Kudos: Amherst President Defends Free Speech

Oct 08, 2013 |  Glenn Ricketts

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Kudos: Amherst President Defends Free Speech

Oct 08, 2013 | 

Glenn Ricketts

Freedom of speech often has a dicey, precarious existence on contemporary college campuses, where it’s more likely to be grudgingly tolerated than promoted or celebrated.  And the time is long, long  gone when senior administrators, especially presidents, were outspoken defenders of free speech as an integral and indispensable ingredient in the academic enterprise of open and unfettered inquiry.  That could be a bumpy ride, of course, since some people were bound to collide with ideas that affronted or – heaven forbid – offended them.   But you could count on professors and presidents alike to stick to their guns:  instead of taking offense, why not make use of free speech yourself and formulate a counter-argument?  We’ll just as readily go to the mat on your behalf.

But it hasn’t been that way for a very long time.  Instead, as we’ve often reported at this page, freedom of speech and traditional academic freedom are relentlessly embattled on many campuses at the hands of senior administrators, who nowadays take the lead in devising mischievously vague codes prescribing “civility,” regulating sexual misconduct or ferreting out ubiquitous “hate crimes.”   These policies can make it very difficult to discuss or debate an ever-widening range of topics and can carry punitive consequences for those who aren’t careful. Beware of same sex marriage or race relations in particular, although there’s lots more that can get you into big trouble.

Therefore, how refreshing, uplifting, positively inspiring it was to read this ringing defense of free speech and academic freedom by Amherst College’s president, Carolyn A. Martin.  It seems that some alums were more than angered by long-time Amherst professor Hadley Arkes, an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage who regularly publishes journalistic explications of his views on that subject. The incensed alums demanded that Amherst dissociate itself from Arkes’s off-campus pronouncements and further insisted that he should not be permitted to cite his institutional affiliation with the college, which had a responsibility to protect its students from his poisonous influence.

President Martin, although no doubt on the same page as Arkes’s critics, stood firmly and eloquently on the side of his right of free expression:

In times of ongoing debate, it is essential that colleges and universities protect the free exchange of different perspectives, while taking every reasonable measure to protect their communities from discrimination and disrespect…. The distinctive responsibility of colleges and universities is to protect freedom of expression so that the force of argument can help us resolve our hardest problems. The more contentious the issue, the greater the responsibility. As we undertake the exacting work of maintaining an environment on campuses in which freedom and respect are maintained, institutions will need to stand up to pressure from all sides, protecting the hard-won principles of free speech and non-discrimination and sorting out the complicated issues that arise in specific cases. These are the commitments that sustain our ability to foster critical dialogue in society.

Well done, President Martin, that says it all.  I hope your colleagues on other campuses will take heed.

John Greenberg

| October 11, 2013 - 7:55 PM

Glenn Ricketts incorrectly states that “The incensed alums ... further insisted that he should not be permitted to cite his institutional affiliation….”  Below is an edited excerpt from my response to President Martin’s statement:

I start with common ground I share with the President’s statement. In her words: “the principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech protect Professor Arkes’ right to express his views, as an individual, even if the arguments or the manner in which they are made may offend.”  Professor Arkes has a right to speak.

But the College ALSO has free speech rights, and should use them to dissociate itself from intellectually untenable, hate speech.  I agree with Justice Brandeis: “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.” In short, I’m advocating “more speech” and an end to the College’s “enforced silence.”

For that very reason, it is more than a tad ironic to see President Martin argue that “If there are inaccuracies in the work of scholars more and better speech will correct them,” in a statement whose entire purpose is to explain why she REFUSES to any effort to do so in this instance.

I also heartily endorse the principles of academic freedom, as articulated in the AAUP’s 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, to which Amherst College subscribes:  “As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.”

This statement provides four criteria, defining a professor’s responsibilities. Professor Arkes has flagrantly violated three of them:

1) “Hence they should at all times be accurate …” My letters have shown in detail repeated and indisputable violations of this rule in the writings for which we requested a response. 

