Selective veiling of free speech?

I'm a bit concerned about the new president of Bryn Mawr College. From today's Inquirer:

An internationally known scholar of Islamic studies whose expertise is in the Quran and relations between Islam and Christianity was selected as the eighth president of Bryn Mawr College yesterday.

The appointment of Jane Dammen McAuliffe was announced to the college community by pealing bells from Taylor Hall.

McAuliffe, dean of the college of arts and sciences at Georgetown University, said she planned to emphasize the natural sciences and multiculturalism when she takes over from Nancy J. Vickers on July 1.

She wants to beef up science offerings and actively recruit international students to the 123-year-old liberal-arts campus.

Bryn Mawr, McAuliffe said, has already diversified the 1,300-student campus "more than most institutions in the United States. I want to continue that work but reach out even more aggressively" to foreign students.

The college's international students come from 43 countries. Thirty-three percent of the student body are minorities or international students.

McAuliffe's specialty is the Muslim holy book and its interpretations, early Islamic history, and the interrelationships between Islam and Christianity.

That's all fine and good for those who believe in multiculturalism, and I suppose interfaith dialogue is OK as long as it doesn't reach the point of advocating Sharia Law -- which it has in England under Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. I point out this concern only because Williams has worked with Bryn Mawr's new dean on his 'Building Bridges' seminar in Qatar.

I have nothing against building bridges in Qatar, nor against Islamic Studies. In fact, I'd probably find the subject very interesting, as I love history and I'm fascinated by religion. I'm worried, though, by a couple of things.

First, Bryn Mawr is one of those places with a history of restrictions on speech (in the form of draconian "speech codes," as well as worrisome "orientation" sessions bordering on out-and-out indoctrination):

...Bryn Mawr probed the most private experiences of every first-year student: difference and discomfort; racial, ethnic, and class experiences; sexual orientation; religious beliefs. By the end of this "orientation," students were devising "individual and collective action plans" for "breaking free" of "the cycle of oppression" and for achieving "new meaning" as "change agents." Although the public relations savvy of universities has changed since the early 1990s, these programs proliferate apace.
My concern is heightened by the fact that when she was in Toronto, Bryn Mawr's new president testified as a witness against a Christian minister who was ultimately convicted of criminal hate speech:
In recent years, hate crime convictions have become more frequent in this country as public and legal awareness have increased. In 1998, Mark Harding of Toronto was convicted for "promoting hatred against an identifiable group contrary to s.319(2) of the Criminal Code." Prof. Jane McAuliffe of the University of Toronto, an expert witness called by the Crown, said "there is no legitimate support in the Qur'an or Islamic religious doctrine for the position that Islam advocates violence."
What Mark Harding did was to hand out pamphlets criticizing Islam -- the sort of thing that Americans take for granted as a protected First Amendment activity:
The offending pamphlets discussed Islamic societies around the world where "Muslims are torturing, maiming, starving and killing Christians" simply because of their faith. Harding argues that Islam "is full of hate and violence," and that its holy books teach that it "will always be at war" with other religions. "Once a state becomes an Islamic state, no other religion is tolerated," he says.

His outspokenness last June landed Harding in trouble with the Muslim community, and he is going to trial next month to face criminal charges on three counts of "incitement to hatred." Complaints were also lodged with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. He was arrested and spent a few days in jail before a hearing last summer.

Harding is largely unrepentant as his trial date approaches, and he is confident that "the charges should be dismissed" under existing religious protection provisions in the law. He believes that judicial authorities succumbed to pressure because of vociferous complaints from the Muslim community.

"My free speech has been taken away," he says. "The government does not understand Islam and what it's all about."

The government obviously disagreed, and Harding was convicted -- with the help of Bryn Mawr's new president.

Regular readers know that I am 100% opposed to any "hate speech" laws or restrictions. Aside from the obvious First Amendment issues, one of the reasons is that there is no way to define hate. We all hate a lot of things, and the idea of criminalizing "hate" is absurd, and invites double standards.

Would President McAuliffe consider this hate speech, for example?


How about anti-homosexual passages from Islamic texts? This is no idle question, and I'm surprised that some of Bryn Mawr's political activists don't raise it.

