Contested Civility: Free Speech & Inclusivity on Campus

As Delivered

Contested Civility: Free Speech & Inclusivity on Campus

Inaugural Arlin M. Adams Lecture on Law, Religion, and the First Amendment at the University of Pennsylvania Law School

Please let me begin by saying what a great honor it is to give this inaugural Adams Lecture.  Judge Arlin Adams was a magnificent jurist.  Through his public service, integrity, discernment, and commitment to civil liberties and the rule of law, he brilliantly exemplified many of the best qualities of the American legal tradition.  We need more people like him—we need them especially now, at this tender moment in our nation’s history, when the judicial virtues and the thoughtful temperament demonstrated by Judge Adams are simultaneously so important and so at risk.  I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this tribute to him, and I hope that I can do justice to his memory and legacy.

As the name for this lecture series reminds us, Judge Adams was known for, among other things, his leadership and expertise on issues of religious freedom.  I expect that when Dean Ruger, Professor Gordon, and the other sponsors of this event invited me to deliver the inaugural lecture, they anticipated that I would say something about that topic, which has been a central focus of my scholarship in the past.  My role as a University president, however, has left me little time to study religious freedom but many opportunities to contend with interesting issues about free speech.

I did not anticipate that development when I took office in 2013.  I had always thought that the case for free speech in political, artistic, and academic settings was simple, powerful, and even over-determined—that is, there are multiple independently persuasive arguments in its favor.  I also thought that vigorous support for free speech was a fervently felt article of faith on university campuses so that, if I had to defend it at all, it would be in response to outsiders uncomfortable with the freewheeling inquiry characteristic of universities.  I was wrong about that!  It has become an important part of my job to articulate the value, meaning, and limits of my university’s commitment to free speech.  That is the topic I want to pursue this afternoon.

Let me begin by summarizing my argument—which, I should warn you, given that I am speaking to an audience of lawyers, focuses on political principles and ideals, not legal doctrine.  My first and principal claim is that public debate and, to a lesser but real extent, scholarly commentary have unnecessarily pitted free speech and inclusivity against one another.  If rightly understood, free speech and inclusivity are both essential aspects of the University’s mission, and they are also often, though not always, complementary and mutually reinforcing ideals.  One scholar, by the way, who has treated this point well is Penn’s own Professor Sigal Ben-Porath, and my first claim this afternoon shares much in common with the case for “inclusive freedom” that she makes in her excellent book, Free Speech on Campus.[1]

My second claim is that many controversies frequently characterized as being about free speech are better understood as contests about civility norms.  They are, in other words, about the terms of social respect, not about censorship per se.  They are therefore as much about inclusivity as about free speech—a fact hidden by the false opposition between those two ideals that now dominates public discussion.  To understand these disputes well, we will need to identify the free speech goals of the collegiate environment more fully than is usually done—or so, in any event, I will try to persuade you!

We can build a better conception of free speech on campus by beginning from conventional wisdom:  namely, that universities are truth-seeking institutions, and the freedom to say what you think is essential to truth-seeking.  This view has been thoughtfully elaborated and well defended by a number of commentators, including my Princeton colleague Keith Whittington.  The argument is straightforward and compelling.  For universities to carry out their truth-seeking mission effectively, people have to be free to challenge orthodoxies.  To do that, they have to be able to state unpopular or heretical opinions without being shouted down, disrupted, or disciplined for doing so.

I am going to refer to this basic idea as the “anti-censorship” principle.  Professor Whittington, who champions the view, quite rightly associates it with John Stuart Mill’s argument in On Liberty.  My preference, in general and especially today when we honor Arlin Adams, a great judge famed for his devotion to the First Amendment, is to associate the principle with Justice Louis Brandeis and his concurring opinion in Whitney v. California.  It was in Whitney that Justice Brandeis famously said, “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”  Or, put more tersely, “the remedy for bad speech is more speech, not censorship.”

