Illiberal attacks on free speech are nothing new. In the early 1970s, the Yale administration pressured the Yale Political Union to disinvite William Shockley, who was in fact a racist. A small group of students had risked the ire of the powerful to issue multiple repeated invitations to Shockley, to test the boundaries of the university’s commitment to unfettered discourse. When he came, the Yale police stood by as student protesters shut down his ability to speak.
In 1974, Yale issued the famous Woodward report, in which, by twelve votes to one, Yale upheld the principles of free speech in a profoundly moving statement of the university as a place committed to truth:
The primary function of a university is to discover and disseminate knowledge by means of research and teaching. To fulfill this function a free interchange of ideas is necessary not only within its walls but with the world beyond as well. It follows that the university must do everything possible to ensure within it the fullest degree of intellectual freedom. The history of intellectual growth and discovery clearly demonstrates the need for unfettered freedom, the right to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable. To curtail free expression strikes twice at intellectual freedom, for whoever deprives another of the right to state unpopular views necessarily also deprives others of the right to listen to those views. . . .
Maggie Gallagher is a senior fellow at the American Principles Project.