Campus Beat Reporter
The ongoing discussion on the value of free speech at the University of California, Santa Barbara resurfaced at the Wed., Feb. 3 Associated Students Senate meeting. During public forum, students requested that the Senate fully fund a professor’s travel expenses when coming to the university to speak at the Anscombe Society’s same-sex marriage/religious liberty debate.
The organization hosted its second public debate, “After Obergefell: The Impact on Marriage and Religious Liberty, A Debate,” between Dr. Ryan T. Anderson, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and Dr. Quentin Gee, a UCSB philosophy professor, on Thurs., Feb. 4. Designed to bring a variety of dissenting voices to campus, representatives supporting the Anscombe Society were dismayed to hear that their request had not been funded by the Senate Finance and Business Committee. Most seemed concerned that the senators were putting their personal beliefs and biases before what their constituents would want.
“Senators, the most important question for you to ask yourselves when considering the debate hosted by the Anscombe Society is not what one likes or dislikes, but what your duties are to the university, students and the greater community in this scenario,” Derek Dimpfl, a UCSB alumnus, said.
Off-Campus Senator Jerel Constantino, a third year history of public policy major, revealed the rationale behind the initial decision not to fund Anderson’s travel expenses. To Constantino, one reason was how many Finance and Business Committee members had abstained given how contentious the topic was. “Some people had concerns about the speakers who were going to come in, the quality of discussion, the protests last year and other concerns with it,” Constantino, who serves as committee chair, said. “Those aren’t valid concerns for turning down funding for the debate.”
Ultimately, the Senate voted to fully fund the $1,300 used for Anderson’s travel expenses and honorarium with a vote of 20-0-1.
Some meeting attendees also addressed UCSB’s recent failing grade in protecting free speech on campus according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
Previously, the Graduate Student Association released a formal statement of solidarity standing with student activists against racial intolerance. Fourth year political science major Jason Garshfield took issue with the language presented in the piece.
“At the very beginning of the statement, they call essentially for a ban on hate speech by saying, ‘We finally demand that university administration actively protect students from harassment, etc., including forms of hate crimes and hate speech,’” Garshfield said. “There is no hate speech exemption to the First Amendment. As I have expressed when I last spoke to you, the way to deal with bigotry is to bring it out in the open and address it upfront.”
According to Garshfield, there are some policies that need to be reworded in order to support freedom of speech while protecting underrepresented groups from harassment. While he has vocalized his support for same-sex marriage and sexual harassment prevention, it is crucial to Garshfield that others be able to discuss dissenting opinion without being attacked for it.
Garshfield and FIRE stand with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)’s position, which denounces hate speech codes. To all three, freedom of speech is incredibly important in that it serves to enrich academic freedom in the present day. While some voices may be unpopular, they are important to hear, according to this stance.
“Right now, same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states,” Garshfield said. “It’s something we’ve won and if we can’t even be good enough winners to hear the opposition, I think that shows a deep insecurity, and a huge amount of hubris.”
Context is everything. People have a right to be protected from offensive speech when dining at a restaurant, enjoying a park with friends etc. But a discussion/debate on a university campus with opportunity to analyze, question, refute, and examine ideas is exactly the place…maybe the only place…to hear every possible opinion and consider all points of view. Without this, universities are merely trade schools.
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