No-Platforming and Safe Spaces: Should Universities Censor More (Or Less) Speech than the Law Requires?
Croatian Political Science Review (December, 2018)
37 Pages Posted: 5 Mar 2019
Date Written: January 1, 2019
How should higher education respond to legally mandated limits on hateful, discriminatory, or provocative speech? Should public universities fortify government rules in the name of equal dignity for vulnerable groups, by imposing even further restrictions of their own? Or should they oppose such restrictions in the name of free speech? Or should they do neither, seeking neither amplification nor repeal, instead simply joining in whatever the government status quo happens to be, as they would do with most other background legal rules? This article advocates the second position: through a brief examination of ‘no-platforming’ and ‘safe space’ polices, it is argued that, within fully-fledged democracies, viewpoint-selective censorship is always indefensible for higher education. Examples are drawn from high-profile controversies involving far-right speakers as well as pro- and anti-Israel speech. Viewpoint-based censorship generates one of two scenarios, neither of which coheres with the mission of higher education. One the one hand, no-platformers’ declared principles could never be applied with ethical coherence without becoming so broad as to require massive censorship. On the other hand, if those principles are to apply only rarely, then they lose internal consistency and become outright ad hoc impositions of campus decision-makers’ own political preferences.
Keywords: free speech, First Amendment, racism, discrimination, higher education
JEL Classification: Z19
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation