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Stanley Fish on the Tufts Case Involving Blasphemous Speech and Harshly Anti-Affirmative-Action Speech:

From the Tufts Daily:

When distinguishing offensive from harassing content, some experts brought up the Hustler Magazine v. Falwell case. In this 1988 Supreme Court decision, prominent evangelist Jerry Falwell sued the racy Hustler magazine for running a parody liquor ad about him having drunken sex with his mother in an outhouse. Falwell sued for libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress, but the Court ruled 8-0 in the magazine's favor, upholding its right to publish the parody.

"The Falwell case makes the point that satire, joking and caricature are part of the free flow of ideas in a democratic society," said Stanley Fish, who writes the "Think Again" blog for the New York Times on education, politics and society. He is a professor of law at Miami's Florida International University and dean emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

"Presumably, some people in the university who are members of minority groups would have felt insulted," he said of responses to the Source articles. "But being insulted doesn't mean you have any legal redress against those who have offended you."

To this extent, he said that the administration should not have even denounced the carol, as it did immediately after its publication.

"They're saying, 'We're good hearted. We're good people. We're on the right side, even though by law we cannot penalize them,'" he said. "[But] the university is not in the business ... of policing the views or sentiments of its students. That's not what it's supposed to doing. It's supposed to be delivering instruction and equipping them with the analytical tools necessary to perform research."

I don't share Fish's view that the University shouldn't have denounced the anti-affirmative-action carol, which struck me as cruel, offensive, and exaggerated in a context where such exaggeration is rude. It seems to me quite proper that leading members of a community, such as university administrators, would speak up against such rudeness and in defense of those who were being insulted.

But I'm glad to hear that Fish is apparently criticizing the disciplinary action against the student newspaper. I'm not sure how this fits into Fish's complex views about free speech (see, for instance, the closing paragraphs of this interview). But I'm pleased to hear his current position (and his willingness to speak based on it), whether it is consistent with his past views or is a departure from those views.

Elliot123 (mail):
There is nothing at all wrong with denouncing any view presented at a university. However, I question why the University itself must adopt that role. Aren't there enough other voices in the university capable of the handling the job? I wonder if official pronouncements by the corporate University actual stifle what might otherwise be a lively dialog?
5.23.2007 4:05pm
theobromophile (www):
Ah, my alma mater is at it again!


It seems to me quite proper that leading members of a community, such as university administrators, would speak up against such rudeness and in defense of those who were being insulted.


Ditto that. The administration, as I recall, responded by stating that every Tufts student was affirmatively admitted to add to the Tufts environment; race is but one of many measures used to create a diverse class. Ergo, the focus on race did not even comport with reality of admissions or the Tufts community.

There is no such defence against the Muslim piece.

Ironically, about six years ago, the EIC of the Primary Source was assaulted by three left-leaning students. The administration dismissed the assault charges against them (despite a determination of guilt) and ultimately determined that they were guilty only of harassment. (Not sure if this has been mentioned on Volokh before.) Ergo, assault and exercise of free speech rights results in the same punishment.

The double standard extends to speech as well. In the 2000-2001 academic year, left-leaning students protested at the annual Fares Lecture Series, denouncing Colin Powell as a murderer. Such was allowed under "free speech" rights. Likewise, two years later, when the former President Bush spoke, protests and direct insults were shrugged off as being a part of First Amendment rights.

If Tufts were a campus that promoted civility, occasionally at the expense of academic freedom, the administration's reaction to both the carol and the recent Muslim piece would be understandable. (Such a university may draw the ire of libertarians and free-speech advocates, but, like a religiously-affiliated college, would provide a unique environment for those who desire it.) Tufts does not hold itself out as a university that is primarily concerned with civility; it is, proudly, a place for activists and opinionated, passionate students. This selective enforcement, though, is farcical. It's not that First Amendment rights are universally checked at the door; it's that First Amendment rights only apply to certain students.
5.23.2007 4:50pm
ed o:
yes, it cruelly shined a light on academic practices which have lost in popular votes whenever they have been put on the ballot. you can't be honest on the issue-it is cruel and rude.
5.23.2007 5:09pm
r78:
How can you think that anything that Fish has to say could possible be worth listening to?

He is a complete and utter fraud.
5.23.2007 6:37pm
wooga:
r78, even a broken clock is right twice a day. Regardless of Fish's other opinions, past history, or bodily hygiene, he is correct here to criticize the university's actions.