The anti-censorship principle is important.  Colleges need to articulate and adhere to it.  I believe that most faculty, administrators, and students embrace—albeit with varying levels of enthusiasm—the anti-censorship principle, but there have been egregious, disturbing, and widely publicized departures from it.  Examples include the violent interruption of Charles Murray’s speech at Middlebury College, the forced cancellation of Heather MacDonald’s lecture at Claremont College, and the harassment of professors who expressed unpopular views about racial politics at Evergreen State College.  In all of these cases, student protests (sometimes abetted by outsiders) caused the disruption.

Disruptions have also occurred occasionally on other campuses.  At the University of Chicago, for example, university police officers ended a February 2016 speech by Bassem Eid, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and a vocal critic of the Boycott-Divest-Sanction movement, because they feared a heated exchange with students might turn violent.[2]  Here at the University of Pennsylvania, a panel discussion on immigration was unable to proceed earlier this fall because of a noisy protest.  As President Amy Gutmann correctly said in her statement about the event, such actions run counter to ideals constitutive of this and other great universities:  “Open expression can be a painful business, but it is vitally important that we protect it on our campuses especially when the views are controversial.”

College officials have sometimes cancelled controversial speeches in advance of protests.  At Middlebury, the administration called off a lecture by Polish professor and European parliament member Ryszard Legutko.  Legutko nevertheless spoke to a Middlebury political science class after students in the class voted unanimously to hear him.  I know from experience how hard it can be to deal with campus controversies, especially when concerns about student safety loom large.  I am accordingly reluctant to criticize counterparts who have faced issues in circumstances not fully known to me.  I am, however, deeply worried by cases in which administrators appear to have barred controversial speakers in the name of safety or to avoid offending some group:  such actions are inconsistent with the anti-censorship principle, and that principle is fundamental to the research and teaching mission of every college and university worth its salt.

These disturbing incidents, however, are unusual.  There are thousands of speeches at American colleges and universities every day, nearly all of which happen without disruption.  Charles Murray, for example, spoke uninterrupted at many colleges and universities, including Princeton, during the year when his Middlebury speech was interrupted.  The press has a tendency to retell again and again a small number of ugly stories, which is why I expect the incidents that I have mentioned were familiar to many of you.  Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, in their valuable book The Coddling of the American Mind:  How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, rightly point out that the events at Evergreen State are atypical—yet they devote 8 pages, a substantial fraction of their book, to what happened there![3]  (It is still a book worth reading).  We can always do better, and we should do better—but I think that with regard to the anti-censorship principle, the situation on university campuses is pretty good, even when judged by demanding standards.

Important though the anti-censorship principle is, even a moment’s reflection suffices to show that it is only one part of a much larger story about speech that universities require for their mission.  The anti-censorship principle does not by itself achieve effective truth-seeking discussion, nor in fact is the unqualified application of that principle even consistent with the practice of truth-seeking, which requires standards and processes to discriminate between truth and falsehood.  Universities must and do regulate speech, and engage in viewpoint discrimination, all the time.  They do so through, for example, grading and the tenure process.  Anyone may stand out on Locust Walk and declare that the United States Constitution has no application within the state of Pennsylvania, or that the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction over any lawsuit filed by a college or university.  No one should, however, expect these views to earn them good grades in a federal courts class or a faculty appointment at the law school.  Universities, moreover, give some speakers far more authority than others.  For example, professors control syllabi and establish classroom standards.  You were kind enough to invite me to give this lecture, and even kinder to listen to me while I give it!

Some prominent commentators treat this obvious point by dividing the campus into two precincts:  classrooms and other professional domains, governed by academic standards, and the rest of campus, where the anti-censorship principle and an ethic of unfettered debate should prevail.  That approach is, I want to suggest, an oversimplification that obscures the issues at stake in many campus controversies and the principles that should guide us in resolving them.  To get beyond the oversimplification, we need a fuller statement of what we are trying to achieve with campus speech.  The anti-censorship principle and professional academic standards should not be regarded as two parallel and separate domains that happen to coexist on college campuses; they are instead two among many discursive models that contribute to the achievement of a larger ideal for campus speech.  So what is that ideal?