If they wanted to ask Dean McAuliffe about double standards, they might start by asking why, for example, she would on the one hand testify against a Christian cleric accused of anti-Muslim remarks while she was in Canada, and then exhibit a far different attitude towards anti-homosexual remarks -- by another Christian cleric in the United States. Unlike Rev. Harding, he didn't stand around handing out leaflets, but she selected him to deliver Georgetown's commencement address:

For ears tuned for a commencement address, what came later was much less familiar. Where graduates might have expected congratulations and warm counsel, they received, quite simply, a sermon. "In many parts of the world, the family is under siege," said Arinze, at the climax of his speech. "It is opposed by anti-life mentality as is seen in contraception, abortion, infanticide and euthanasia. It is scorned and banalized by pornography; desecrated by fornication and adultery; mocked by homosexuality, sabotaged by irregular unions and cut into two by divorce."

"You don't solve a difficult algebra homework by burning the algebra book," he continued. "You don't solve a family problem by divorce."
During this part of Arinze's speech, Theresa Sanders, Associate Professor of Theology, got up from her seat on the stage behind Arinze and walked off. Sanders declined to comment on why she left.

As Sanders departed, Rachel Boutennot (CAS '03) was seated toward the front of the graduating students, "making faces," as she described it, to her faculty mentor, exasperated at what Arinze had said. The top of her black mortarboard, which she had prepared the night before, read "RESIST" in bright yellow paint. When she saw Sanders leave, she got up and left as well.

Others walked out, and a huge controversy followed. Eventually there was a meeting with angry faculty members, and the predictable charge of "hate speech":
McAuliffe's introduction of Arinze at the ceremony confirms that impression. She spoke at length about his expertise in "seeking cooperation and relations with those of other faiths" and the "complex backdrop of interactions between Muslims and Christians across Subsaharan Africa." She closed by nailing home the significance of having a specialist in Muslim-Christian relations speak to a group of American university graduates: "We look to the leadership of Cardinal Arinze as a voice for the Catholic Church in envisioning the secure peace towards which the world must work."


On Monday morning, History Professor Tommaso Astarita drafted a "letter of concern" asking the University to make an explicit committment to inclusiveness and distibuted it to faculty members. By Wednesday, about 70 professors had signed the letter, and it was delivered to McAuliffe. Those faculty members would constitute the core of the protesters. "I'm proud of the extent to which the faculty stepped forward and registered its concerns about the speech and the larger events it illustrates," said English Professor James Slevin, who signed that letter.
That same day, McAuliffe released a brief statement acknowledging the controversy. "As an academic community, vigorous and open discussion lies at the heart of what we do," she wrote, "and there are many different voices in the conversation." She set aside two hours for a meeting that Friday, May 22.
The meeting was held that afternoon in a conference room below McAuliffe's office in White-Gravenor. About 30 persons attended, of which the majority were faculty, and nearly all of them were upset about the speech. A handful of students attended as well, including Holder, who described the tone of the meeting as "very serious, very formal."

The meeting opened with a lengthy speech from McAuliffe, who focused on the Cardinal's background and the differences in the perception of homosexuality in Nigerian culture. She was also concerned about a backlash against the Cardinal, said Holder, from conservatives who considered him "simple." Repeatedly, attendees said, McAuliffe spoke about "walking the tightrope" between the University's Catholicism and the concerns of students and faculty.

But most of those who spoke later about the meeting said that Arinze himself was not the issue, but rather how the speech highlighted the University's perceived pattern of marginalizing the LGBTQ community. Holder, for one, felt McAuliffe's words did not directly address those issues. She described the remarks as "political" and "very diplomatic." "[McAuliffe] had a script and she stuck to it," Holder said. "That was very frustrating."

According to attendees, Slevin was particularly concerned about McAuliffe's evasion of certain issues. Slevin declined to speak about what happened inside the meeting, but attendees described him as particularly disturbed by the University's response. At one point, frustrated with McAuliffe, he told her, "cut the crap, Jane." Later, Slevin walked out of the meeting.

During the meeting McAuliffe again expressed her surprise at the content of Arinze's speech. Numerous professors and students spoke; one professor deemed the Cardinal's words "hate speech." Only one person, Stephen Feiler (CAS '02), who could not be reached for comment by press time, spoke in defense of Arinze.

There's a lot more, and it just smells of a double standard that someone who testified as a witness in a criminal hate speech trial for pampheteering in Canada would later defend a commencement address she sponsored which would probably be considered hate speech under the Canadian standard. (Or is there a need for "dialogue" here, but not in Canada?)

I'm of course a fierce advocate of free speech, and I think both Harding and Arinze have just as much right to freely criticize gays and Muslims as the latter have to criticize them. That's the whole idea.

What concerns me here is the double standard involved.

And what kind of standard is honors for Arinze, but jail for Harding?

I think the best way to build bridges and have honest and open dialogue is to respect all free speech -- be it pro or anti gay, pro or anti Muslim, pro or anti Christian, and yes, even pro or anti "diversity," and pro or anti "multiculturalism."

