Undergraduate Editors, Writers, Probe Limits of Free Speech, Race Relations

Glenn Ricketts

1. Freedom of speech and the merits of hate crimes laws engaged a significant number of collegiate reporters and editorialists recently, notwithstanding the ongoing presidential race and external events in the Middle East. The results were surprisingly mixed, at least if you were expecting an impassioned phalanx of collegiate journalists defending the freedom of speech and press that enables them to publish without fear of reprisal.  Many did, of course, but others – as seems increasingly to be the case –suggested various limits to the idea that you probably wouldn’t expect to encounter in academic venues.  This writer at the Minnesota Daily, for example, is an American cultural norm that is not shared in other parts of the world, especially in the Middle East.  But a colleague at the Stanford Daily thinks it’s very dangerous to make the exercise of our bedrock freedoms contingent on the approval of anyone elsewhere, especially violent mobs in other countries. Over at the University Daily Kansan, a colleague attempts to identify useful ways of exercising free speech on campus, as opposed to others that are not only ineffective they’re actually disruptive. A much snarkier columnist at the LSU Reveille attempts to do the same thing: he doesn’t propose limits but points to some problems, at least as he sees it. Similarly, a staffer at the University of Houston’s Daily Cougar defends free speech, but also asserts that it comes at a price.   Others, such as the editorial board of the GWU Hatchet, decried the unnoticed, creeping censorship that increasingly threatens freedom of the press on many college campuses, while a pro-Palestinian student group at UC Berkeley suggested in the Daily Californian that a bill condemning Anti-Semitism under consideration by the state legislature posed a major threat to campus freedom of speech.    A heated comments thread ensued, with several posters suggesting that free speech was actually a secondary issue.  Elsewhere, defenders of free speech practiced it robustly, rather than simply talking about it:  at the Daily Illini, a member of the campus Secular Student Alliance urges everyone to whoop it up on International Blasphemy Sunday (although not everyone was thrilled); at the University of Minnesota, Campus Atheists, Secularists and Humanists had a good time sponsoring Everybody Draw Mohammad Day.  As a guest columnist explains in the Daily Nebraskan, freedom of speech does indeed protect incorrect and patently offensive ideas.  He thinks that’s a small price to pay. 

Race relations and hate crimes statutes, which often intersect with free speech issues were also on the agenda for a number of editorial boards and columnists, and the editors of the Oklahoma Daily first explained to their readers why such laws were necessary, secondly why they did not constitute thought control as critics allege. Anyway, whatever you think of statutory prohibitions of “hate,” a number of campus journalists believe that it’s on the rise everywhere.  If you have doubts, a regular op ed writer for the LSU Daily Reveille suggests that you remember last summer’s shootings at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin by a self-proclaimed white supremacist.  For a staff columnist at the KSU Daily Collegian, that episode is of a piece with an increasingly bitter hostility toward Muslims that’s sweeping the country. That’s also the opinion of a guest columnist writing in the Daily Nebraskan, who argues that it may be necessary to regulate certain types of “hate” speech, given its influence on American perception. If want further confirmation, just consider the inflammatory anti-Muslim remarks recently made by Congresswoman Michelle Bachman, for which the editors of the Minnesota Daily think she should apologize. And while the editors of the Auburn Plainsman condemn the recent violence in the Middle East, they emphasize that the perpetrators certainly don’t typify most Muslims.  And their counterparts at the Daily Nebraskan laud a recent column exposing the hate on campus of which many students are probably unaware.  

The subject of race relations generated varied commentary, apart from hate crimes or racism.  One columnist in the Daily Mississippian offered some thoughtful reflections on the 50th anniversary of James Meredith’s enrollment at Ole Miss in 1962, thus ending the school’s long-time racial exclusion: how things were then, how they’ve changed, where they’re going.  A colleague at the KSU Collegian thinks that we still have far to go, citing the persistent racial segregation in America’s schools, notwithstanding the best efforts of the civil rights movement.  But a staffer for The Dartmouth argues that the dogged pursuit of race-based “diversity” policies carries an increasingly heavy price, and makes some suggestions for change.  Meanwhile, a writer for the Independent Daily Alligator was really put off by First Lady Michelle Obama’s race-based campaign pitch during a recent speech on campus, another at the U of Washington-Seattle Daily discusses race portrayals in the media, and in the Michigan Daily, a self-designated member of a minority group explains why he’d like to be something other than a spokesman for it. 

2. Presidential race and national politics: A one-time supporter of Barack Obama throws up his hands in the UW/Madison Daily Cardinal, since the president and challenger Mitt Romney look increasingly to him like Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee. But at the Arizona Daily Wildcat, a news editor argues that college students have a solemn obligation to vote, since they can make a real difference by doing so.  At the Yale Daily News and the University of Georgia’s Red and Black, two political analysts conclude here and here that Mitt Romney’s performance in the first presidential debate has changed the election’s dynamic dramatically. But a colleague at the UCLA Daily Bruin thinks the debate would have been much better if Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson had been invited.  The president of the U of I Urbana-Champaign explains to readers of the Daily Illini that he really doesn’t like Mitt Romney, no way no how, and gets some pretty heavy flak in response.  On the other hand, a reporter for the OSU Lantern doesn’t think Romney’s wealth ought to be the big deal that some people say it is. We’ve certainly had other rich presidents, some of them much more than Mitt. And if Obama Care is here to stay, an undergraduate political analyst for th U of A’s Crimson Tide warns his contemporaries that they’ll be picking up the hefty tab for it. Finally, a GOP presidential elector and ISU alumna announces to Iowa State Daily readers that she’s resigning, a columnist for the Auburn Plainsman thinks it’s past time to impose congressional term limits, and another at the U of Nevada Las Vegas Rebel Yell notes that national politics is no longer dominated by the old WASP elite, and that’s a very positive development. 

3. International Affairs:  A regular writer for the University of Houston’s Daily Cougar expresses his profound appreciation for a recent pro-American demonstration in Libya; in the Emory Wheel, a guest columnist addresses an open letter to Iranian president Ahmadinejad.  In any case, a Harvard Crimson staffer argues that American preoccupations with radical Islam are distorting our perception:  the real cause of unrest in the Middle East is the stagnant economy.  Maybe so, maybe not, but a faculty guest columnist writing in the Iowa State Daily has no difficulty concluding that the attacks in Libya were the planned, carefully organized work of terrorists. Closer to home, a staff writer for the USC Daily Trojan highlights a pending Supreme Court case, which she hopes will render a decision that bolsters protection of US citizens abroad.  The case arose from a 2011 incident in which a US citizen in Yemen was killed by an American drone.

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