Tag Archives: academia

Oklahoma frat boys and free speech

Tonight, a political rant, but this time I’m going after many of my fellow liberals: I’m against the expulsion of University of Oklahoma students involved in the recent racist video. I’m not defending these guys. (And I think the closing of their frat house is another matter; one could make a case for it based on nondiscrimination laws.)

What I’m talking about is the expression of ideas, good or bad. There’s an important reason to support free speech as a principle, and not just when we agree with the content, and this reason is amply illustrated by history: Once people get used to prohibiting speech they find offensive, they soon ban the defense of many good ideas and the criticism of many bad ones.

Speech codes have no place at a university. Aside from libel and threats of violence, the only rule should be, “If you say it, you will be called upon to defend it.” Open prejudice is its own worst enemy.

Do you want to be an outsider? (Walden 15)

“The success of great scholars and thinkers is commonly a courtier-like success, not kingly, not manly. They make shift to live merely by conformity, practically as their fathers did, and are in no sense the progenitors of a noble race of men.”

Thoreau has long been part of the canon of Great American Writers, meaning that generations of scholars, some great, have read, taught, and been influenced by him. Do they see themselves in this description? To what extent does respectability involve either: 1) sucking up to those in power; or, 2) being dead long enough that you’re no longer perceived as a threat? Continue reading