I hope my concerns are unfounded in the case of Bryn Mawr's new president, but I worry that the possible overemphasis on multiculturalism and diversity carries with it a growing threat to free speech.

(To say nothing of that subset of free speech we call "academic freedom.")

UPDATE: My thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link, and a warm welcome to all.

Agree or disagree, I appreciate the comments.

MORE: As there's been some discussion of Bryn Mawr's speech code (which is technically called the "Honor Code") in the comments, I thought it was worth taking a closer look.

Reading through the text of code, it is so vague that I'm not sure it was fair of me to characterize it as "draconian" because it does not spell out how exactly how it is to be be applied under all circumstances. It certainly could be applied in a very draconian manner -- and to almost anything -- with penalties including expulsion.

From the text:

We recognize that acts of discrimination and harassment, including, but not limited to, acts of racism, homophobia, classism, ableism, and discrimination against religious and political minorities are devoid of respect and therefore, by definition, violate this Code.


The Board has the authority to justify any sanction up to failure of an examination or paper, failure of a course, exclusion from a residence hall, exclusion from campus housing or expulsion from the College.

What, exactly, constitutes "discrimination"? What is harassment? I notice that "discrimination against religious and political minorities" is prohibited, but not discrimination against a religious or political majority. Which means that presumably, a Muslim (or perhaps a Republican) could bring charges, but not a Christian (or perhaps not a secularist) -- depending on what constitutes a majority.

As to what is actionable, another provision of the code defines it as whatever might "offend" any student:

a. If a student is offended by the actions of another student, either personally or because she believes them to be detrimental to the community, she must confront the student directly as the first step toward conflict resolution. This conversation must take place in person unless the option is not available (i.e. the student is abroad). Confrontation is not a hostile action. The two students should engage in a constructive discussion to try and reach a common understanding. This does not imply an agreement but an "exchange of values" or "expression of concerns" which results in a viable solution for both parties. An Honor Board member may act on behalf of another student if this process would place the student involved in physical danger. In the case of an Honor Board member assisting in the confrontation, a clear line of communication must be maintained between the students involved in the confrontation.


d. If the issue cannot be resolved, the Head of the Honor Board should be contacted.

e. Both the confronting and confronted parties must write separate statements explaining the circumstances as they perceive them. In ordinary circumstances the statements should be submitted to the Honor Board within 72 hours after the confronted student and the Honor Board have made contact.

f. The Head of the Honor Board, along with the Senior Counsel and with one other Board member, will collect written statements and determine if a hearing is warranted and which witnesses will be heard.

I suppose that if I were a Bryn Mawr student, and another student was "offended" by this blog post, I could first be "confronted," and if the "exchange of values" or "expression of concerns" did not satisfy the other student, a board could be convened with power to expel me.

The standard seems to be along the lines of "If you offend me, I can have you expelled."

Saying that anyone can be expelled for anything strikes me as a horribly vague standard, and a very broad one, with no notice of what is allowed, but with the ever-lurking possibility of boards, hearings, and possible expulsion.

I'm reminded of the whimsical "Don't Say This, I Won't Tell You What" standard at Brandeis.

If I were a Bryn Mawr student, I'd probably have to resort to anonymity.

UPDATE: I have another post here about President McAuliffe's views and interfaith dialogue.

posted by Eric on 02.09.08 at 10:08 AM


You cannot speculate as to what might happen at Bryn Mawr, as you clearly have no idea what the Bryn Mawr community is like. Multiculturalism and diversity are what grows our community, and we Mawrters speak our minds. Our student government and honor codes ENCOURAGE rather than RESTRICT speech and the transparent airing of feelings, and no President of the college would change this code, which has been in place for an extremely long time.

What is more concerning about your post is the fact that you basically compare Mawrters to a herd of animals that will follow wherever the administration takes us. Wrong. Bryn Mawr's reputation is one of strong student governance; if something is not working for us or we are dissatisfied with the way our college is being run, we will do anything and everything in our power to change it. So please, before you criticize an institution you know nothing about, do your research, and do it on more than partisan websites LOOKING to criticize colleges for their "lack" of free speech.

-Embittered Mawrter

Anonymous   ·  February 9, 2008 3:18 PM

"you basically compare Mawrters to a herd of animals that will follow wherever the administration takes us."

I don't think I made that comparison at all. I expressed the hope they ask pertinent questions about their new president. You're right about my ignorance about internal process at Bryn Mawr. I don't know whether the students were consulted about this appointment, or whether it was presented to them as a done deal. If the latter occurred, then I'd say that the administration and the Board of Trustees might be assuming that they'd follow wherever the administration takes them, but I'm not making that assumption.

