Harm, "No Platforming" and the Mission of the University: A reply to McGregor

In Democracy, Populism and Truth. AMINTAPHIL: The Philosophical Foundations of Law and Justice 9. Jersey City, NJ, USA: pp. 91-101 (2020)
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Abstract

Joan McGregor argues that “colleges and universities should adopt as part of their core mission the development of skills of civil discourse” rather than engaging in the practice of restricting controversial speakers from making presentations on campuses. I agree with McGregor concerning the need for increased civil discourse. However, this does not mean universities should welcome speakers to publicly present any material they wish without restriction or oversight. In this paper, I make three main arguments: (i) Colleges and universities have a duty to protect members of the campus community from the harm and exclusion resulting from hateful or harmful speech, in the same way that they must protect them from sexual assaults and concussions. (ii) In the vast majority of cases, this duty can be fulfilled by holding speakers to standards of discourse that prevail in academic debate, and insisting on a number of procedural requirements. (iii) We should be wary of conservative arguments framed in terms of free speech, because they can be deployed to undermine important functions of the university in a democratic society, namely, to teach students how to be discerning citizens, and to protect thinkers willing to be critical of the government and the ruling classes.

Author's Profile

Lisa Fuller
University of Toronto, St. George Campus (PhD)

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