Law Prof Suggests Banning Speakers to Offset High-Cost of Free Speech

Free speech is cheaper than law school!

Columbia University Law School Professor Suzanne Goldberg, who is also a high-ranking administrator according to Campus Reform, wrote an essay for the Knight First Amendment Institute suggesting several strategies for private universities to restrict from campus speakers considered “threatening” by students.

She begins by acknowledging what she calls an “absurd” situation that “we find ourselves in today.” That is, where free speech “has enabled provocateurs not only to spew hostile messages into our communities but also to divert extraordinary levels of resources to protect their messaging.”

Goldberg says it has been a long-fought battle against controversial speakers “dropping into communities where they are not wanted” where they generate “significant tension and upset.” A problem, she adds, that has been compounded by the election of Donald Trump and the quick fame achieved online via Twitter and elsewhere. The professor believes many or more interested in “provoking controversy than bringing meaningful discussion and debate to campus.”

Her reason for the essay is to find a more cost-effective approach for universities who experience an extra drain on already-tight budgets to provide security and other personnel when so-called controversial speakers arrive on campus. But instead of upholding others' First Amendment rights, Goldberg thinks there's a better way — three possible ways, to be exact — by simply banning the speech altogether. The professor does admit her ideas aren’t without “serious difficulties,” but maintains that the conversation needs a jumping off point.

“Since cost is the impetus for reconsidering an all-speakers approach, I offer here three cost-based approaches a college or university might consider when it believes it lacks the resources to manage a contentious situation safely,” Goldberg writes.

To read each idea in detail, click here, but Goldberg provides a summation:

First is an approach that looks to past events to predict future costs. Here, a school might exclude speakers whose recent events have been accompanied by violence or severe disruption or perhaps by protests that are large, vigorous, and non-violent.

Second is an approach that seeks to predict event-management costs based on the risks posed by a speaker’s message. Here the focus on would be on the extent to which a speaker’s usual message encourages violence and harassment either generally or toward specific groups within the community, even though the message has not previously prompted violence or large, unruly protests.

Third is an approach that focuses on costs over time from messages that community members experience as threatening, not necessarily of imminent violence but of longer-term harm. More particularly, this approach would potentially exclude speakers who are known to express derogatory messages that leave certain community members feeling threatened and exposed to increased risk as a result.

Goldberg adds that it’s not only a high financial price to pay to have certain speakers appear on campus, but that there is a psychological price to pay by students — and she adds this extra note of alarmism — especially “in an era when firearms are widely available and open carry is claimed, by some, as an expressive act.”

Apparently, when logic is absent, spread fear. At least Goldberg has the unrestricted freedom as an academic to express such drivel.

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