Here is a proposal:  universities should foster rigorous, constructive, truth-seeking discussions about questions of consequence.  In other words, in addition to permitting people to speak freely, we should study questions that matter, not just any questions; we should proceed according to standards and with methods likely to distinguish better arguments from worse ones; and we should treat one another with the kind of courtesy and respect that allow us to learn from each other, despite our differences in both viewpoint and background.

I hope that this ideal seems recognizable and even congenial to most of you.  I expect that many of you, even if you might quarrel with my precise formulation of the ideal, accept some similar view.  In any event, I am not going to attempt to justify or “prove” the view that I’ve just articulated so much as interpret or elaborate it so that you will know what I have in mind.  I think that its power will emerge more clearly as I talk about some specific controversies (and, of course, if the ideal seems inapt to you, we can and should talk about that during the question period).

Let me start with some general observations about the ideal of “rigorous, constructive, truth-seeking discussions about questions of consequence.”  First, it helps to clarify both the power and the limits of the anti-censorship principle.  That principle is important because it enhances the rigor of discussions, and because it helps to ensure that questions of consequence do not go unexamined simply because one view or another is popular (or even “orthodox”) on campus.  But the principle is not well suited to achieve those goals on its own.  A forum in which people hurl nasty provocations at one another may be entirely compliant with the anti-censorship principle but grossly inconsistent with the speech ideal I have described.

The ideal also clarifies why academic standards are important.  They, too, contribute to the rigor and constructive power of campus discussion so that participants are more likely to generate good arguments and reject bad ones.  Yet, once we realize that both the anti-censorship principle and academic standards flow from a broader speech goal, there is no reason to suppose that they exhaust the relevant norms.  Inclusivity goals, for example, are also important to the achievement of the ideal I have described.  To maximize the value of campus discussion, colleges and universities must be able to attract talented people from all backgrounds, and all people on campus must feel able to participate in the conversation.  The conversation will be better—that is, it will be more rigorous, more constructive, and more likely to address questions of consequence—if it includes contributions from people with a wide variety of perspectives and experiences.

That is why I said, at the beginning of this lecture, that free speech and inclusivity were rightly viewed as complementary and often mutually reinforcing goals.  Both of them contribute to the achievement of the university’s ideal form of speech and discussion.  People get this wrong because they too often use reductive definitions of free speech and inclusivity.  People define free speech wholly in terms of the anti-censorship principle, and in particular in terms of the freedom to say offensive or disparaging things.  They then define inclusivity in terms of an environment that protects you from exposure to statements that offend or disparage you.  Those definitions obviously put the two goals into collision with one another, but they get neither free speech nor inclusivity right.  The campus ideal of free speech is not reducible to the freedom to say offensive or disparaging things; it requires us to promote a culture of engaged discussion, vigorous argument, and fearless truth-seeking.  It is about creating a place where people not only talk but also listen, and where people are not only protected from censorship but also empowered to speak their minds.

Inclusivity, for its part, requires that we create a community within which people of all identities and backgrounds can flourish.  Whenever possible, we should treat our fellow community members respectfully and civilly.  But that does not mean insulating people from speech that offends them.  On the contrary, it means respecting everyone as a full participant in campus conversations, capable of engaging adeptly, bravely, and civilly even in difficult situations.

I don’t deny that free speech and inclusivity might sometimes pull in conflicting directions or require difficult choices.  But I think this conflict is far less general than people suppose, and that, on the contrary, we should understand both the anti-censorship principle and the quest for inclusivity as important elements of a campus commitment to rigorous, constructive, truth-seeking conversations about questions of consequence.  So that is the first of the claims that I shared with you at the outset of this lecture, about the relationship of free speech to inclusivity.  I now want to turn to a second, related claim about civility norms and their importance to recent controversies on college campuses.

