Remaking the University and others are also questioning what appears to be an emerging “civility doctrine” that appears to be more about social media and free speech. Civility in discourse, like patience, is certainly a virtue to be cultivated. Mandating it from a position of power is quite another matter.
Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times is one of my favorite newspaper columnists. This week he ran an excellent piece on what I’ve started calling the emerging “civility doctrine” in higher education. Here are some excerpts:
When someone in power praises the principle of free speech, it’s wise to be on the lookout for weasel words. The phrase “I favor constructive criticism,” is weaseling. So is, “You can express your views as long as they’re respectful.” In those examples, “constructive” and “respectful” are modifiers concealing that the speaker really doesn’t favor free speech at all.
The targets of free speech never think it’s constructive or respectful. Quite the contrary. . . .
A major problem with using words like “respect” and “civility” to mark the boundaries of free speech protections is that they don’t have fixed definitions. One person can be deeply affronted (or claim to be) by language…
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