2) Professors “should exercise appropriate restraint….”  Can anyone truly suggest that comparing a loving, lasting marital relationship to sex with animals, underage children, or corpses is an exercise in “appropriate restraint?”  If so, exactly what would LACK of restraint look like?

3) Professors “should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.”  Professor Arkes NEVER does so, although he is surely aware that the opinions he expresses DIRECTLY contradict the stated INSTITUTIONAL posture of Amherst College.  Indeed, he always does precisely the opposite: he identifies himself with his institutional affiliation and makes no disclaimer.  It is worth noting that Professor Arkes COULD omit his affiliation to the College altogether (he has other affiliations), but I am not aware of any instance of his doing so.

It is unavailing to suggest, as President Martin claims, that Professor Arkes “has done what faculty all over the country do, which is to sign articles with their institutional affiliations, and otherwise to make no claims to represent the views of their colleges or universities.”  It is strikingly odd, to say the least, to see President Martin attempt to equate the phrase “every effort” in the AAUP statement with NO effort.

Indeed, it is precisely this contradiction—- between the way Professor Arkes acts through his writings and the way Amherst College positions itself—- which lies at the heart of my request to the College.  When a professor repeatedly addresses a topic which is within his field of expertise, and therefore knows or SHOULD know that the positions he advocates are in stark distinction to those professed by his institution, the AAUP guideline clearly states that he should say so.  Professor Arkes never does.
Since Professor Arkes has failed to do so, six of us requested that the College do what Johns Hopkins University did in a strikingly similar case: namely, to dissociate itself from his remarks.

Finally, President Martin writes: “… it is also worth noting that references to sex with animals (and the rest) in a piece about same-sex marriage, whatever the intention, can easily have the effect of reinforcing negative stereotypes and feelings about homosexuality, as well as stirring hurt and anger.”  What OTHER effect could these references have?  In particular, is there ANY way that such references could contribute to “civil, intelligent, and carefully reasoned debates” or to “intellectual rigor?”

John Greenberg ’70 (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)) Full statement on request
Marlboro, VT
October 8, 2013

Glenn M. Ricketts

| October 12, 2013 - 5:25 PM

I thank Mr. Greenburg for his response, although I don’t quite understand what he thinks I got wrong.  I’m not sure what he means by the college’s “free speech rights:”  I thought that they applied to institutions, not individuals. As for dissociation, I’m also not sure what he thinks is appropriate.  New York Times columnist Paul Krugman regularly offers political commentary unrelated to his field of economics, but doesn’t attach disclaimers dissociating himself from Princeton University.  Obviously, there’s a vehement disagreement between professor Arkes and Mr. Greenburg over a hotly controversial issue, but I think that President Martin has chosen the best path:  open and unfettered debate.

That’s also the policy at this web site, so we welcome any further commentary from Mr. Greenburg or his colleagues.

Glenn M. Ricketts

| October 12, 2013 - 5:35 PM

Sorry, one small correction in my last post:  I meant to sat that free speech applies to individuals, not institutions.  I inadvertently reversed them

John Greenberg

| October 12, 2013 - 6:08 PM

Responding to Glenn Ricketts:
1) “I don’t quite understand what he thinks I got wrong.”  Let me spell it out, then.  You wrote: “The incensed alums ... further insisted that he should not be permitted to cite his institutional affiliation….”  Actually, no one, to my knowledge, asks him not to cite his affiliation.  Clearly, he’s entitled to do so. If and when he DOES choose to cite it, however, I’ve asked him to note that he doesn’t speak for Amherst College. 