Let me start with a definition.  I use the term “civility norms” to describe mechanisms that permit people with differing views, interests, and backgrounds to have productive truth-seeking or relationship-building interactions, even when they disagree strongly, have divergent objectives, or distrust one another.  As I am using the term, it encompasses a wide range of conventions and practices.  “Civility norms” can include procedural rules such as those that govern judicial proceedings, political debates, and academic seminars.  They can also include good manners, such as saying “please” or “I’m sorry,” and they can include standards for determining what sorts of statements are or are not respectable or in “good taste.”

I will focus most of my attention this evening on the last category, the norms that regulate what it is respectable, polite, or shameful to say.  These norms affect not only what statements are respectable but also who feels respected.  They need not be, and in the United States typically are not, enforced by laws, rules, or formal organizational discipline, but rather through social behaviors:  people who violate a civility norm can be shamed or shunned.  They lose standing and reputation.

Such norms evolve over time.  Comments, arguments, or jokes that were once considered acceptable may come to be regarded as tasteless or shameful.  There is a scene in Jonathan Demme’s 1993 legal drama Philadelphia that powerfully highlights both the role and evolution of civility norms.  The movie, as I expect some of you remember, starred Tom Hanks as Andy Beckett, a lawyer—and University of Pennsylvania law school alumnus—who sues a Philadelphia law firm that fired him because he was gay and had AIDS.  The scene takes place in an all-male club where one of the firm’s partners, Charles Wheeler, played by Jason Robards, tells a homophobic joke in Beckett’s presence, provoking loud laughter from his colleagues.  In a short scene with few words, Demme deftly communicates the disrespect and exclusion of gay viewpoints and identities at Wheeler’s law firm.  In Wheeler’s partnership, homophobic jokes earned you respect, whereas expressions of gay identity were treated as shameful and could get you fired.  Today, twenty-five years later, it is the other way around in Philadelphia’s leading law firms:  expressions of gay identity are respectable, whereas homophobic jokes are shameful.  One might even think that the movie Philadelphia had a part in producing the change; so too, of course, did changing employment policies and legal rules about workplace harassment and discrimination.

As this example illustrates, civility norms have tremendous power to inhibit speech.  If they sweep too broadly, they can shame perspectives or viewpoints into silence.  It does not follow, however, that civility norms violate the anti-censorship principle.  Unlike, for example, the violent protests that interrupted Charles Murray’s speech at Middlebury, civility norms do not literally prevent anyone from speaking.  They do, of course, attach consequences to what people say, but that is not enough to put them at odds with the anti-censorship principle.  The anti-censorship principle does not insulate speakers from shame.  On the contrary, it says that the remedy for bad speech is more speech, and the “more speech” might include speech indicating that someone else’s “bad speech” was not only wrong but also shameful.  Put differently, you may be free to express offensive ideas, but other people are free to argue that what you have said is shameful and makes you less deserving of our respect.

Nor would it be sensible to extend the anti-censorship principle by suggesting that because civility norms inhibit speech, we would be better off eliminating them.  We need civility norms.  They constitute the conditions for constructive interchange between people with differing views or interests.  As Robert Post pointed out in a seminal article published nearly thirty years ago,[4] civility norms simultaneously enable and disable speech.  We should care about their tendency to inhibit speech, and we should recognize that if civility norms sweep too broadly they become repressive rather than enabling.  We should not pretend, however, that the anti-censorship principle, or any analog to it, suffices to distinguish better from worse versions of civility norms.

Civility norms are now intensely contested in the United States from both the right and the left.  President Donald Trump, for example, simultaneously normalizes the previously shameful, and shames or disparages critics who say things with which he disagrees.  When he said that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the 2017 march on the University of Virginia campus, he uttered what was previously an unspeakable idea in mainstream American political discourse:  namely, that there were some respectable exponents of neo-Nazi views.  Conversely, when he lambasts congressional critics as “not capable of loving our country” or tells them to “go back” to the “crime-infested … places they originally came from,” he is branding those elected officials as un-American—an especially noxious, and historically toxic, kind of civility norm.

