Student Censorship – Free Speech on Campus Ep 6

Release Date
August 12, 2016


Free Speech

Some of professor Laura Kipnis’ students thought she should be fired over writing a controversial essay.
Here’s her take on standing up to censorship and writing the truth as she sees it.

Free Speech on Campus (playlist): Learn about all of the major issues affecting freedom of speech, open inquiry, and academic freedom on college campuses at
Free Speech — Trigger Warnings, Academic Freedom, and More (program): Join Professor Tom Bell, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and the Institute for Justice in this new program, and learn about rights so fundamental, they’re in the very First Amendment. 
The Coddling of the American Mind (article): In the name of protecting students’ emotional well-being, college students and administrators are calling for censorship of certain forms of speech. The results deleterious to students and freedom of thought.
Freedom of Speech: Why We NEED Academic Freedom (video): Some students believe we should “give up” on academic freedom in favor of justice. But how do we know what justice is if we aren’t allowed to ask questions? Beliefs such as this lead to a censorship of inquiry on campus– antithetical to the very purpose of higher learning.

>> I recently became aware that there are students on my own campus who think that I should lose my job. I mean I guess I sort of knew this. But the startling thing in this case was that it was somebody I know who teaches creative writing. Who told me that she had taught in one of her classes essay that I wrote about sexual paranoia in academia as an example.
She taught this essay as an example of writers taking on controversial topics. And one of the students in the class said that she thought I should have been fired over the essay. And I guess other students were nodding their heads yes, yes. So the thing that was startling about this to me was these were creative writing students, this was a creative writing class.
And I couldn’t quite get my mind around this, what did these students imagine was gonna happen to their own work when they start publishing, if they do. What central committee would they choose to judge whether their work passed muster or was acceptable or not? I do think that If you’re a creative writer, it’s in your own interest to promote freedom of expression.
And to be in favor of whatever imaginative license anybody else wants to take in their work. Here’s the thing, an awful lot of the work we now think of as part of the canon was in its day incredibly controversial. Particularly writers who take on prohibited sorts of subject matter like having to do with sex or politics.
We have to be aware that the standards of this moment are not timeless, that our sensitivities are not timeless. And that the history of writing, of literature is a history of contestation, of writers pushing back against current morays. And seizing the license to do that, oftentimes against would be censors, whether it’s the church, the state, the communist party.
Whatever central committees are formed to try to tamp down on creative expression. I guess as a writer my goal has been to tell the truth as I see it. Sometimes my work has been controversial for that reason. I’m not saying I’ve always been right in my opinions or views, but I don’t think you always know.
You don’t know in advance what the right opinion or viewpoint is. And it’s one of the problems I have with students setting themselves up as a kind of central committee. And judging work and trying to some degrees censor that work that they disagree with. Is that you don’t know how things are gonna look five or ten years from now.
You don’t know that you are right. And it would take a lot of hubris really to think that from your own limited position. You can decide what the correct view line on a subject is, particularly subjects are kind of unfolding at the moment. I think it’s writers and thinkers coming to provisional sorts of conclusions and doing the best that we can with that.