In response to my post yesterday, a UW-Superior student wrote to me. I responded. Meanwhile, after receiving the FIRE's letter, UW-Superior closed the investigation without action. I confirmed that the person writing me was a student, but have elected not to name him here.
Last Friday (04/23/2016), you published an article called "How Inanely Censorious Can College Administrators Get? University of Wisconsin – Superior Will Show You", which raise many concerns. First of all, you're using the name of Ilana Yokel and Debbie Cheslock without their consent and you attacked them on a personal level, which is a terrible thing to do. Secondly, the nature of the investigation and the complaint filed by Debbie Cheslock were that of "student misconduct". Therefore, the procedure occurred as an attempt of trying to resolve a misconduct between student, which shouldn't involve the defense of the First Amendment nor Free Speech. This means that your article wrongly attacked both Debbie Cheslock and the Institution. Thirdly and most importantly, your comment section is filled with hatred and harassment for this poor women, whom life is now threatened because of what you published (including her place of work and her location). Upon learning that you can moderate your comment section, I sincerely ask you to censor those comment (or at least the information regarding Debbie Cheslock) as an attempt to protect her from harassment, cyber bullying and potential assault.
I believe that hurtful action came from misunderstanding, rather than bad intention. Which is why I wrote you this letter to inform you about the situation as well as the possible consequence.
Dear Mr. Doe,
Thank you for writing to me with your response to my post.
You may find my reply disrespectful, rude, or even cruel. In fact, I believe that respect requires me to treat you as an adult capable of a forthright response. I believe you can hear what I have to say, evaluate it, and reject or accept parts of it as you see fit.
First: Mr. Doe, I do not need anyone's consent to speak or write their name. There is no legal requirement that I obtain someone's consent before expressing myself about them, and any such requirement would violate the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Moreover, you have implied that I need people's consent to write about them even after they have given quotes to newspapers about an issue of public interest, which takes your complaint from silly to utterly ridiculous.
Second, I reject your assertion that I attacked Ms. Cheslock or Ms. Yokel "on a personal level." I attacked their conduct and their demands. Ms. Cheslock demanded that a state school bound by the First Amendment punish students for engaging in satire that is unquestionably protected by the First Amendment, and to be subjected to "cultural competency training" — that is, mandatory education on the right way to think and speak. This is wholly despicable and un-American, and nothing I have said about her comes close to expressing the contempt it deserves. Ms. Yokel asserted that a student newspaper has a nebulous "duty" to exercise free speech in a "responsible way." I stand by calling that incoherent and unprincipled.
Third, your argument about "student misconduct" is nonsensical. University of Wisconsin-Superior is a state school bound by the First Amendment. It cannot violate student rights by labeling things "student misconduct" or labeling an investigation as "trying to resolve a misconduct between a student." If a public school investigates a student and threatens to impose official discipline on that student based on protected speech, it is violating that student's constitutional rights. Your assertion that this "shouldn't involve the defense of the First Amendment nor Free Speech" is also nonsensical. The law, not your feelings, governs whether constitutional rights protect speech. The paper's attempt at satire was obviously protected speech. It's just not a close call at all. The fact that you don't feel it ought to be a First Amendment issue is irrelevant. As the FIRE's letter linked in my post accurately shows, it is a First Amendment issue, and the administration was squarely in the wrong — until it recently announced it had abandoned the "investigation."
Fourth, I think your assertion that the comments are "filed with hatred and harassment" is overwrought. I have deleted some comments that contained gratuitous insults and racism, because Popehat is my private blog and I use it to express myself and exercise my right to free expression. But so far, I don't see anything published that exceeds the level of contempt I think these totalitarian attempts at censorship richly deserve. I will not be "censoring" any of the comments I've approved.
Mr. Doe, let me be more forthright. I do not believe you have equipped yourself to be an adult citizen in a free society. It is not too late to do so.
I am not suggesting that becoming a responsible adult citizen in a free society requires you to become a conservative or eschew "liberal" or "progressive" values. To the contrary. But becoming a responsible adult citizen — and an effective advocate for liberal or progressive values — requires a quite different approach.
We're in the middle of a modest conservative backlash and a resurgence of bigotry, both actual and arrested-adolescent-poseur. I believe a large part of this backlash results from the low quality of advocacy for progressive ideas. Much of that advocacy has become characterized by petulant whining and empty dogmatism. The message conveyed by too many of your generation is not that people should adopt progressive ideas because they are right or just, but that they should adopt them because that is what they are supposed to adopt because that is what right-thinking people adopt. That is irritating and ineffectual. Faced with an idea, I don't expect your generation to confront it. I don't expect you to explain how it's wrong, and win hearts and minds that your ideas are better. Rather, I expect you to assert that you should be protected from being exposed to the idea in the first place. That's disappointing and doesn't bode well for the success of progressive ideas (many of which I admire) in society. In short: if this is how you're going to fight for what you think is right, you're going to lose. Do better.
Meanwhile, I sincerely wish you fulfillment and joy in college, which is a marvelous experience. Don't stop meeting new people and trying new things. Don't overspecialize; you'll never again have such an opportunity to expose yourself to new and different subjects. Take advantage of it.
Very truly yours,
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