Eric Scheie   ·  February 9, 2008 3:43 PM

Got a great idea! Don't go to that school. If she turns out to be a bad president, let the Board get rid of her. If they believe she is ok for the job, then so be Who is to ask pertinent questions about a new president? And when, Before she or he is hired or after? Who votes on the candidate?
Cn you name any decent school that has anything but a token input from students? Students come and go every 4 years. Why should they determine who is to stay on as president after the appointment--or before?
that "let's ask the students" mentality is very 60ish...

joseph hill   ·  February 9, 2008 6:14 PM

No, Mr. Scheie, you did not make any such claim. Frankly, though, you could have. Bryn Mawr is a pretty typical 21st century Liberal Arts college, where holding approved views often substitutes for reasoned analysis and argumentat among significant swaths of the campus. But my classmate has already taught you that by now.

-- Even more embittered Mawrter

John Martin   ·  February 9, 2008 6:22 PM

The neat thing is if Islamic advocates had not attacked two civilian buildings in Manhattan like a target of war an Islamic professor would have no chance at heading that school. Just as museums have about tripled the display space to Islamic history/science/religion etc. Show the Americans that you are strong, kill many and get increased respect in the academic intellectual world

Doug_S   ·  February 9, 2008 6:27 PM

My daughter visited Bryn Mawr on a college familiarity tour.

30 minutes on the campus and the school was off her list. In her opinion too PC, too many lesbians.

Not a Yank   ·  February 9, 2008 7:02 PM

I was a 'ford who took a number of classes at Bryn Mawr. It does not have "speech codes" of any kind, other than an honor code that students willingly accept. Your comments on McAuliffe are way off base. As a womens' college doing outreach into the Islamic world, I would expect it to do what neocons are always accusing liberals of hypocritally forgetting to do -- focusing on the liberation of women, giving them educations in the hopes of reforming repressive societies from within. It's what Bryn Mawr did for the United States, after all! Other scaremongering and guilt by association tactics aside -- you should realize that having some patriarchical jackass go all McCarthy on the new dean is probably the single WORST way to persuade Mawrtyrs to your cause. You might as well start talking smack about Pallas Athena and Kate Hepburn.

HC01   ·  February 9, 2008 7:17 PM

Hello! The colleges, at least the tenured liberal arts faculty faculty and administrations, are a lost cause. Fortunately, a good deal of the brainwashing wears off when the graduates leave and have to fight it out in the real world - assuming they don't become teachers or bureaucrats, fo course.

Dan Friedman   ·  February 9, 2008 7:33 PM

My Korean girlfriend of many many years went to Bryn Mawr. Studied chemistry. Did so well, she got into Columbia for graduate school, the same year I arrived. The other guys were wimpy so I scooped her up. A law degree (hers) and years later, she's the same sort of person: vote Democratic but make fun of activist and hippie types. Buys Armani, Marc Jacobs, Diane Von Furstenberg, Betsy Johnson and everything in the Bliss cosmetics catalog. I swear there's $20K of clothes hanging on the hooks I have to keep adding to her room (she gets up way too early for me, so I sleep in another room). She now makes upwards of a million dollars a year if you include Google stock options and profit sharing bonuses. She went to Bryn Mawr in the heyday of angry feminism, back in the late 80s. She doesn't have a lick of "feminism" in her. She's no giggling bimbo, and is in fact kind of a ball buster at times, but the idea that Liberal Arts "indoctrination" at the college age level has brainwashed her is silly. It's grade-school where indoctrination is effective. Notice the feisty response from the original commenter. We happen to live in a building that has become mostly a girl's college dorm (Barnard), a whole 200 of them, and a change I've noticed is that the kids these days are, with rare ugly exception, not that much into politics any more. They're boy crazy, mostly. Alas, I am now twice their age, and one catty stare from my powersuit clad attack cat lover, and they grimace instead of return my smile. Her response to last years "Asian American Task Force" meeting posters?: "Pfffft...weirdos!"

NikFromNYC   ·  February 9, 2008 7:41 PM

Well, a brief look at the college's website reveals that the "honor code" is, de facto, a speech code with its explicit naming of certain beliefs as violations of the code. And, of course, the code does not apply to faculty or staff. Patronizing the little girls by letting them think that they're governing themselves while the real power remains out of reach of the oppressed!

Chuck Simmins   ·  February 9, 2008 7:48 PM

Of course, if you're clever enough about brainwashing the little ditzes, they never even know you did it!