Meanwhile, activists on the political left have sought—sometimes successfully—to remove statues, building names, and other memorials honoring historical figures who were racist or sexist.  “Call-out culture” attempts to shame and marginalize speakers deemed to have made statements hostile, disrespectful, or insensitive to particular groups.  One way to summarize this activity is to say that we are in a period when politicians, activists, and others, on both the right and the left, are aggressively trying to shift what political scientists call the “Overton Window,”[5] the range of ideas that are tolerated in political and social discourse.

Once we recognize that civility norms are essential to campus and social life, and that they are inevitably contested, we can better understand what is at stake in some disputes that take place at colleges and universities today.  Let me start with a minor kerfuffle from my own campus.  In November 2018, a Princeton sophomore wrote an op-ed imploring one of our all-male a cappella groups, the Tigertones, to stop performing a routine in which they sang a Disney tune called “Kiss the Girl,” which is from The Little Mermaid.  During each performance of the song, the Tigertones plucked a male and a female from the audience, and they goaded the boy to kiss the girl.  The student editorialist pointed out that the song’s lyrics urge a boy to kiss a girl without asking because, in the words of the song, “it’s possible she wants you too.”  The editorial argued that even if these lyrics were innocent in the context of a cartoon movie about a prince, a singing crab, and a mute mermaid, they took a different meaning on college campuses with sexual assault problems, especially when spliced into the routine involving audience members.  The Tigertones responded with a letter saying that they would remove the song from their “active repertoire until we can arrive at a way to perform it that is comfortable and enjoyable for every member of our audience.”  The exchange was Princeton’s local version of the national discussion about performances of “Baby, it’s Cold Outside,” with its disconcerting line, “Say, what’s in this drink?”  As far as I was concerned, the whole thing was a non-event.  I barely noticed it until the New York Times, the New York Post, and newspapers around the world began covering it.

People have surprisingly strong reactions to this story, and my guess is that many of you do.  We should be clear, though, about what is not at stake in it:  there is no violation whatsoever of the anti-censorship principle.  The Tigertones were free to decide for themselves whether to perform “Kiss the Girl,” with or without their courtship routine.  Nor does this episode have anything to do with “safe spaces”:  the song’s critic did not say that it made her feel unsafe or threatened; she said it sent the wrong message.

Nor, finally, was there any threat to the truth-seeking dialogue so vital to college campuses.  Neither Princeton’s teaching mission nor its research enterprise suffer one iota from the non-performance of the campy classic from the calypso crustacean songbook.  And, indeed, whether or not you like the outcome, you might suppose that the students did exactly what we want students to do:  they published an exchange of reasons, and the Tigertones changed their behavior on the basis of what they said was a persuasive argument.  Campus civility norms evolved in a way that, depending on your view, increased awareness of how popular culture reflects problematic conceptions of consent in sexual relationships, or valorized a mistakenly literal interpretation of a relatively harmless musical routine.

For the global press, however, these developments were a cause célèbre meriting treatment alongside grave issues of national politics.  Several papers focused on two words from the student editorialist’s column:  “toxic masculinity.”  Some ran the story under the headline, “Princeton group cuts ‘Mermaid’ song over ‘toxic masculinity.’”  This treatment was calculated to provoke outrage, and it did.  In my view, the newspapers were trying to impose their own civility norms by shaming a feminist student for using the term “toxic masculinity.”  The student became the target of anonymous threatening online posts.  Those threats do violate the anti-censorship principle—but they came not from the editorialist but from her critics.

