The community met yesterday to discuss free speech on campus at a forum hosted by the Georgetown University Student Association and the Speech and Expression Committee.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education recently ranked Georgetown among the top 10 worst colleges for free speech. The panel and this placement were not directly related, since the panel was scheduled before the ranking’s release.

The panel featured government professor Fr. Matthew Carnes, S.J., Director of Protestant Chaplaincy Rev. Bryant Oskvig, Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson, Sam Kleinman (COL ’16) and Chandini Jha (COL ’16), all members of the Speech and Expression Committee. GUSA hosted a similar panel in January 2014. GUSA President Trevor Tezel (SFS ’15) moderated the panel and said he wanted to encourage honest and open discussion.

Tezel then introduced associate professor of theology Rev. James Walsh, S.J., who authored the first speech and expression policy in 1989. The policy was created after students protesting for divestment from South Africa’s apartheid regime were arrested by the Metropolitan Police Department.

Walsh said that the ideal free speech policy should encourage students to engage in respectful, intellectual dialogue, referencing John Henry Newman’s writings.

“Suppose you have a position that I disagree with. What I have to do is articulate your position and give the strongest possible case for what you hold, so that when you hear it, you say, ‘I’ve never been able to put that so well myself, that’s wonderful. That’s exactly what I think.’ Then I would say, ‘I’ll tell you why I disagree with that.’ It is intellectually generous and in the spirit of friendship,” Walsh said.

The panelists discussed the Speech and Expression Committee’s role educating the community on free speech policies.

“I think that the strength of the committee is not [being centrist], but rather, to [serve as] a way of clarifying policies,” Jha said.
Oskvig said that it is vital for the committee to maintain free speech policies when tackling incidents of hate speech.

“[We] find a lot of our deliberations centering around hate speech,” Oskvig said. “How do we move it into spaces to create and foster conversation where the speech itself is sort of cutting that conversation off? We want to create a robust conversation and dialogue in which ideas can be exchanged and we can all grow together.”

Kleinman said that the committee has improved from previous years by thoroughly examining complaints issued by students on free speech policy.

Kleinman also said that he wants the Free Speech and Expression Committee to begin developing an open, public case log so that students can see the way that the committee works and processes each case to create a precedent for the future.

In Olson’s opening remarks, he addressed Georgetown’s placement on FIRE’s list. While Olson acknowledged violations of free speech in the past, including the two instances in which pro-choice student group H*yas for Choice was removed by the Georgetown University Police Department, he said that those instances misrepresented how the university addressed such issues.

“I do want to say that our place on this year’s top 10 list doesn’t cause me to stay up all night worrying,” Olson said. “They also misrepresented the process that we followed over the last year when we committed with GUSA to working out this memorandum of understanding. … What FIRE reports is that it took me months to say something, which is just not true.”

In FIRE’s list this year, Georgetown was included for the lack of official recognition for H*yas for Choice. In September 2014, members of the group were removed from its previously approved tabling location outside of the front gates, and in January 2014, the group was forced to relocate after distributing condoms outside a pro-life conference on campus.

FIRE Program Officer Susan Kruth, who was not present at the panel, said that this treatment shows that Georgetown does not uphold its values of free speech.

“While the revised policies are better, Georgetown still won’t recognize H*yas for Choice, and its officers still seem confused about what the rules are,” Kruth wrote in an email.

Kruth also said that the administration’s disagreement with student groups over certain issues should not interfere with free speech policies.

“FIRE acknowledges that private universities have the right to prioritize other values over freedom of expression — they just have to be upfront about it,” Kruth wrote. “However, Georgetown states in written policies: ‘[A]ll members of the Georgetown University academic community … enjoy the right to freedom of speech and expression.’ … If it’s going to limit speech that conflicts with Catholic values, it must make that disclaimer here.”

FIRE also considered the recent criticism of the Georgetown Voice’s cartoon that was interpreted by many students as racist and misogynist. The Speech and Expression Committee received a complaint regarding the cartoon, prompting the dialogue about the free speech policy.

Kruth said that the publication of the cartoon is protected by Georgetown’s free speech policy as well as the First Amendment.

“The committee’s response should have simply cited Georgetown’s promise of freedom of expression and clearly stated that the students involved may not be sanctioned by the university for creating or publishing the cartoon,” Kruth wrote.

Olson said that he was encouraged to see students engaging in thoughtful discussions following the incident.

“The response to the Voice editorial cartoon was a really encouraging response because it was students saying to other students, ‘Here’s the impact of that. Do you understand what that meant?’ And students really engaging in conversation,” Olson said.

H*yas for Choice President Abby Grace (COL ’16) said that she agreed with Georgetown’s placement on FIRE’s list and that the administration could improve its free speech policy by clarifying and correctly implementing its tabling policies.

“Given the overwhelming frequency at which Georgetown students utilize tabling as a form of speech in protected zones, the administration should recognize this as one of students’ preferred methods of expression,” Grace said.

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One Comment

  1. Based on my experience, i.e., where my comments are deleted by the elitist PC editorial board it’s hard to argue with the fact that Georgetown spits in the face of free speech.
    ++
    Of course they do so while pretending to embrace liberalism. What a perverted joke.

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