• Rich Barlow

    Senior Writer

    Rich Barlow

    Rich Barlow is a senior writer at BU Today and Bostonia magazine. Perhaps the only native of Trenton, N.J., who will volunteer his birthplace without police interrogation, he graduated from Dartmouth College, spent 20 years as a small-town newspaper reporter, and is a former Boston Globe religion columnist, book reviewer, and occasional op-ed contributor. Profile

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There are 12 comments on BU Policies Protecting Free Speech to Get Fresh Look

  1. How come all of your examples are against conservatives? Are you going to instruct your professors to stop forcing their leftist views on students? Can a conservative student really speak up in class? You cite a quote from Joan Baez saying that Ann Coulter is a fascist? Because she disagrees with you she is a fascist? If you study history you will note that all fascists came from the left. They took over the government and all means of production. Be fair if you really want freedom of speech.

    1. Hi, the quotes were chosen not because of their points of view, but because we sought quotes that were spoken by well-known people with degrees from, or close ties to, BU. That’s why those 3 were chosen. Thanks.

    2. I fail to see how all of the examples provided are “against” conservatives: The article discussed instances where both right-wing (e.g., Christina Hoff Sommers, Charles Murray) and left-wing (e.g., Lisa Durden, Kenneth Storey) speakers were in some way censured for their expressed opinions. I’m also missing the part of the Joan Baez quote where she calls Ann Coulter a fascist: It seems to me that she is calling those “trying to stop Ann Coulter” of advancing fascism. (A claim I disagree with, personally, but I also object to the construction of straw men.)

      Moreover, I wonder how the protection of free speech can be squared, in your opinion, with instructing professors what they can and cannot say in class?

      Finally, do you have any particular reason to believe that a conservative student cannot speak up in class (at BU or in general)? I ask because I have seen this happen on more than one occasion and on none of them did the student in question seem to suffer any consequences other than the disapproval of their peers (which I think you’d agree is an unavoidable risk inherent in expressing one’s beliefs — after all, free speech guarantees your ability to speak your mind, not that you will be well-liked for it).

      1. As a right leaning student, I can tell you that I was certainly afraid to speak up in classes whenever politics came up due to the unanimity of the professor’s and class’ opinion. I have also heard other people talk about how they are afraid to speak up in classes as well for the same reason. Yes, it is our responsibility to speak up in class to voice our opinions, but I didn’t because I don’t want to put my grade at risk. Many conservative students do not speak their mind for similar reasons, in fact, this is part of the reason why many conservatives identified with the “silent majority” slogan that Trump adopted (not that I am a Trump fan, but that slogan has some truth to it)

        1. Not to be insensitive, but having an unpopular or minority opinion is not a free speech issue. If you make the choice not to speak because you are afraid of what others might think, I don’t think you can really pin that on the institution.

          Now, if your grade did suffer as a result of expressing a political opinion in class, then I agree that would be a serious issue; that said, do you have any evidence to suggest that your grade would be at risk, or is this merely a hypothetical concern?

          1. You’re completely correct when you say that holding a minority opinion is not a free speech issue, though I will disagree and say that the institution deserves part of the blame for conservative students’ reluctance to speak up. There was a Daily Free Press article back in 2016 that looked at the political affiliations of professors in the social sciences, and they found that 3 were registered Republican, and 119 were registered Democrat. This ratio is very far from the ratio of Republicans:Democrats in the general American population. Imagine if, for example, there were 3 Hispanic professors and 119 white professors in the social sciences. While a professor’s ethnicity, in theory, should make little difference in a classroom, I imagine this situation would make many Hispanic students uncomfortable and perhaps hesitant to speak up. Part of the blame is on the student for not overcoming this discomfort, but part of the blame is certainly on the institution for not representing a large part of society.

            To touch upon your grading comment, my concern was based upon the strongly negative attitudes of my professors and classmates towards Donald Trump, and often–though not always–against Republicans and/or those who did not vote for Clinton. Specifically, the day after the election in my Spanish class was the only day that we spoke in English the entire time, and we only talked about the election and why we thought Trump won. The conversation quickly turned into less of a discussion and more of a Trump voter bashing. I decided not to speak when I heard my classmates refer to the collective group of people who voted for Trump as racist, misogynistic xenophobes, and my professor did not correct them. I am not racist, misogynistic, nor xenophobic and so perhaps you could say that it would have been beneficial for my classmates to hear my opinion and why I voted for Trump. But in my experience, people (whether Democrat or Republican) who make such strong, collective judgments about a group of people are beyond reasoning with, and I decided that it was not worth the dislike/hatred of my peers, and I did not want to get on my professor’s bad side. Simply put, the benefits–convincing my classmates that not all Trump voters are awful–were not worth the risks–being viewed negatively by my peers, and, more importantly by my professor who strongly disliked Trump and was responsible for grading my papers. While I completely own my decision to not speak up, it is disappointing that I and other students were faced with such a decision.

