David Koch And The WGBH Controversy: Pledging Allegiance To The Flag Of The Day

A contretemps currently taking place at Boston’s public broadcasting network WGBH is one of the more recent examples of pressure applied by interest groups to enforce ideological conformity. This latest such controversy involves billionaire industrialist and philanthropist David Koch, who sits on the WGBH board. Climate change activists are calling for his dismissal from that post. Without any evidence that Koch – who donates generously to the station – has attempted to influence, much less actually influenced and corrupted the network’s programming, these voices believe that he has no place serving as a board member on account of his minority-held views on the nature of climate shift. A loud and very public campaign, including picket lines outside of the network’s headquarters in Boston, is taking place.


In my recent piece for Forbes.com, I explain the stunted logic of this kind of campaign. Citing Justice Robert Jackson’s famous and moving 1943 Supreme Court opinion in the West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette case, I remind those intolerant of Koch’s role in the public arena that unpopular opinions must be protected against the majority-held or “official” view of the day, particularly with regards to issues as important to all of us as the health of our planet. I invite you to read the full column here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/harveysilverglate/2013/11/15/david-koch-and-the-wgbh-controversy-pledging-allegiance-to-the-flag-of-the-day/.
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Campus Censorship Breeds Societal Dysfunction

Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (or FIRE, whose board of directors I chair), has written a remarkable and groundbreaking new book: Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate. In it, he posits that pervasive censorship and disregard for due process on our nation’s campuses have disrupted the gears and self-correcting mechanisms essential for the functioning of our free society. In my latest Forbes.com column, I explain how the mindless totalitarianism that befouls the vast majority of our college campuses helps explain some of the injustices of our legal system. The degradation of important social and legal institutions begins somewhere, and I agree with Lukianoff that a lot of our problems start with what is happening in our sadly degenerated system of higher education.

You can find the piece on my Forbes.com Injustice Department blog.
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Greg Lukianoff in the Washington Post: Clear Campus Rules Needed on Harassment

I started the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education because of a trend I began to detect in the 1980’s; initially often well-meaning attempts to make campuses more welcoming were leading to a watering-down of free speech and academic freedom at our universities. “Political correctness”—the convention that makes equivocation and dishonesty de rigeur for a “polite” and “comfortable” environment—became the norm.

Today, Greg Lukianoff, the President of FIRE, published an op-ed in the Washington Post. In his piece, he describes the history of university infringements on freedom of speech, and points to the growing use of spurious and at times outlandish claims of “harassment” to censor students. Lukianoff calls for far clearer, and more just, campus harassment rules, in order to provide an environment of real academic discourse and inquiry.

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'Major' free speech flap at Suffolk Law

On Veterans Day this year, Suffolk University Law professor Michael Avery generated controversy with an e-mail to fellow faculty members criticizing a care-packages-for-the-troops drive at the law school. Avery’s words upset many in the community, including an adjunct faculty member currently serving in Afghanistan, Major Robert Roughsedge.  Maj. Roughsedge was so incensed by the comments—and especially by Suffolk’s refusal to fire and/or censure Avery for them—that he resigned. Maj. Roughsedge won considerable editorial support for his position.

In our column, an excerpt of which is after the jump, Daniel Schwartz and I  argue that Major Roughsedge’s critique and resignation—far from a reasonable response to professor Avery’s e-mail—represented something we see far too often in academia, albeit more often on the speech-intolerant Left: the attempt to punish while failing to engage uncomfortable speech. Instead of debating with Professor Avery, Major Roughsedge accused Avery of spewing “hate speech,” and then Roughsedge quit the academy when Avery wasn’t fired.

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Avatar: "Four letter words in Chaucer's day"

In  1970 the so-called “counter-cultural” movement was at its height, and the law firm of Flym, Zalkind & Silverglate was in the eye of the storm. During the prior year, city and court officials in both Boston (Suffolk County) and Cambridge (Middlesex County) took aim at the Avatar, a new, upstart “alternative” newspaper that had thundered onto the local scene. The Avatarwas published by the fledgling Fort Hill Community, a family of folks living together in several buildings located at the top of the Fort Hill section of Boston, the second highest point in the city. At the time the group was led by Mel Lyman, a charismatic and talented harmonica player who had previously played in the famous Jim Kweskin’s Jug Band.

Avatar was a spirited, audacious, and in-your-face newspaper. It belonged squarely in the avant-garde tradition, and was not terribly respectful of established authority. During the course of several issues, it carried news and opinion columns criticizing the powers-that-be, including the Boston and Cambridge municipal councils and police departments, and even some of the district court judges who, in those days, operated like lords of the manor, unquestioned dictators in their own local fiefdoms, in courts where there were neither stenographers nor tape recorders. None of those in power appreciated the jabs directed at them by the writers of the Avatar.

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