There is a free speech debate at Drake University over hateful and vulgar tweets from Associate English Professor Beth Younger, telling Republicans to “suffer”. We have seen increasingly vulgar attacks from academics in recent years, including such high profile figures as Laurence Tribe. In particular, Twitter hasn’t banned Youngers’ account for harming all Republicans. I don’t think she should be banned from social media or fired by Drake for free speech. Even with professors who justified the murder of conservatives or the killing of the police, such hateful statements are protected. The solution to such hate speech is more (and better) language. I would prefer that we denounce such a speech than censor it.
Beth Younger tweeted on Oct. 26, “I was just thinking about how much hatred I feel for all the Republican holes. You must suffer. “
Jünger also stated that all “men are rubbish”. and sent a message to US Senator Josh Hawley on Jan. 7 that said, “F ** k of you piece of shit.” She also attacked Melania Trump, calling Secretary Mike Pompeo a “royalty and a traitor”.
Such feelings obviously affect many Republican students and presumably faculties on campus. This also affects male students who attend their class with their avowed hatred of their gender. In a persuasive and well-considered email, President Marty Martin rightly condemned Younger’s comments as “unacceptable”. However, Martin emphasized freedom of speech in her email this week:
Drake University’s Policy Statement states that freedom of thought and expression is central to our educational mission. We therefore carefully refrain from restricting the exchange of ideas or the content of the language. We recognize that open and frank discussion of social, cultural, artistic, religious, moral, scientific and political issues can be disruptive and even hurtful to some people, but the principle of free exchange and inquiry takes precedence due to its fundamental role our education company. Through this robust exchange of ideas, we seek to create a community in which a common purpose transcends differences and respect for human dignity transcends conflict.
Recent tweets raise serious questions about sexist and political intolerance. However, there is no claim that she behaved discriminatory or hateful in class. The question is whether universities would maintain such a position in favor of free speech if the statements addressed other groups such as a male professor who said the same thing about women. It is not clear whether there is a coherent line or policy in such cases. Freedom of speech requires light lines, but the records among universities are contradicting itself. I often hear from conservative and libertarian faculties what they see as double standards. They don’t believe that universities would show the same tolerance of criticism, let alone hateful attacks, from other groups. Certainly, many liberal faculties and students have not shown the same tolerance.
As many on this blog know, I am more predictable when it comes to freedom of speech issues. My natural standard is to protect the language, especially if you are being trained off campus or on social media. These are difficult cases where statements reflect prejudice and sexism, as in the case of Professor Younger. However, there are fears of a slippery slope once the universities begin to punish those with unacceptable views expressed in their private capacity. We discussed efforts to dismiss professors who express dissenting views on the fundamentals or demands of the recent protests, including efforts to oust a leading economist from the University of Chicago, as well as a leading linguistics professor at Harvard and a literature professor at Penn. The silence from many faculties in the face of raids on freedom of expression has been appalling in recent years.
Many conservative and libertarian faculties and students feel a fear that they will not be able to express themselves on campus or in class without being ostracized or even subject to retaliation, including attacks by the student government. While faculty members like Professor Younger may not show the same tolerance for opposing views, we have a greater responsibility to regain our communities’ trust in tolerance for opposing views and expressions on our campus. She is the cost of free speech.