            I apologize for the essay, but I had to explain myself a little more. My entire point really wasn’t that this was a free speech issue, but rather that it was evidence that many conservative students are faced with a difficult choice while in college, particularly at BU. Just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean that it is in your best interest to do so.
            Here’s the link to the daily free press article if you are interested https://dailyfreepress.com/blog/2016/10/13/this-election-year-professors-build-intellectual-discussion-safe-spaces/

        2. If you as a right leaning student feel afraid to speak up, you shouldn’t. Professors do not grade students based upon their politics. In fact, many studies show that professors, even the most left-leaning, do not hold biases against conservative students in their grading. In some fields, like economics and marketing, conservative students even receive higher grades than left-leaning students. But even in fields like sociology or anthropology, considered to be leftist, conservative students don’t get penalized. If anything, professors who are left-leaning will respect you more for speaking up – assuming, of course, that you express your views using reason and base your claims on empirical evidence, as all students should do when speaking up.

          1. I am assuming that by “you shoudn’t” you mean “you shouldn’t feel afraid” and not “you shouldn’t speak up”

            My main concern for being reluctant to speak up comes in classes like English and Spanish, where the grading is more subjective to a professor’s opinion of the student’s work. If I were in a STEM or business class, then this wouldn’t be an issue as the grading is more often based on objective criteria (tests, quizzes, etc.) I will look into the research concerning professor grading biases in classes like English and Spanish, though my initial hypothesis–based on my previous knowledge from my psychology courses as a psych major–is that professors will grade students more harshly when they do not have positive associations with a student. My guess is that the results would be a balance of the positive association of “this student speaks his mind in an intelligent fashion” and the negative association of “this student firmly holds a belief that is the opposite of what I firmly believe.” Even if the evidence supports that most professors do not grade students more harshly for holding opposite political beliefs, there is still a very high likelihood that there are outliers who do grade such students more harshly, and so unless you survey every professor who exists it would not be accurate to say that “Professors do not grade students based upon their politics.” While it may seem like I am splitting hairs, this is something that is taught in first semester Statistics because it is inaccurate and misleading to make the jump from “Most of this group do/do not show X characteristic” to “This group does/does not show X characteristic.”

    3. Dear Richard Chappo,

      I understand your fears of “leftist” professors, but they are wholly unsubstantiated. The research shows two things: 1. conservative students DO feel they can’t express their views for fear of grade retaliation (but only a small percentage, about 10% of conservative students feel this way), and 2. those fears are unjustified, because professors do NOT penalize students for their political views. There is absolutely no bias in grading based upon political views. So it’s a complete and utter myth, and if conservative students fail to speak up, that’s their fault. In fact, some studies show that even left professors who get thoughtful comments from conservative students value those conservative students’ participation very highly and respect them for contributing to class discussions (one among many studies of this issue is Musgrave and Rom “Fair and Balanced? Experimental Evidence on Partisan Bias in Grading” in American Politics Research; another study shows that conservative students even got somewhat higher grades than left-leaning students in fields like economics and marketing: see “What’s in a Grade? Academic Success and Political Orientation” by Kemmelmeir et al). There are a lot of scientific studies on this. Do some research and you’ll see.

  2. I’m glad to see BU being proactive about this.

    “A Yellow Rubber Chicken: Battles at Boston University”, an essay by the late Howard Zinn, is well worth reading. It is about student activist Yosef Abramowitz placing a “Divest” banner outside his dorm window on South Campus, his right to which was challenged by the BU admin but upheld by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. You can see a picture of his banner here: http://www.bu.edu/today/2013/new-socially-responsible-investing-committee-meets-this-week/

  3. “Almost one-fifth of American undergraduates endorse violence to silence a campus speaker ‘known for making offensive and hurtful statements.'”

    This is very sad. But more than that, why don’t my fellow young Americans understand that by seeking to silence opposing viewpoints, you actually *empower* those viewpoints.

    I strongly encourage BU to uphold the rights of free speech rights for all BU students. For some, that may include providing security because their views end up drawing the ire of that 20% who thinks that violence is a legitimate method to end a disagreement.

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