Free Speech on College Campuses

As the free speech debate heats up on college campuses, these sources underscore the importance of defending this right.

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Armbruster-Sandoval, Ralph. Starving for justice: hunger strikes, spectacular speech, and the struggle for dignity. Arizona, 2017. 305p bibl index ISBN 9780816532582, $55.00; ISBN 9780816536214 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE September 2017

Armbruster-Sandoval (Chicano/a studies, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara) contextualizes the Chicana/o studies hunger strikes that occurred on the campuses of the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB), the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), and Stanford University during the decade of the 1990s. The author defines how the concepts of hunger strikes and spectacular speech were critical in the social and ideological construction of campus unrest and struggles. Individual chapters then examine the hunger strike and political struggle for the Chicana/o studies department at UCLA; the hunger strike and political engagement to attain faculty tenure track lines, a doctoral program, university funding, and student services for the growth of the UCSB Chicana/o studies department; and the hunger strikes and political struggle for a Chicana/o studies department at Stanford, which failed to became a reality. Finally, Armbruster-Sandoval summarizes the social and ideological impact that these three hunger strikes made to the Chicana/o studies struggle. The author bases his book on historical archival and oral interviews, making it original and organic. This is the first scholarship that investigates the Chicana/o studies social movements of the 1990s, and is a major contribution for future scholarly development of this critical subject. For all ethnic studies and history collections. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. —J. G. Moreno, Northern Arizona University

Ethics in higher education: promoting equity and inclusion through case-based inquiry, ed. by Rebecca M. Taylor and Ashley Floyd Kuntz. Harvard Education Press, 2021. 320p bibl index ISBN 9781682537008 pbk, $36.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE November 2022

Emerging issues in higher education come with great complexity. Editors Taylor (Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) and Kuntz (Florida International Univ.) navigate complex topics through collaboratively examining case studies that address critical topics, including Title IX, free speech, sexual misconduct, and rising tuition costs. This essential resource includes multiple views and perspectives across the academy, presenting opinions from highly credentialed professionals in active service. Each perspective comes with a different view, focuses on things of interest or note for that author, and crafts a conversation engaging the topic for readers. This guide for campus inquiry and open conversations calls for readers to engage in conversation regarding the cases presented. It is a vital resource for students studying higher education and practitioners facing these issues. Scholars will appreciate the book’s chapter notes and index: they are valuable tools to expand inquiry and support classroom and professional development discussions. The final chapter includes a challenge to readers to review their assumptions, consider other viewpoints and voices, and note the impact these issues have on the greater community. This timely publication provides a footnote in education detailing the current culture. Summing Up: Essential. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; professionals. —A. K. Riggs, Southwestern University

The Free speech movement: reflections on Berkeley in the 1960s, ed. by Robert Cohen and Reginald E. Zelnik. California, 2002. 618p ISBN 0520222210, $55.00; ISBN 0520233549 pbk, $19.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE April 2003

Academicians for whom a narrowing canon or culture of political correctness may be the most troublesome current free-speech worry may not recall the grinding conformity or serious strictures on speech that existed not so long ago, even at such now-storied bastions of expression as Berkeley. Sparked by the death of the movement’s student founder and leader Mario Savio in 1996, this is a fascinating and informative retrospective on Berkeley’s 1964 Free Speech Movement (FSM). Its contributors include FSM veterans, former president Clark Kerr, Berkeley professors from FSM days, and scholars of history and constitutional law. Some may see this substantial volume as an unbalanced celebration of dissonant politics. But so much of FSM merits celebration. At Berkeley (where entrance to the administration building is by the “Savio steps”) and in freedoms in the academy across the nation, one may not be far off in observing that those seeking FSM’s legacy might just look around. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Undergraduate and graduate students and scholars of social movements, social history, the history of the academy, and constitutional rights. —J. D. Gillespie, Presbyterian College

Hoben, John L. Learning what you cannot say: teaching free speech and political literacy in an authoritarian age. Peter Lang, 2014. 241p bibl (Critical studies in democracy and political literacy, 4) ISBN 9781433123764, $159.95; ISBN 9781433123757 pbk, $40.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE May 2015

For teachers in Canada and the US, this is a complex and important book about education and the issue of free speech.  Hoben (Memorial Univ. of Newfoundland) teaches in Canada and has done research on this topic with Canadian teachers.  However, he cites many cases and legal judgments from the US as well as Canada, and the challenges and conclusions are similar for educators in both countries.  Essential to the author’s argument is the context in which education takes place.  Hoben’s review of the historical origins of the concept of free and reasonable speech places the current situation in perspective, as does his analysis of the ways in which a bureaucratic society functions.  Quotes from the teachers he interviews provide a clear picture of the reality teachers face as employees of institutions that require loyalty to an ideal of them as role models and public professionals.  How the teachers’ silence on educational and social issues affects preparing children to become citizens of a democracy is a question Hoben explores fully.  Since Hoben draws on a wide range of sources, there is much for the reader to ponder in his narrative. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. —S. Sugarman, emerita, Vermont State Colleges