Earlier in 2018, Princeton had gone through another internationally reported argument about speech that took place in a class taught by Professor Larry Rosen, a distinguished legal anthropologist, a MacArthur ‘Genius’ Prize winner, and a highly decorated teacher (who had taught at, among other places, the University of Pennsylvania Law School).  He had retired, but he agreed to teach a course after another professor died unexpectedly.  His course was entitled “Cultural Freedoms:  Hate Speech, Blasphemy, and Pornography.”  During the opening lecture, Rosen mentioned the most incendiary racial slur in the American language.  A student in the class said that the slur offended him and asked Rosen not to repeat it.  Rosen refused, saying he believed it necessary to state the slur explicitly so that students would comprehend the full, provocative force of the word.  And comprehend it they did.  Several students became angry, left the classroom, returned to confront the professor, and walked out again.  They complained to the administration about his repetition of the slur.

Both the anti-censorship principle and principles of academic freedom protect a professor’s decision to quote the slur for pedagogical purposes.  I immediately affirmed Rosen’s right to do so, as did his department chair, Professor Carolyn Rouse, who wrote a letter to the student newspaper defending not only Rosen’s pedagogical rights but also his character as a person and the value of his course.  Rosen nevertheless chose to cancel the course because he thought it impossible to nurture constructive discussion after the confrontation.

Television commentators Tucker Carlson and Brit Hume devoted more than four minutes to the story, declaring that it demonstrated the fragility of today’s college students—though, interestingly, the two of them scrupulously avoided ever stating the word themselves, perhaps to protect the delicate sensibilities of their Fox News audience.  Students do sometimes phrase their objections to racial slurs or other language in terms of the “pain” they feel, and that formulation lends credence to the view that the issue arises out of their sensitivity.  The argument I have laid out today suggests that the point might be reformulated to emphasize dignity rather than pain:  the critical question, in my view, is whether explicit mention of the word shows appropriate respect for all members of a campus community, and thereby promotes the likelihood of constructive dialogue among people of different backgrounds, rather than whether it makes someone feel bad.

Academic freedom and the anti-censorship principle protect the right of professors to quote racial slurs for pedagogical purposes, but it does not follow that it is a good idea for them to do so.  Even Professor Geoffrey Stone, a principal author of the widely praised (and rightly praised!) Chicago principles on free speech, recently declared that he would change his teaching to eliminate mention of the slur that Larry Rosen quoted.  The civility norms governing the use of racially charged language are in flux.  One can debate whether that is a good thing, but, once again, the question cannot be resolved by reference to the anti-censorship principle.

As a final example, consider one of the most notorious campus speech controversies, the 2015 Yale University blow-up that began with an e-mail message about Halloween costumes.  As the holiday approached, Yale deans sent undergraduates a message counseling them to “take the time to consider their costumes and the impact [they] may have,” citing possible outfits including “feathered headdresses, turbans, wearing ‘war paint’ or modifying skin tone or wearing blackface or redface.”  The message provoked a response from Dr. Erika Christakis, a child psychologist who was also the wife of Professor Nicholas Christakis, the master of one of Yale’s residential colleges.  She sent all Silliman College undergraduates an e-mail message arguing that the deans’ message was infantilizing.  Christakis wrote, among other things, “is there no room for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious… a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive?”

Several students reacted angrily to Dr. Christakis’s message, leading eventually to an angry confrontation between a group of students and her husband, Professor Nicholas Christakis, the College master.  The episode generated campus protests at which student activists demanded that the Christakises be removed from their positions at the head of the college.  Yale correctly refused these demands, but Nicholas Christakis eventually stepped down from his mastership and Erika Christakis resigned from the Yale faculty entirely.

