The Controversial Speakers Policy

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

A university is an institution for "higher learning." A university is a place to learn, to grow (both mentally and physically — freshman 15 anyone?), and to experience things that you've never experienced before, such as staying out late on school nights, drinking ...bubble tea, and maybe even meeting people that think differently than you do. You do know that not everyone agrees with you, right?

Which brings us to this university's conterversial speakers policy imbroglio.

Speech, in general, has a lot to do with this whole "experiencing new ideas" thing. Does it mean that you have to follow or believe in any of these new ideas? No. I still believe in being socially capable, for instance. Is it bad to hear things that you don't agree with? Most certainly not. If you truly believe what you think, then hearing the opposite view will only strengthen your own. Or maybe you'll find that some ideas you hold can be improved upon, or altogether replaced.

What about someone who holds a belief that you just know, deep-down, must be wrong, like John Kerry? He thinks that abortion is justified in some cases, that killing a living being is okay. If you disagree, would attending one of his speeches change your mind? If so, your original belief must not have held much ground (or maybe he just charmed you out of it).

Free speech is a good thing. People can think what they want and people can say what they want. If anything, a university has more of a responsibility to uphold these truths than the country that surrounds it. Higher learning is not unitary. There are disagreements on just about everything, and that is what helps us progress as individuals and as a society. We, as people, have a right to know all sides and to make our own decisions. This is why changing the Controversial Speakers Policy would be a ridiculous and irresponsible move by the University.

If you haven't heard already, CMU's Controversial Speakers Policy has been called to review by President Cohon. A commission has been formed to judge university-wide opinion on whether or not this policy needs revision, and if so, what should be revised.

I am not against the review. I recognize that policies should be reviewed every so often, and I find this a good practice. I am, however, against some of the insane recommendations that I've heard coming from other students and faculty.

For example, someone actually suggested that if five percent or more of the student population disagreed with what a speaker was going to talk about, then that speaker should not be allowed to come to campus. No, that wasn't a typo: five percent.

Hmm. I suspect that would leave about... zero speakers. Can you imagine? Microsoft wouldn't even be allowed to speak here, because I sure don't agree with them, and I'm pretty certain I could find others that don't either.

A suggestion was made that we adopt more measures of safety for the speaker, the proponents, and the opponents. I do agree that it is the University's responsibility to ensure the safety of everyone on its campus; however, I don't think this sort of provision belongs in the Speakers Policy. Safety should be available for all events, and should not tie down, nor be tied down by, controversial speakers.

The line blurs when people make arguments that are educated yet debatable. When the topic of hate speech comes around, the easy answer is "hate speech bad, me no like hate speech." So let's ban it.
Except, then, how do you classify hate speech? Who decides what is and what is not hate speech? Do we take a popular vote on every single speaker who comes to campus? Or does a small group decide? Or one person? Put the "right" group in charge and Michael Moore can't come to campus. The way he talks about Bush is hate speech. Put the "right" group in charge and President Bush can't come to campus. The way he talks about terrorists seems like hate speech to me. Put the "right" group in charge and Winston can't come to campus. The way he talks about Big Brother is double plus ungood hate speech.

The current policy says that the students have a "right to hear." This does not mean that the University must stand behind all of the speakers, or even fund them. They must only provide equal and open resources to all speeches — a safe place to speak and a safe place to hear.

An organization may choose to fund a speaker with its own money (even if that money comes from the Activities Fee) regardless of what the University says. And this is not to say that no one should be held accountable if something bad happens, but I for one put faith in my fellow students to make responsible decisions.

"If men and women are to value freedom, they must experience it," says the current policy. "If they are to learn to choose wisely, they must know what the choices are; and they must learn in an environment where no idea is unthinkable and where no alternative is withheld from their consideration." The University is not our babysitter. It should not decide what we can and cannot hear. The University is our protector, but thought is not a weapon. If a riot were to occur, the University would provide the resources to quell it. If a group of students were singled out by an irresponsible speaker, that group of students would be protected by the University.

I want to be protected, too. I want my freedom protected. Not my freedom to do whatever I please, but yes, my freedom to think whatever I please, and speak and write whatever I please. And I extend this freedom to you. Please, disagree with me. That's your right. Show up to the next town hall meeting (Tuesday, November 1, 5 pm in McKenna) and the one after that (Thursday, November 10, 5 pm in McConomy), and voice your opinion, because it is your right to do so. I personally encourage you to take to heart what I've said and fight for your freedom alongside everyone else — let the review commission know that the policy should remain as is.