2) Similarly but conversely, free speech rights apply to everyone in our society.  The Chairman of the Board of Amherst College responded to us by saying that “I hope that you saw Biddy Martin’s statement…it speaks for the College.”  Thus, individuals can and do speak for institutions; and both individuals AND institutions have free speech rights.  That’s the principle at the very core of Citizens United, is it not?
3) “As for dissociation, I’m also not sure what he thinks is appropriate.”  Had you read our documents, you would know.  We called for precisely the same kind of response given by Dean Rothman at Johns Hopkins when Professor Carson expressed views remarkably similar to those of Professor Arkes. 
It begins: “Controversial social issues are debated in the media on a regular basis, and yet it is rare that leaders of an academic medical center will join that type of public debate. However, we recognize that tension now exists in our community because hurtful, offensive language was used by our colleague, Dr. Ben Carson, when conveying a personal opinion. Dr. Carson’s comments are inconsistent with the culture of our institution. Johns Hopkins Medicine embraces diversity and believes that the same civil rights should be available to all regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. “The statement continues: “While his recent comments are inconsistent with our core values, Dr. Carson has the right to participate in public debates and media interviews and express his personal opinions on political, social and religious issues. We strongly value freedom of expression and affirm Dr. Carson’s right, as a private citizen, to state his personal views. … It is clear that the fundamental principle of freedom of expression has been placed in conflict with our core values of diversity, inclusion and respect. We are trying to thoughtfully work through these issues … Commitment to diversity, inclusion, and freedom of expression is at the heart of our standing as a world leader in medical care, research and education.” The full statement is posted here: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/stories/rothman_carson.html. Our documents cite this statement repeatedly.
4) Finally, you note: “New York Times columnist Paul Krugman regularly offers political commentary … but doesn’t attach disclaimers dissociating himself from Princeton University.”  When Dr. Krugman does so, he rarely, if ever, identifies himself as a professor at Princeton.  Were Professor Arkes to do the same, I would still disagree vehemently with his views, but I would not be demanding that Amherst College dissociate itself from the opinions he expresses.

Glenn M. Ricketts

| October 13, 2013 - 7:41 PM

I guess I’m still confused.  I agree that President Maritn has the same free speech rights that we all have.  I think, however, that you confuse the issue when you refer to her statement on Amherst’s free speech policies.  There she is speaking in her official capacity as the college’s CEO, in this case endorsed by the trustees.  That, however is basically an employer/employee relationship, isn’t it?  Her First Amendment rights would not entitle her to publicly contradict the board’s policies on this or any other matter, since she works for them annd speaks for them, which may different from what she thinks or says as a private individual.  If you’re a department store employee, and the store has embargoed a new sales strategy intended to scoop the competition, the First Amendment doesn’t protect you if you divulge that information prior to the target date and your employer fires you as a result.

Obviously, it hasn’t come to anything like that between President Martin and Amherst’s board, but I think there’s a crucial distinction that your most recent post confuses.  When professor Arkes -as do scores of other academics - moomlights as a journalist, he obviously speaks for himself, not for Amherst, and I don’t see that anyone would think otherwise.  Similarly, I don’t think it was necessary for the administration at Johns Hopkins to respond as it did, since I can’t see that anyone off campus thought that he spoke for anyone other than himself.  So it is also with Professor Arkes.

John Greenberg

| October 13, 2013 - 10:28 PM


I understand the distinction you’re making between Biddy Martin, speaking for herself, and President Biddy Martin, speaking for the institution.  But it has no relevance here as it pertains to HER speech.

Let me be clear.  I’m NOT asking President Martin to contradict any policies of Amherst College. I’m asking Amherst College to uphold its OWN oft-stated policies, which her statement quotes at some length. 

The Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Cullen Murphy, made it clear in his response to me that President Martin speaks for the College, which is totally unsurprising. 

So that means that I’m asking BOTH President Martin AND the Board of Trustees to break the silence that until they’ve maintained under the guise of respecting Professor Arkes’ free speech rights and his academic freedom, and to acknowledge that Professor Arkes flagrantly violates the fundamental criteria of the very policy of academic freedom to which the College subscribes. 

Specifically, I’m asking that they (the trustees AND President Martin) re-affirm the College’s commitment to its stated policies of diversity and respect for others by dissociating the institution from Professor Arkes’ intemperate and inaccurate statements.  Doing so, I’ve argued above, would constitute an instance of the College using its OWN right to free speech to counter the hateful speech of Professor Arkes.

