Wednesday, 22 May 2024

Opinion | The Battle Over Free Speech on Campus

More from our inbox:

To the Editor:

Re “There Are Promising Signs for Free Speech on Campuses,” by David French (column, April 17):

I hope Mr. French’s column is correct. Freedom of speech, as provided for in the First Amendment, is a bedrock principle of our constitutional democracy.

It is based on the premise of neutral principles. It guarantees all of us the fundamental right to express ourselves regardless of our viewpoints. Its meaning and significance for a free society cannot be misunderstood or minimized.

Individuals who profess to believe in free speech demonstrate their commitment to the principle not merely when they support the right of a speaker with whom they agree but also when they show that support for a speaker whose viewpoint is antithetical to their own.

Norman Siegel
New York
The writer is a civil rights lawyer and a former executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

To the Editor:

It is obvious that William Butler Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming,” cited in David French’s column, still has relevance today in light of current events, such as the Capitol insurrection and threats to free speech. Right- and left-wing extremist attacks on free speech are undermining American democracy.

The battlegrounds for these attacks are college campuses. There are indications of optimism, though. Many prestigious universities have adopted a stance in favor of free speech and academic freedom, including Stanford, Cornell, Harvard and the University of Chicago.

These organizations have released comments, formed alliances and increased actions to support free speech on their campuses. These initiatives are encouraging and show that the center, standing for the moral core of a nation, is battling back against the passionate intensity of extremist movements, even though the fight for free speech on campuses is still ongoing.

Elizabeth Uyar
Shelton, Conn.

To the Editor:

We should always be glad to hear of university administrators defending free speech. But I think it is wrong to equate student protests with lawmaker attempts to ban areas of academic discourse from curriculums.

Protests, while they may go too far in violating the rights and safety of speakers, are themselves, in principle, exercises in free speech. It is entirely appropriate, for example, for law students at Stanford to protest Federalist Society lectures.

Lawmakers’ attempts to ban speech, on the other hand, are exercises in government tyranny. Big difference.

John Pederson
Portland, Ore.

To the Editor:

Re “Stanford Furor Exposes Snags of Free Speech” (front page, April 9):

Commitments to free speech raise many difficult issues, but designing protocols to protect the speech of both campus speakers and protesters is not one of them.

Those who wanted to protest the appearance of a conservative judge, Stuart Kyle Duncan, at Stanford Law School should have been permitted to 1) hold protest signs visible to everyone walking into the room where Judge Duncan was scheduled to speak; 2) hand out leaflets explaining their objections to everyone entering the room; and 3) ask Judge Duncan questions during the Q. and A. period, on the same basis as everyone else.

But the answer to the question “How much disruption should they be permitted to make inside the room?” is none. Such a protocol would have protected everyone’s right to free speech.

Carl T. Bogus
Bristol, R.I.
The writer is a professor of law at Roger Williams University.

To the Editor:

Re “As Cornell Firmly Rejects Push for Trigger Warnings, Free-Speech Debate Shifts” (news article, April 13):

Some students at Cornell University are proposing that warnings be issued for certain course material. I understand the intention to protect and shield students from perceived harm, and that is a good intention.

But if I may respectfully address these students:

This would do more harm than good. The world is not always easy. Discussing difficult things is better than avoiding them.

Students, I hope that your school will have counseling services available for anyone in need and that the teachers will teach with compassion.

But the narrative is not out of your hands. Learning more about painful things is a time for each of you to increase your understanding and empathy, and to contribute to a discussion about them if you so choose.

It’s a good school that gives all of its students that chance.

Ann Pohlmann
Toledo, Ohio

Meetings, Short and Long

To the Editor:

Re “How to Stamp Out Meetings That Go On and On and On” (Sunday Business, April 9):

It has been many years since I worked in the corporate world, but I remember the meetings. And the fact that I would walk out when they started getting repetitive.

More than one boss asked me where I was going. My reply? “Back to work.”

Oddly, I was never fired or even called on the carpet. I guess they knew my time was more valuable to me — and to them — than those who stayed to natter on.

Terry Shames
Marina del Rey, Calif.

To the Editor:

When I was the president of the College of Charleston, I developed a strategy for keeping meetings short. I removed all the chairs except one from the room where a meeting was to take place. I sat down, but everyone else had to stand. I found that this significantly shortened meetings at the college.

I’m not sure why.

Alex Sanders
Charleston, S.C.

In Defense of Singapore: The Government’s View

To the Editor:

Re “Lessons on Leadership From Singapore,” by Farah Stockman (Opinion, April 17):

Ms. Stockman paints a false picture of Singapore. Singapore is the only Southeast Asian country that has held regular elections without ever suspending its Constitution or imposing martial law in its post-independence history. Singaporeans have access to every major global news outlet, including The New York Times.

Singapore is ranked fifth in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2022, and third in the 2022 World Justice Project’s index for the absence of corruption in its legal and law enforcement systems. The U.S. is ranked 24th and 22nd, respectively, in the two indexes.

Singaporeans have a high level of trust in the judiciary. This is why anyone, including the offspring of the founding prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, can be investigated and brought before the courts.

Ms. Stockman quotes Lee Kuan Yew’s younger son, Lee Hsien Yang, and grandson, Shengwu Li, at length, portraying them as victims. The fact is a court found Lee Hsien Yang’s wife, Lee Suet Fern, guilty of misconduct as a lawyer. The court also found the couple misled Lee Kuan Yew in the execution of his last will and had lied under oath.

Shengwu Li was told he would not be charged for contempt if he apologized and withdrew his statement that the Singapore government has “a pliant court system.” He refused.

The Lees remain Singapore citizens, and are free to return to Singapore and cooperate with police investigations for possible perjury.

Ashok Kumar Mirpuri
The writer is Singapore’s ambassador to the United States.

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