Pasquerella, Lynn. What we value: public health, social justice, and educating for democracy. Virginia, 2022. 176p bibl ISBN 9780813948478, $25.00; ISBN 9780813948485 ebook, $20.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2022

Philosopher and medical ethicist Pasquerella (American Association of Colleges and Universities) has created an excellent, important text examining what being American means in times of moral distress, political polarization, and inequity and explaining that the answers to facing these growing crises lie in liberal education. The first chapter examines medical ethics and moral injury, pointing out how public trust and compassion fade in the face of COVID-19 and growing political divides. The second chapter addresses the role of liberal education in weathering campus storms, focusing on the need for balancing free speech with equity, especially facing accusations of liberal bias and legislation aimed against antibias training and other activities labeled by accusers as “unpatriotic.” The author in general states the case for liberal education as the key to speaking across differences and coming together for the common good. Pasquerella’s final chapter culminates the overall theme by arguing that liberal education is essential to US democracy, particularly in times of growing racial and economic segregation and extreme polarization. Pasquerella rounds out the book with extensive notes and bibliography sections. Readers will find this book timely and thought-provoking: worth reading, processing, and then reading again. Summing Up: Essential. All readers. —A. Sheppard, Arkansas State University

Roth, Michael S. Safe enough spaces: a pragmatist’s approach to inclusion, free speech, and political correctness on college campuses. Yale, 2019. 142p index ISBN 9780300234855, $25.00; ISBN 9780300248722 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE March 2020

The goal of this thoughtful and well-timed volume by Roth (president, Wesleyan Univ.) is to “re-instill confidence in higher education without just adapting it to the perceived needs and political trends of the moment.” It is neither a screed against nor a justification of political correctness. Instead, the author seeks to explain the instincts that backstop this phenomenon (and the reactions to it), with an eye on channeling the positive dimensions of those instincts—e.g., desire for inclusiveness and commitment to free inquiry—toward a reinvigoration of campus culture. Crucially, the author acknowledges the potential tension between those two instincts: sometimes free inquiry can make people feel uncomfortable, or even devalued and marginalized. Expanding access to higher education for previously underserved groups has shaped the debate, but the author argues that the debate itself needs to be reconfigured. Academic diversity is not merely about who gets into college. It is also about designing a curriculum that enables those previously underserved groups to offer their own perspectives for consideration and study. The book is thus an evenhanded treatment of what have become contentious topics in our national sociopolitical discourses. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels. —S. B. Lichtman, Shippensburg University

Shiell, Timothy C. African Americans and the First Amendment: the case for liberty and equality. SUNY Press, 2019. 208p bibl index ISBN 9781438475813, $95.00; ISBN 9781438475837 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE March 2020

Shiell (philosophy, Univ. of Wisconsin, Stout) is also the author of Campus Hate Speech on Trial (CH, Nov’98, 36-1872). Whereas in that work he examined campus speech codes regulating hate speech, in the present book he looks more broadly at the importance of free speech in advancing the cause of racial equality in the US. Although many scholars have argued that freedom of expression and racial equality are in conflict and that free speech should be curtailed, Shiell argues that the two are not in fundamental conflict and that in fact a vigorous exercise of free speech by civil rights advocates will advance their cause. The book covers four main topics: the era of American apartheid when African Americans and others were denied basic civil rights, including speech; the landmark case of Herndon v. Lowry (1937), the first time the US Supreme Court upheld a black man’s free speech rights; the post–Herndon v. Lowry Civil Rights Movement and how freedom of speech assisted in that cause; and the fundamental alliance of speech and equality—the last the ultimate argument of the book. This thoroughly documented study does an excellent job of combining philosophy, law, history, and political science. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty. —M. W. Bowers, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Vivian, Bradford. Campus misinformation: the real threat to free speech in American higher education. Oxford, 2022 (c2023). 227p bibl index ISBN 9780197531273, $29.95; ISBN 9780197531303 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE January 2024

In recent years, trust in higher education has eroded. A survey conducted in 2022 showed that merely 55 percent of Americans held a positive view of the impact colleges and universities have on society. As Vivian (communication, Penn State Univ.) illustrates in his highly important book, misinformation about campuses has a lot to do with the negative perception of higher education. One frequently echoed accusation is that colleges and universities predominantly uphold progressive politics, thereby displaying hostility toward conservative viewpoints. However, Vivian argues that attempting to counterbalance progressive and conservative perspectives under the banner of “viewpoint diversity” might not be the solution. Instead, he asserts that genuine freedom of speech should ensure the inclusion of a wide array of diverse viewpoints, extending well beyond the confines of the progressive/conservative dichotomy. Vivian’s thought-provoking book makes a substantial contribution to ongoing discussions about freedom of speech both within and outside the realm of college campuses. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Advanced undergraduates through faculty; general readers; professionals. —G. Thuswaldner, Whitworth University