John Montanari: On ‘who gets to decide what speech should be tolerated’

  • New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb speaks to Anna Branch, UMass Amherst’s associate chancellor for equity and inclusion, as just part of a symposium on polarization at the university on Feb. 6, 2019. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 2/11/2019 8:27:42 AM

On ‘who gets to decide what speech should be tolerated’ 

In an article on his appearance at UMass, Jelani Cobb is paraphrased as saying, “it’s not possible for anyone to come up with a ‘crackpot’ theory and publish it in a respected academic journal.” He is evidently unaware of a notorious 2018 case in which three scholars managed to do just that, getting several “crackpot” papers, including one on “dog-park rape culture” published in peer-review journals.

Look up “What an Audacious Hoax Reveals About Academia” in The Atlantic for more information. While we’re at it, we should also refresh our knowledge of the 2015 Yale incident Cobb mentions, and see whether we agree with Cobb’s assessment of it. I do not, believing instead that the way the academics at the center of this storm were treated by Yale represents the worst of the current strain of campus intolerance and mob rule. The article also quotes a spokesperson from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the same SPLC that recently settled a lawsuit with activist MaajidNawaz, paying him $3.4 million after smearing him as an “anti-Muslim extremist,” a term the SPLC still uses for other brave activists with whom it happens to disagree.

So, if we’re going to decide who gets to decide what speech should be tolerated at our local public university, who should it be? Jelani Cobb, the SPLC or their censorious like? Not on my campus, it isn’t. And remember: The next speaker or the next idea that gets shouted down and banned as “hate speech” on campus may be one you agree with or at least wanted to hear. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

John Montanari

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