In a recent op-ed, the president of Union College in New York, David R. Harris, argued that “a campus is not the place for free speech.”
Harris’ article was in response to President Trump’s executive order protecting free speech on all federal funded college campuses. This order will deprive schools of federal research funds if they choose to censor speech.
Union College is a private institution, protecting itself from the President’s executive order. Harris agrees that public places must adhere to the First Amendment; however, he stated that this view does not transfer to the college quad:
“…I always answer the same way when asked, as I am regularly, about my views on free speech. My response is as follows: ‘I oppose free speech on college campuses.'”
Harris believes that “free speech, in its purest form, is an exercise in what is achieved when a person yells a view and then leaves, after which someone with an opposing perspective does the same.”
He claims that this type of speech does not allow for the audience to grow or learn a new perspective, nor would it allow for the speakers to accept the opposing view.
Harris chooses to follow a “constructive engagement” approach.
“Speakers [at Union] must take unscreened, sincere questions from the audience, and they are expected to respond respectfully,” he said. “Speakers must have evidence and reasoned arguments to support their views, given that both form the foundation upon which knowledge and wisdom rest.”
Union College has planned to start a new lecture series, according to a tweet posted by the institution, named “The Union College Forum on Constructive Engagement.” This series was presented by Harris in an effort to “bring in notable speakers that expose the campus community to a range of topics and perspectives.”
Harris told The Daily Gazette in an interview that if a speaker is coming onto his campus, they must not only be prepared to speak:
“If you’re coming to this campus to speak, you are not just coming to speak, you are coming to listen as well.”
Harris told The Daily that he believes many students and faculty support this idea. Conversely, many people think critically of it.
The senior vice president of the nonprofit free speech organization Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Will Creeley, spoke to Campus Reform about Harris’ focus on “constructive engagement.”
“Harris’ provocative framing makes for a click-friendly headline, and his piece probably did pretty well on social media.” However, Creeley continued, “[I]t relies on a cramped caricature of ‘free speech’ — people yelling at each other and then walking away.”
“In reality, the ‘constructive engagement’ that Harris prizes is most possible when expressive rights enjoy robust protection, and requiring all campus discussions to meet Harris’ conception of classroom standards would shortchange students’ ability to learn from each other in a wide variety of ways,” Creeley stated.
Policies such as the one Harris is presenting are damaging to the First Amendment and organizations like Turning Point USA.
In essence, Union College can deny any speaker from coming onto campus, whether for political or personal views.