Author Topic: Suppression of Free Speech in Academia  (Read 8598 times)

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Offline Ultimate Paragon

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Suppression of Free Speech in Academia
« on: November 22, 2015, 11:29:15 pm »
I think a thread on this is long overdue.  I recently found out that Columbia University removed Ovid's Metamorphoses from its syllabus, on the grounds that it was "problematic" and "triggering."

Remember when student activists fought for freedom?  Mario Savio is spinning in his grave.

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Re: Suppression of Free Speech in Academia
« Reply #1 on: November 22, 2015, 11:38:40 pm »
A university choosing not to cover a certain ancient book of poetry in its syllabus is not the same thing as free speech being suppressed. Self-editing is not the same as censorship. Learn this concept already.

Offline guizonde

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Re: Suppression of Free Speech in Academia
« Reply #2 on: November 23, 2015, 12:04:11 am »
A university choosing not to cover a certain ancient book of poetry in its syllabus is not the same thing as free speech being suppressed. Self-editing is not the same as censorship. Learn this concept already.

it depends on the reasoning behind the removal. if what ultie says is true, then, yeah, that's a problem. the metamorphoses are basically a rape-fest. along with more choice immorality. and that's why we love it. if someone says "that's unethical to swans", or "this is triggering me", then by all means, put the book down and walk away. it's allegorical, but it can shock (don't get me started on voltaire's candide). but don't censor it out of the syllabus for those reasons, because then yes it does violate free speech to a degree.

if the university is slashing it because it thinks the lesson is not relevant, then it's not censure. it's called changing the program to better fit its needs.
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Re: Suppression of Free Speech in Academia
« Reply #3 on: November 23, 2015, 12:21:44 am »
It... really doesn't violate free speech in the slightest. The book itself isn't being censored. One university has chosen not to cover it because of its rapey-ness. The university itself has chosen to alter the syllabus. Other universities can still cover the book. The capacity of the students to read the book on their own time has not been diminished. One Target store in Australia pulling GTA V off its shelves wasn't censorship, neither is this.

If this is censorship, then the exclusion of every single other book that is not covered is also censorship. But that's not true, because that would be an asinine leap of logic.


Offline Sigmaleph

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Re: Suppression of Free Speech in Academia
« Reply #4 on: November 23, 2015, 11:36:04 am »
UP, do you have a source? Googling it only yields discussion of students requesting trigger warnings, based on the case of a sexual assault survivor who was triggered by discussions of rape in the work.

Which seems like a perfectly acceptable thing to ask, to be honest. (I continue to hold that ideally you'd want a system for students contacting professors ahead of time mentioning their triggers so they can know ahead of time what parts of the syllabus they need to be warned about, because you can't anticipate every trigger, though rape is a common enough one that if there's a such a thing as a default trigger list it definitely belongs there).
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Offline Ultimate Paragon

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Offline Sigmaleph

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Re: Suppression of Free Speech in Academia
« Reply #6 on: November 23, 2015, 06:19:16 pm »
Thanks. That was a one-sentence mention in the middle of an unrelated article so I thought the author maybe was mistaken, but then I found independent confirmation that Metamorphoses was removed. Except...

Quote
In fact, though debate raged between students and faculty all year, an administrator told The Wall Street Journal that imposing trigger warnings wasn't even part of the official discussion, as they could threaten "intellectual freedom."

“At no point did [we] consider trigger warnings as being something that could be productively or intellectually mandated, or made structural,” Julie Crawford, chairwoman of Columbia College’s literature humanities department, told the Journal.

Columbia will be changing some of the required books that some students objected to, including removing Ovid's Metamorphoses and adding Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, but Crawford says it's unrelated to the trigger-warning debate.

It seems like there are two possibilities here:

1) They are telling the truth and removing Metamorphoses had nothing to do with the triggering debate, in which case this is not a social justice issue but just ordinary evolution of the curriculum.

2) They are lying and in fact they removed the book because they didn't want to deal with trigger warnings. In which case... well, fuck them. [warning, everything after this point is speculative and based on the likely but unconfirmed hypothesis that Columbia is lying about this] This is not censorship. This is being an asshole about reasonable accommodations, because, how is intellectual freedom threatened by a warning telling people a book contains something that might shock them? Is it important that college professors be able to shock their students, even at risk of leaving them in no condition to learn?

