Professor leads discussion on free speech

Professor Howard Schweber spoke to a group of nearly 30 students and UW community members about free speech on Monday.

Professor of political science Howard Schweber spoke on free speech and led a discussion with UW students and administrators Monday.

WUD Society and Politics, a nonpartisan student group, hosted Schweber to discuss the complexities of free speech on college campuses in the United States. Schweber teaches Political Science 412: The First Amendment at the university.

Schweber opened his speech by explaining the difference between free speech and academic freedom. He explained academic freedom as the ability of a university to guide its own educational mission.

Free speech and academic freedom are opposing concepts because of that discretion, and the two can often be confusing for people to understand, Schweber said.

“Academic freedom is precisely the ability not to give an equal platform to all ideas or voices or approaches,” Schweber said.

Schweber said this ties into the notion that there are wrong ideas and it is the responsibility of the university to dispel these fallacies because of academic freedom.

“Nothing in free speech says your wrong answer is entitled to as much consideration as the right answer,” Schweber said. “All totalities are totalities.”

He gave the idea of the earth being flat as an example of a fallacy the university cannot condone.

Schweber said protesting is a completely acceptable form of free speech. However, when it comes to protesting a speaker at the campus, students can not disrupt that speaker under the law of Heckler’s Veto.

Heckler’s Veto states that authorities are responsible for restricting freedom of speech when that speech could incite violence or create disorder.

Schweber said there is concern that UW-Madison does not fulfill their duty of protecting speakers from hecklers.

This is the basis of the rules constructed by the UW Board of Regents that say students who participate in major disruptions and prevent someone from speaking are subject to the disciplinary process.

Schweber said a balance of the academic freedom expressed by universities and the free speech expressed by their students is what makes campus climates intellectually and creatively stimulating. This balance also allows for an educational basis, where students are able to freely think but be taught objectively.

“Universities need to be the places where people can go for reliability,” Schweber said.  

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