Geoffrey R. Stone Interviewed on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago

Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago: A Conversation with Professor Geoffrey Stone

How has the type of expression being protected changed throughout the University’s history—in the report it mentions that an early example of protected expression was that of inviting the Communist party’s candidate for President to speak at UChicago, but now it seems as though it is oftentimes conservative freedom of expression being protected on campuses. For example, supporting the right of Dr. Charles Murray or Steve Bannon to come speak—

Let me clarify—it’s not the right of Steve Bannon and it’s not the right of Charles Murray. They have no right to speak at our University. It’s the right of our students and faculty to bring people to our campus who they want to hear. It’s an important difference.

Presently we associate protecting freedom of expression with protecting more conservative freedom of expression. What do you think has shifted the censorship in this regard, and how do we divorce the idea of protecting freedom of expression from any political connotation? I think it’s a principle that is applied across the board.

That’s exactly the point. The argument in favor of allowing William Foster—the head of the Communist Party—to come to UChicago in the 1930s at the invitation of students at a time when almost every other University in the country would have prohibited it, was not because the University favored Communism, it was because there were students at the University who wanted to hear his views and it was the obligation of the University to allow them to hear the views that they wanted to hear. In that same spirit, we would today protect the rights of students who wanted to hear Charles Murray or professors who wanted to hear Steve Bannon. It doesn’t matter whether the views are Conservative or Liberal or whatever—it is the notion that it is the freedom to bring to campus and to hear the views from whatever perspective members of our community want to hear that is protected. It’s about protecting the opportunity to debate ideas. Period. What’s interesting about this particular moment is that historically, it has been liberal ideas that have most often been the target of suppression, whether it was the Communists, or the Civil Rights movement, or the anti-War movement, or the Women’s Rights movement, or the Gay Rights movement, etc. This is a bit of an unusual period because it’s primarily conservative views that are being objected to. But the same principle applies and for the same reason that we would allow people to come talk about Communism, or a right to abortion, or gay rights long before those views were generally deemed acceptable.

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