I don't want to be an asshole about this. I tend to assume people have reasons that make sense to them and it's important to understand them and to be able to see it from their side. But I can't do that here because, if this really is a way to sidestep the trigger warning debate, they are refusing to admit it. They are not giving the reasons for their decision, and so it cannot be evaluated on its merits. That's a threat to intellectual freedom.

And, being as fair as I can here, I can absolutely imagine that the reason they are shoving this under the carpet is because they think their reasons will be deemed problematic and they'll have another fight with the students in their hands and that sucks. I don't like those aspects of social justice and would be happy to get rid of them. Nevertheless, it's kind of ironic that the people championing the "this generation is too coddled! This is not a safe space! Confront what scares you!" line are scared of being honest and confronting the students with their presumably Problematic reasons.
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Offline guizonde

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Re: Suppression of Free Speech in Academia
« Reply #7 on: November 23, 2015, 06:40:12 pm »
i understand your positions, but allow me a slippery slope, please.

we're talking about classical litterature, but if we start getting trigger warnings in there, it'll move on to contemporary litterature. especially the 70's american litterature which is filled with drug abuse, rape, and deviance to try and drive the point home that indeed things are shocking, and as tvtropes puts it "rape is a special kind of evil". i have a problem with that. oh, go ahead and put warnings on the books, i don't mind that. it could very well be useful for someone who fears spoilers, for instance. no, i have a problem with politically correct and trigger culture lording it over university life.

i've come to see the university as a critical thinking laboratory. one where we see the nitty gritty of humanity. (i'll talk about what i know, so i'll be aiming my point towards social sciences and the humanities). history is not politically correct. sociology is not politically correct. psychology is iffy on a good day, and downright problematic on bad ones (especially XIXth century psychology). currently, litterature is taking the brunt of the aggression. what's left? linguistics? the arts? (obvious bait is obvious).

studying the social sciences means studying both the best and the worst of humankind. i fear that starting to nail up everything with warnings will scare off critical thinking and possibly whitewash the fields, leaving them sterile and infertile to new ideas. lobotomies were at one point a real practice, just like the sacking of rome or constantinople were human tragedies with everything looted, raped, and burned, and not necessarily in that order. you cannot study shakespeare without keeping in mind the cultural bias of XVIth century england, one where women were not allowed on stage and young men crossdressed. culture evolves, changes at the same speed as humanity advances. i fear that by warning about the horrors of humanity, you will stifle intellectual freedom by not teaching to go against the grain. i don't want the university to become an echo chamber.

i'd sooner have an opposing viewpoint than a yes-man. at least one challenges current theories.

ok, i've indulged in my slippery slope. perhaps trigger warnings on books is a good thing, and it won't get out of hand, but allow me to be cautiously pessimistic about this.
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Offline Sigmaleph

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Re: Suppression of Free Speech in Academia
« Reply #8 on: November 23, 2015, 07:33:18 pm »
I understand why the end point of the slippery slope sucks, I just... don't think the slope is likely.

The moment social justice types start saying there are subjects we are not allowed to study, I will be fighting them. Is that a thing? Well, yes... but it was a thing before the current evolution of the social justice movement. I don't think there was any point in human history where there weren't taboo subjects that people would raise hell if you tried to look into them. Conservatives have some, liberals have others. I don't think we should take that as an excuse to say "well, if you give the SJW's an inch they'll take a mile, so we better not accede to any of their demands" which is what I suspect is happening.

Because everyone has demands, and almost everyone has topics they want banned.
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Offline guizonde

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Re: Suppression of Free Speech in Academia
« Reply #9 on: November 23, 2015, 08:08:09 pm »
we'll just have to disagree on that point then, for i fear it more than likely. to be clear, though, my thought process goes against all taboo subjects all over the board and spectrum. regarding your last sentence, i'd be of the opinion to let everyone bitch and moan and leave their demands in the dust. knowledge knows no bounds.
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Offline Sigmaleph

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Re: Suppression of Free Speech in Academia
« Reply #10 on: November 23, 2015, 09:12:32 pm »
[if you want to agree to disagree, I'm happy to leave the conversation here. This is just clarifying a point that I don't think came across clearly]

we'll just have to disagree on that point then, for i fear it more than likely. to be clear, though, my thought process goes against all taboo subjects all over the board and spectrum. regarding your last sentence, i'd be of the opinion to let everyone bitch and moan and leave their demands in the dust. knowledge knows no bounds.

