Post at Salon: UC Committee Recommends "Hate Speech" Policy

Recently Salon invited me to start pitching articles to them. Today my first post is up. It's about a UC committee that, in the wake of complaints about anti-Israel protests on UC campuses, is recommending that the UC adopt broad "hate speech" restrictions, among other measures.

My piece at Salon is relatively brief. The very nice editor who contacted me found a compassionate way to tell me "Ken, your goal is not to write people into a coma, like at your blog." Much more could be said about this remarkable report from the UC’s Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture, and Inclusion. The FIRE is starting to say them, and no doubt will say more.

I'll follow up. For now, note that (1) the report suggests that the UC and UC-funded student groups should not be allowed to sponsor events that some find offensive, (2) the report suggests a ban on "hate groups" (however that's going to be defined) being allowed to speak on campus, and (3) the report suggests that the UC adopt a broad European-Union-derived definition of anti-Semitism — not just for rhetorical purposes, but for purposes of applying anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies. Under this last point, it might be unlawful harassment or discrimination at the UC to "apply double standards" to Israel. Presumably this would make the United Nations unwelcome at UC campuses; whether that's a good or bad thing I leave to your imagination. But I submit that most social and political discourse involves holding the opposition to double standards; it's odd to outlaw one instance.

Anti-Semitism is real. I find it to be a reliable canary-in-the-coal-mine of all sorts of evil, like totalitarianism. But the answer to it is not enacting broad and unprincipled restrictions on speech that, in all likelihood, will be used against Jews as often as it is used nominally to protect them.

Edited to add: someone from the UC Office of the President media relations department asked me to clarify that the report is from a working group of the council, not the council itself. I note that the document says it is issued "for" the council, but I take them at their word.

My kids are so not getting into Berkeley now.

Meanwhile, a helpful tipster has pointed me to the UC's court filings in the Berkeley litigation, which expressly concede that the First Amendment protects the very expression this report seeks to censor. That's some good work there, boys. (More to follow on this point.)

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. Reformed Republican says

    No events that some might find offensive? That would rule out pro- or anti- gay events, pro- or anti- abortion events, political rallies for Obama, political rallies for Romney. No prayer meetings. Actually, nothing of a religious sort.

    I am not sure I can think of any event that is not going to offend someone.

  2. Matt says

    "restrictions on speech that, in all likelihood, will be used against Jews as often as it is used nominally to protect them"

    History teaches us the contrary. If enacted, it will be used FAR MORE against Jews than against Jew-haters.

    "No events that some might find offensive" makes more sense when you realize that "some" means "those of us who are in de facto control of the machinery of policy enforcement".

  3. Arclight says

    As a white, middle-class male that attended UC Riverside, I was often offended that there were groups for everyone But me. LGBT, check. Every "minority" under the sun, check. Religious affiliations of all forms, check. Me … not so much. So would my teenage angst-driven offense count toward stopping pretty much every group available on the campus, or would said double standard be alive and well? I think the latter is a safe assumption.

  4. En Passant says

    Quoted from your article:

    The Jewish Daily Forward interviewed UC San Diego Adjunct Professor of Law Richard D. Barton, one of the authors of the Council’s report, who advocated very broad censorship:

    Asked for an example of hate speech, Barton, the co-director of the panel that produced the report, said: “The issue is when [pro-Palestinian] groups come on campus and they say, ‘We are the voice of the Palestinians and our voice isn’t being heard and it’s because Jews control the media.’ That is flat-out anti-Semitism.” Barton said he didn’t know if calling Israel an apartheid state would meet the criteria. “I couldn’t give you an answer without looking at the definition of how courts define hate speech.”

    US Courts, so far as I know, have not "defined hate speech", and are unlikely to do so. That in a nutshell, is one good reason why such a ban should not stand. UC might as well ban any other subject matter, say "gobbledygook speech".

