti-Israel protests … where activists erect “apartheid walls” to simulate the West Bank barrier, portray Palestinians being killed by Israeli soldiers, distribute flyers accusing Israel of genocide or combine a swastika with the Star of David.

Such protests hurt students because they are “devoid of context, with the unmistakable message that Israelis/Jews are carrying out a unilateral campaign of violence directed against innocent Palestinians,” the report says.

To address the problem, Barton and Huffman recommend banning hate speech, perhaps banning campus sponsorship of “unbalanced and/or biased events,” and requiring everyone to take “cultural competency training.”

“The team recognizes that changes to UC hate speech policies may result in a legal challenge, but offers that UC accept the challenge,” the report says.

In an interview, Barton likened the situation to “allowing the Klan to walk around campuses and say things about black people.”

It’s not really about the Klan — it’s about militant anti-Israel speech, with possible (though disputed) anti-Semitic overtones. And this is speech which does happen, which doesn’t generally lead to wide condemnation and counterprotests. The call for suppression by university, it seems to me, stems precisely from the fact that this speech isn’t suppressed by social pressure (since it’s not as widely condemned on campuses as KKK speech). And it’s a reminder that however narrow and extreme the poster children for calls for suppression might be, the actual suppression is targeted at a considerably broader potential category.

And that’s just the target. The actual impact of the proposal, of course, wouldn’t be limited to what groups worried about anti-Israel speech and anti-Semitic speech see as sufficiently morally similar to the Klan; it would include whatever other groups — and the administrators they persuade or pressure — see as sufficiently morally similar. The whole range of what some people (especially those on the Left, since they are the ones most likely to get the ear of UC administrators) call “hate speech” would become vulnerable to suppression. Harsh condemnation of Islam, condemnation of pro-Palestinian violence, arguments against homosexuality or same-sex marriage, calls for crackdowns on illegal immigration, condemnation of abortion, and more: All these could potentially be covered by a “prohibit[ion]” of “hate speech on campus.”

Naturally, just what will or will not be covered depends on how the famously vague term “hate speech” is defined — or not defined. Unsurprisingly, the proposed report relies on this amorphous term without offering a definition. But all the definitions I’ve seen before are either so narrow that they simply track existing prohibitions (such as on threats), so broad that they could easily cover much of the speech I mention, or, most commonly, so vague that they leave the decision of which viewpoints will be suppressed up to the ideological predispositions of administrators (or the political pressure put on administrators).

So I’m sorry that “fact-finding team” members — the National Education Chair of the Anti-Defamation League (Richard D. Barton) and the head of the California NAACP (Alice Huffman) — suggested such an improper and unconstitutional speech restriction, and I’m glad that President Yudof appears to be resisting it.