I'm with you, when those demands are "stop talking about this subject!". But that's not what I meant.

I mean, sj-types want trigger warnings, and maybe people are afraid to give them that because it's Giving In To The Social Justice Warriors, and if we do that next they'll ask that some topics be banned. And, I dunno, socialists want free education, and conservatives want no government subsidies for universities, and vegans probably want better options in the school cafeteria or something, and so on and so forth.

And you're going to find that some people in all those groups have subjects they want to taboo, and you can always say "well, if we give in to the vegans next they'll say we're not allowed to conduct any research that involving animal testing, so let's not give them their menus in the cafeteria". It's the same argument: do one thing a group wants and you're on a slippery slope to destroying academic freedom.

I'm convinced we can have vegan options in the menu without banning animal research. So I don't think "we can't take the good ideas from social justice because then we are saddled with the bad ideas" is a valid argument. (that trigger warnings are a good idea in themselves is obviously a debatable issue, but I don't think that was your point of disagreement)
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Offline guizonde

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Re: Suppression of Free Speech in Academia
« Reply #11 on: November 23, 2015, 09:50:54 pm »
my only point of disagreement is that i can see this as a loophole for censorship. you've seen i'm on board with most moderate social justice issues, and having vegetarian or vegan meals is ok in my book. not everyone likes fish and meat and dairy. hell, i wished they had a vegetarian option on fridays at my cafeteria (stupid catholic traditions...)

i guess it boils down to the same argument re: your third paragraph, but i was aiming for only academic censoring and since as much as 80% of the humanities could be considered problematic in some way by someone, that's a slippery slope i want to avoid like the plague.

what i'm trying to say is "take the good ideas, but beware the easily abused ones". taking out parts of the corpus due to their problematic nature is too good an opportunity to pass up for all ends of the political spectrum. another thing i'm against is getting politics mixed up in universities. hell, what with the ww1 centennial last year, us historians got bombarded with more political bull in one year than in the past ten combined. the right wing wanted moar soldjaz, the left wanted moar reepublic. what i wanted? the facts. this tangent naturally extends to student unions, syndicates, political organizations, and lobbies.

this is not me wanting to give both sides an advantage, this is me wanting to take no chances with either side. i want the truth, the facts, and for my studies to be as complete as possible. any special interest group i see as a danger.

[i feel we're closer in opinion than our posts come across, but we can't seem to get the ideas written right]
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Re: Suppression of Free Speech in Academia
« Reply #12 on: November 28, 2015, 12:06:35 pm »
Sigmaleph: "Putting WARNING: CONTAINS RAPE on the cover of a book is not censorship."

guizonde: "But we should be allowed to discuss rape in class. University should be about both the best and the worst of humanity."

Have I got it right?
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Offline guizonde

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Re: Suppression of Free Speech in Academia
« Reply #13 on: November 28, 2015, 01:34:36 pm »
Sigmaleph: "Putting WARNING: CONTAINS RAPE on the cover of a book is not censorship."

guizonde: "But we should be allowed to discuss rape in class. University should be about both the best and the worst of humanity."

Have I got it right?

yes on both counts. if you'd said "banning books from the cursus on the grounds of harsh subjects", then it would be censorship. i believe you captured sigma's point. regarding mine, i'd rather go with "sensitive subjects" rather than just rape. how else can we better humanity if we don't know what we did wrong in the past?
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Offline RavynousHunter

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Re: Suppression of Free Speech in Academia
« Reply #14 on: November 28, 2015, 10:45:23 pm »
Sigmaleph: "Putting WARNING: CONTAINS RAPE on the cover of a book is not censorship."

guizonde: "But we should be allowed to discuss rape in class. University should be about both the best and the worst of humanity."

Have I got it right?

yes on both counts. if you'd said "banning books from the cursus on the grounds of harsh subjects", then it would be censorship. i believe you captured sigma's point. regarding mine, i'd rather go with "sensitive subjects" rather than just rape. how else can we better humanity if we don't know what we did wrong in the past?

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