Al Fin   ·  February 9, 2008 8:33 PM

I wonder how happy all those girlies will be when the delightfully multiculti Sharia Law comes to Bryn Mawr. Sounds like it would be in good company.

No child of mine would ever attend that fraud of a school.

Peg C.   ·  February 9, 2008 9:03 PM

>:: an honor code that students willingly accept.

hah hah

the "honor" (aka speech) code is "voluntary" only in the Don Corleone sense of "voluntary".

That honor code is a code the students can't refuse.

EvilDave   ·  February 9, 2008 9:58 PM

If all it takes to become "embittered" is a bit of discussion about academic double standards of free speech, then the Bryn Mawr posters thus far are going to find the real world a bit difficult to take.

Of course, they don't seem to be very clear on the concept of "free speech" in the first place. Nowhere in the Bill of Rights is there a "Right to not be Annoyed." Nor does academic freedom mean the practitioners of same cannot be contradicted.

Mike Spehar   ·  February 9, 2008 10:19 PM

Liberal Fascism


Roy Mustang   ·  February 9, 2008 10:56 PM

Prof. Jane McAuliffe of the University of Toronto, an expert witness called by the Crown, said "there is no legitimate support in the Qur'an or Islamic religious doctrine for the position that Islam advocates violence."

Well smite the heads of the infidels! That piece of nonsense alone is enough to tell you all you need to know about her intellectual credentials. In case anybody here is unfamiliar with the actual Koran/Qu'ran, here is a link to a selection of 109 violence-promoting verses:

If you don't want to read them all, here's the executive summary:

The Quran contains 109 verses that call Muslims to war with nonbelievers. Some are quite graphic, with commands to chop off heads and fingers, and kill the infidels wherever they may be hiding. Muslims who do not join the fight are called 'hypocrites' and warned that Allah will send them to Hell if they do not join the slaughter.

These verses are mostly open-ended, meaning that they are not embedded within historical context (as are nearly all of the Old Testament verses of violence). They are part of the eternal, unchanging word of Allah, and just as relevant or subjective as anything else in the Qur'an.

Unfortunately, there are very few verses of tolerance and peace to abrogate or even balance out the many that call for nonbelievers to be fought and subdued until they either accept humiliation, convert to Islam, or are killed. This proclivity toward violence and Muhammad's own martial tradition have resulted in a trail of blood and bodies across world history.

CJ   ·  February 9, 2008 11:01 PM

Peg, I have to take issue with your characterization of Bryn Mawr as a "fraud of a school." I grew up near Bryn Mawr, and I have always had the highest respect for their academic standards.

(If I didn't, I wouldn't have written the post.)

Eric Scheie   ·  February 10, 2008 12:06 AM

Eric, I know nothing about Jane Dammen McAuliffe, but I think the most likely explanation of her double standard is obvious. Cardinal Arinze is black (he's Nigerian); Mark Harding, I imagine, is white. McAuliffe is probably one of those who think only whites can be racist, and only whites can commit hate crimes.

PJ/Maryland   ·  February 10, 2008 2:27 AM

Eric, in response to your question as to how the president was chosen, the search and hiring committee had two students on it, a grad student and an undergrad, each chosen by its constituency, not appointed. Each were involved in the entire process.

At the meet & greet Friday (where I made sure to shake the new president-elect's hand and lobby a little like everyone else) I sought the grad rep out to get the scoop. I asked her if we'd gotten who we'd wanted, if she was good. I got affirmatives on both, and heard a lot of positives about the choice.

I'd been a little apprehensive because of the mention in the press release that while at Georgetown she had "expanded the number of undergraduate majors and minors in contemporary fields of inquiry," which I take to mean "____ Studies" programs. I am more of a traditionalist when it comes to education, i.e. the canon. But that's education today, I guess.

Sarah   ·  February 10, 2008 4:45 PM

A fascist dhimmi in charge of an American college? What could possibly go wrong?

joe   ·  February 10, 2008 8:00 PM

I'm actually amazed that she got away with inviting a Roman Catholic cardinal to an academic event, black or no.

Gypsy Boots   ·  February 10, 2008 11:08 PM

[URL=]buy soma[/URL]

levitra   ·  February 15, 2008 2:59 PM

[URL=]buy soma[/URL]

levitra   ·  February 15, 2008 3:00 PM

[URL=]buy soma[/URL]

levitra   ·  February 15, 2008 3:02 PM

[URL=]buy soma[/URL]

levitra   ·  February 15, 2008 3:03 PM

Post a comment

April 2011
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30


Search the Site


Classics To Go

Classical Values PDA Link


Recent Entries


Site Credits