Do you have anything substantive to say about the post, or are you incapable of formulating a critique aside from excrement flinging?
5.23.2007 7:45pm
k parker (mail):

But I'm pleased to hear his current position
But if not, you probably wouldn't have to wait long for him to change his take once again...
5.23.2007 7:50pm
k parker (mail):
As a bit of preemptive defense of myself and r78, can I just object to the old "broken-clock-is-right-twice-a-day" saw? I would think the significant fact in the broken-clock case isn't that it's occasionally right, but rather that, even granted that it is, without reference to some other known-good clock you can't tell what those two time are!

In other words, just knowing that Fish is occasionally on the mark does nothing to help us know if this is one of the rare occasions. Instead, if we know he's right because of his concurrance with someone else, why don't we just listen to that someone else?

Or, in other words, what r78 said. :-)
5.23.2007 7:58pm
neurodoc:
"Presumably, some people in the university who are members of minority groups would have felt insulted," he said of responses to the Source articles. "But being insulted doesn't mean you have any legal redress against those who have offended you."

Right, "being insulted doesn't mean you have any legal redress against those who have offended you." But then "being insulted doesn't mean you don't have any legal redress against those who have offended you," especially if you are not a public figure and what is said/written about you is false and not clearly satire.
But since no one was seeking "legal redress" through the courts, of what is the point of Fish's point? And if we accept that "satire, joking and caricature are part of the free flow of ideas in a democratic society," as I do, how does it follow that "satire, joking and caricature" must be met with complete tolerance, if not outright approval, everywhere and at all times "in a democratic society"?

I am always suspicious of what this former president of the Modern Language Association, now professor of law(?!), has to say. If it strikes me as reasonable, I pause to consider it further and assure myself that it is indeed so.

BTW, I was disappointed that the Anti-Defamation League representative was so uncritically approving of the university administration's handling of matters, including presumably its imposition of strictures on the student publication after its critique of Islam.
5.23.2007 11:55pm
John Rosenberg (mail) (www):
The two schools of Fish are a) that his career embodies and even glorifies brazen, unprincipled disingenuousness and b) that he represents sophisticated post-modernism at its finest (or, I suppose, a third school, arguing (c) that there is no significant difference between (a) and (b)).

I have criticized Fish on my blog too many times to link them all or even to summarize them here. Anyone interested in my criticisms can find a few of them here, here, here, and here.

In numerous writings debunking principles, neutral standards, academic freedom ("bunk," he called it once), etc., Fish has breezily admitted — no, trumpeted would be more like it — that he makes no pretense to believing his own arguments, which change to suit his changing purposes. Thus, as I argued here,
Why spend time on the arguments of someone who has announced in advance that he doens't necessarily believe his own arguments and will say whatever is necessary to win his (temporary) point? No, I don't exaggerate ... [chapters and verses omitted]. But since Fish-y arguments make no pretense to principle or consistency, they do not purport to stand on anything other than Fish's current interests. To criticize Fish for being inconsistent or hypocritical is like criticizing Bill Clinton for being disingenuous: both criticisms make about as much sense as criticizing a skunk for smelling bad.
In his defense, about the best I can say of him (other than that he's obviously smart), as I said here, is that "Fish may be disingenuous, but at least he's honest about it."

I'll conclude by noting that I think Eugene is half right: he's right that Fish's arguments can be evaluated apart from Fish, his epistemology, and his motives, but I believe there is no reason to be "glad to hear" that Fish himself is making even a good argument.
5.24.2007 9:29am
wooga:
I would think the significant fact in the broken-clock case isn't that it's occasionally right, but rather that, even granted that it is, without reference to some other known-good clock you can't tell what those two time are!


Well then the proper criticism would be to point to a correct clock, and explain why that other clock is known to be accurate. Simply saying, "that clock sucks and smelt of elderberries" does not serve to prove that the broken clock is in fact wrong in this instance.

Nobody is citing the broken clock saw for the reason you fear. It is invariably used, as I did, to implicitly point out exactly what you want - that the target (here, r78) has made a logically worthless point. I made no effort to prove Fish right or wrong, as nobody has actually raised an argument critiquing Fish's post in the first place! (Although John R raises a valid side point).

John R's point is well taken, as
5.24.2007 3:11pm