Don’t you just hate it when the answers aren’t clear-cut? And I’m not going to give you any.
Two recent cases bring up conflicts.
Germaine Greer is a transphobic ass who demeans a whole group of people. Students at Cardiff University petition to have her banned from speaking there.
Gamergaters are some of the most awful people on the internet — they represent a distillation of the lowest scumming trolls. SXSW responded to threats from gamergaters by shutting down a panel on online harassment.
My personal feeling is that Greer really is saying hateful crap, and my sentiment favors booting her antiquated butt off the campus. But the women speaking out against harassment are in the right, and SXSW shouldn’t boot their SJW butts out of the conference. Universities should take responsibility for what views are presented in official events, but also, SXSW is a commercial event and they should also have control over what they offer, and they have every right to be craven dipshits. The real arbiter of who should speak on a campus are the students, but students are often naive — they’re there to learn, and I wouldn’t stand for them dictating to me what I should teach. A commercial event like SXSW should follow the demands of the market if it expects to remain economically viable, but popularity for the masses is often a recipe for mediocrity, and also, market forces are biased against the underprivileged, so that would reinforce a discriminatory status quo.
Universities should encourage open discussion of a wide range of views, but maybe we should recognize that some views have fallen completely off the map of reasonable positions, despite the fact that some people continue to hold them, sometimes fiercely. Does the university have an obligation to let students hear advocates for the idea that the earth was created in a week, 6000 years ago? Should we bring in representatives of the KKK to explain how our black students are subhuman? I don’t think so. But universities, as public institutions, do allow groups to rent an auditorium for an evening, and the kooks do take advantage…so they should allow, but not endorse, lunacy and nastiness, as long as they aren’t expected to pay for it (and actually, if the loons have to pay for the privilege).
We should be open to good ideas, but not to wrong ones. The hard part is deciding which ideas are wrong enough that they should be excluded.
Universities have ideals and goals, and we should be able to say that some things are not at all conducive to learning or social progress. SxSW is a different beast: it’s a music festival which has branched out to cover all kinds of completely unrelated phenomena. Is there even a coherent mission that could be used to guide what kinds of events are appropriate to their program? How does anyone justify a statement that SxSW ought to have a panel on online harassment? Shouldn’t the ultimate argument be that they will do whatever appeases the sponsors?
So no, I don’t have a pat answer. I might give different answers to different situations, too. I think what I’d want is a clear statement of the long term goals of the institution, so that we could judge whether a specific action is likely to serve that goal or not. In the case of SxSW, I think they’ve betrayed the attendees vision of what the conference is all about, but they could be wrong — maybe the conference organizers’ vision is one where Monster Energy Drinks and McDonald’s continues to give them lots of money.
Similarly, I have rather idealistic views on the purpose of the university, but I suspect it would often be at odds with the views of the regents, who, as recent cases in Iowa and North Carolina show, might be more business-oriented and regressive than I’d like.