Let’s not fool ourselves here, folks; Janet Napolitano is no free speech defender. The president of the University of California system, and former member of President Obama’s administration, penned what some have called a strong defense of free speech in The Boston Globe last Sunday.
Napolitano opens her op-ed with a very realistic observation: “the sanctity of free speech in our country is hardly guaranteed — at least not on our college campuses, where freedom of expression and the free flow of ideas should incubate discovery and learning…I write to show how far we have moved from freedom of speech on campuses to freedom from speech. If it hurts, if it’s controversial, if it articulates an extreme point of view, then speech has become the new bête noire of the academy. Speakers are disinvited, faculty are vilified, and administrators like me are constantly asked to intervene.”
To her credit, there are several other sections within her piece that properly articulate the erosion of free speech on our college campuses. She writes, “In the 1960s, as exemplified by the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley, students on campuses demanded and received the ability to protest the Vietnam War. This was free speech, loud and angry and in your face. Today many of the loudest voices condemning speech and demanding protection are students on those same campuses.”
If these sections were the only sentences she wrote, then maybe one could consider this op-ed to be a strong defense of our First Amendment rights. Sadly, she wrote more. “Students, therefore, come from a much broader range of backgrounds, and they often benefit from gathering with others of similar backgrounds to share experiences and support one another. At UC we have many different types of student centers and student activities; some of our newest are for undocumented students. You can call these ‘safe spaces,’ but I call them a good idea.” The notion that safe spaces are merely free speech havens for students seeking support is ludicrous. The entire point of this “good idea” is to exclude unwanted ideas and expression not to include all students and their views.
Additionally, Napolitano discredited the University of Chicago’s letter to the Class of 2020, as she offhandedly referred to it as “free speech Darwinism” that has no place on our campuses.
Besides the blatant contradictions in her own op-ed, Napolitano’s record completely undermines all of the pro-free speech claims she made. After all, virtue is in action not in words; and anybody who defends free speech in writing yet previously has trained her professors to avoid using microaggressions like “America is the land of opportunity,” does not truly stand for our nation’s most important liberty.