As to your second point, when Professor Arkes, in your words, “moonlights as a journalist,” he has a choice.  He can identify himself, for example, as one of the founding members of the Committee for the American Founding.  Or as a Senior Fellow of the Claremont Institute.  Or as a member of the Advisory Council of First Things. Or, for that matter, as a moonlighting journalist.  No one puts a gun to his head and requires him to identify himself as the Edward N. Ney Professor of Jurisprudence and American Institutions professor at Amherst College, yet he regularly chooses to list just that affiliation.  As noted in my previous comment, he has every right to do so.

However, when he does so while expressing opinions which he KNOWS or SHOULD KNOW expressly contradict those of his employer (since, unlike Paul Krugman as you pointed out previously, he writes IN his field of expertise), I’m asking him to say so.  It’s hardly an onerous request.  In fact, it’s a disclaimer one sees quite frequently. “The views expressed by so-and-so are his/her own and do not reflect …” We’ve all seen it.

Ironically, the very distinction which you are at pains to make for President Martin – for whom it is irrelevant since her views DO represent those of the College— is precisely the heart of the controversy in the case of Professor Arkes, whose speech directly contradicts stated College policies.  Since Professor Arkes chooses to remain silent on this point, I am asking the College to break ITS silence.  Dozens of other alumni have now joined this request.

As to the Johns Hopkins statement and why it was needed, you’re entitled to your opinion.  For reasons I hope I’ve made clear already, I don’t share it.

Glenn M. Ricketts

| October 14, 2013 - 7:30 AM

John, thank you first of all for the spirited and reasoned exchange, it’s what NAS seeks to promote.  I hope you’ll continue to visit this page and contribute comments as you’ve done here.

I should also note that the First Amendment doesn’t really apply here, since Amherst is a private college and may, if it chooses, impose policies or restrictions on faculty annd administrators - as religious institutions do - which public institutions may not.  I wonder if everyone att Amherst construes “diversity” in the same way that you do?  Certainly Amherst is free to do what you’ve argued for here.

But in an era when, as I noted in my post, other schools have imposed ever broader annd encroaching speech codes, we were more than gratified to see President Martin’s affirmation of free speech in the manner that she did.  We do indeed disagree, and my hope is that we both remain free to do so.  Amherst’s decision bolsters that hope.

John Greenberg

| October 14, 2013 - 3:45 PM

You ask: ” I wonder if everyone at Amherst construes “diversity” in the same way that you do?” 

I can’t speak definitively, since I don’t represent the College, nor have I surveyed the entire Amherst College community. 

On the other hand, what I can tell you is that in all of the correspondence and personal contact I’ve had, including a 3+ hour meeting with President Martin, much of which included 2 deans and several students, and in other meetings, emails, listserv conversations, etc. my impression is that there is NO disagreement about how “diversity” is to be construed. 

In consequence, I believe the answer to your question is “yes, they do.”

george seaver

| October 19, 2013 - 12:26 PM

Mr. Greenberg’s particular use of the terms diversity and hatespeech repudiates those who accept cultural evolution and religion, the latter going back to the Bacchanalia of 186 BC. His view is, in fact, a new creationism.

John Greenberg

| October 19, 2013 - 3:05 PM

Goerge Seaver refers to “Mr. Greenberg’s particular use of the terms diversity and hatespeech”  I borrowed the term “diversity” from Dean Paul Rothman, who uses it several times in referring to his institution’s policies in a passage I quoted. 

In like vein, the Amherst College Board of Trustees issued a Statement of Diversity in 1996.  The College also has an Office of Diversity and Inclusion and its admission office hosts two “Diversity Open Houses (DIVOH) in the fall.”  In short, this is Amherst’s and Hopkins’ term, not mine.

The term hate speech, on the other hand, is mine. I used it as defined here -http://www.americanbar.org/groups/public_education/initiatives_awards/students_in_action/debate_hate.html—for example: “Hate speech is speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.”  The passages quoted from the writings of Professor Arkes clearly qualify for the label.

What Mr. Seaver means by the rest of his remarks is unclear, especially how my comments here have anything whatsoever to do with “a new creationism” or the Bacchinalia of 186 B.C.