This story has many complexities.  For purposes of my argument today, however, what I want to emphasize is that aside from the demand to fire the Christakises, the dispute was at its core about civility norms, not censorship.  The deans’ initial letter did not prohibit anybody from saying anything or wearing any costume:  it cautioned students to think about other people’s opinions and feelings when choosing how to dress up.  Erika Christakis thought this advice too paternalistic or precious, and therefore disrespectful of the students.  Many people agree with her, though Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia or Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, among others, might perhaps wish that someone had given them similar counsel when they were younger.  Dr. Christakis took her stand on the principle that campus civility norms should tolerate student behavior that is, in her words, “inappropriate,” “provocative,” “regressive,” “transgressive,” or “offensive.”  Yet, when the “offense” given by students pertained not to Halloween costumes that played on racial stereotypes, but rather to impassioned speech about racial justice that insulted her husband, she—or Yale’s critics, in any event—thought that the students had crossed a line.  Take what stand you will about them, but recognize this:  all of these arguments are about the terms and content of dignity and respect; the anti-censorship principle provides no help in sorting through them.

If these campus episodes are about civility, rather than censorship, how should we resolve them?  Let me conclude by offering three preliminary observations.  First, student activists have been correct, I think, to argue that we should be looking for more inclusive civility norms.  For example, we should take care that our campus iconographies—including our portraits, nomenclature, and memorials—are honest and inclusive.  In my view, this goal is best accomplished by putting things up rather than tearing them down.  At Princeton, we renamed one of our most important and oldest buildings, previously called “West College” because it was on the western side of a lawn, so that it is now called “Morrison Hall,” after Toni Morrison.  I am glad that we did this, and I am especially glad that we did it while Toni was still alive to join in the celebration.

Second, critics are right to warn that excessive sensitivity or political correctness will stifle the vitality of collegiate life.  All of us should try to be tactful when we speak about sensitive subjects, such as race or affirmative action, but we should also do our best to forgive those who give offense unintentionally.  If we are quick to take umbrage at other people’s remarks, we can never have the candid, unsettling conversations that college life requires.  I worry in particular that conservative students nowadays are sometimes shunned or disparaged for expressing views unpopular with their peers.  Colleges need strong, thoughtful conservative voices on our faculties and in our student bodies if we are to address the issues that matter to our nation and the world.

Third, to construct an appropriate set of campus civility norms, we need to delve into the terms of respect appropriate to a truth-seeking college campus.  My colleagues Robert P. George and Cornel West make a good start when they advise that we should usually be willing to give a respectful hearing to any people who participate in “truth-seeking discourse by offering reasons, marshaling evidence, and making arguments.”  In my view, however, this formal criterion, while helpful, is overly broad.  I do not believe, for example, that civility norms should require or even encourage us to listen respectfully to pseudo-scientific racism dressed up in scholarly language (we are, of course, required to give such speech the benefit of the anti-censorship principle, but that is not the same thing as saying that we have to treat it as respectable rather than shameful).  Respectful discussion depends ultimately not only upon the formal qualities of rational argument but also upon, I would submit, a decent regard for certain relatively minimal but unmistakably substantive principles.  I believe in particular that we are entitled, as the Declaration of Independence rightly says, to hold certain truths to be self-evident, including that all people are created equal.  I would propose that we consider ourselves obliged to treat respectfully all speakers who show a decent regard for those spare but foundational truths.

That, however, is another argument, best left for another day!  For the moment, I want to thank you again for the honor of delivering the inaugural Adams Lecture, and for listening so patiently.  I now look forward to the question period, and to the kind of vigorous, free, and mutually respectful conversation that this University, along with America’s other leading colleges and research universities, do so well.  Thank you again for coming.

[1] Sigal Ben-Porath, Free Speech on Campus (University of Pennsylvania Press 2017).

[2] Emily Kramer, “Police Intervene as I-House Event Turns Heated,” The Chicago Maroon (February 23, 2016).

[3] Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind:  How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure 114-121, 133 (2018).

[4] The Constitutional Concept of Public Discourse:  Outrageous Opinion, Democratic Deliberation, and Hustler Magazine v. Falwell,” 103 Harvard Law Review 601 (1990).  See also Robert Post, Constitutional Domains:  Democracy, Community, Management 133, 146 (Harvard University Press 1995).

[5] Maggie Astor, “How the Politically Unthinkable Can Become Mainstream,” The New York Times (February 26, 2019).

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