The failure of three college presidents to clearly say Tuesday that calling for the genocide of Jewish people violated their campus policies quickly went viral on social media—galling alumni, free speech experts and advocates in the Jewish community alike.
Inside Higher Ed asked more than a dozen leaders, advocates and scholars the same question: What impact will the hearing have on public opinion and the politics of higher education going forward?
Their responses, provided by phone or email, have been edited for clarity and concision.
Tom Ginsburg, the University of Chicago’s Leo Spitz Professor of International Law, faculty director of the University of Chicago Forum for Free Inquiry and Expression
Higher education has become a political football, and in the short term, the hearing is likely to accelerate public distrust of universities. The presidents did not rise to the occasion of explaining how, in a country governed by the First Amendment, we do and must tolerate lots of hateful speech, even on campus.
But Title VI does not tolerate a hostile learning environment for recipients of federal funds, and that allows some restriction of speech that is otherwise protected by the First Amendment. It was not addressed in the clips that I saw. The hearing highlighted the hypocrisy of campuses, which have been very aggressive in policing speech on race, gender and other issues but haven’t paid much attention to religion in general, and Judaism and Islam in particular.
Antisemitism is not self-defining, and many of those calling for “intifada” do not think they are calling for genocide. I don’t think we ought to constrain the use of slogans calling for the elimination of a state, but it is also the case, as the DEI administrators have told us for some time, that “speech has consequences.”
The fact is that we can and should have a public debate on Israel and Palestine, and campuses have to be a part of that. Our particular job, which we’ve not done well, is to construct opportunities for genuine conversation about the issues so that we all can learn, and maybe even change our minds. I do not favor federal regulation as a solution, but universities simply have to do better and have to also be able to explain what we are doing to the public. Democracy requires strong universities to help solve the huge challenges facing society.
Read more at Inside Higher Ed