  5. C. S. P. Schofield says

    Were I an alumnus I would watch this like a hawk; not only is the enforcement of this new policy almost certainly going to be along predictably fashionable lines (academics are far worse slaves to fashion than teenagers), but since the school is a government funded it is bound by the First Amendment and this idiocy is going to cost them a lot of settlement money. Money that won't be going elsewhere.

    The Alumni Associations of American Universities need to step up a bit more. Too many just keep writing checks and letting the administration do whatever it wants.

  6. ZK says

    Not directly on point, but Patrick's comments about Popehat's comment section being tame compared to "some other places" goes double for Salon.


  7. says

    I've got an idea. Since kids at colleges these days are dragooned into classes on "tolerance" and "multiculturalism", teach them REAL tolerance — how to accept the fact someone's going to say something that insults your race, your class, your gender, your history, your religion, your values, your favorite band, whatever — and that you're allowed to IGNORE THEM. Or you can insult THEM back. Or you can try to figure out if maybe they have a point — sometimes, they really do. Or you can organize a counter-protest. Or you can try to get them to see your side of it through rational argument. Or irrational argument. Or you can learn to agree to disagree. Or anything else that doesn't involve running to the government (or the school authorities, same thing) and screaming "He hurt my feelings! MAKE HIM STOP!", or physically attacking them and then claiming it was THEIR fault because they "provoked" you by saying something you didn't want to hear.

    In other words, if we're going to mandate classes for all incoming freshmen, let's mandate "Put On Your Big Boy Pants And Thicken Your Skin And Just Learn to DEAL, Already 101".

    Any student who tries to claim the phrase "Put On Your Big Boy Pants" is a form of institutional sexism and it has disempowered and objectified them and harmed their self-esteem will have to take the course TWICE.

    We live in a multicultural and diverse society. This is good. We are stronger because of it. Tolerance is essential for such a society to function, and tolerance doesn't mean "Any offended person gets to silence you." It means "If someone says something that offends me, that's something I either have to learn to ignore, or address without the use of force, including both direct force and the force of government."

    College is a very good place to start teaching the valuable life skill of understanding that your personal feelings are utterly and completely meaningless to the world at large, and that you'd better accept that you will spend the rest of your life surrounded by people and ideas that are utterly contrary to your own. There is no right not to be offended. There is no right not to have your feelings hurt. If knowing that there are people out there who will hate you for no reason other than the fact you exist and you are of the "wrong" race, sex, orientation, heritage, religion, etc., is a thought that makes you too upset to function normally on campus, you are not yet ready to be considered an adult or a near-adult and should take time off and possibly see a good therapist or counselor who can teach you some coping skills. (Not being sarcastic; we have so coddled kids these days that they never develop those skills during childhood and adolescence.)

  8. Orville says

    I am offended that the advisory councils are spending time on this issue instead of addressing some of the real problems with higher education today. I hereby recommend that these councils stop meeting, and that the sponsorship implied by the funds that pay their salaries be withdrawn.

  9. C. S. P. Schofield says


    I wish I thought your policy had a ghost of a chance of being adopted, but it doesn't. The current batch of Academics are accustomed to having tight control of what is and is not to be 'tolerated' on campus, and aren't going to give in easily. There are honorable exceptions, but they are mostly involved in actually trying to teach somebody something, and don't have a lot of pull.

    This is why I love organizations like FIRE; they take the tactics and language that the academics have perverted and use them to win back some real degree of freedom from the nattering nannies of Political Correctness.

    Slightly off topic; I am watching, with mixed feelings, the growing Crusade against what are being called "for profit" colleges. While I'm sure that there are some abuses going on, I have the growing conviction that this is being orchestrated as a distraction from the many problems that traditional colleges are doing little or nothing to address.What does anybody else think?

  10. angstela says

    Yes, I quit subscribing there a few years back because of the non-existence of comment moderation, which seems to me somewhat necessary if you're going to allow comments at all.

  11. says

    So it turns out that Salon commenters scare the hell out of me. Yikes.

    My initial thought upon reading the comments on the Salon article: "Wow. I hope Ken starts video blogging on YouTube so I can get some more intelligent comments."

  12. says

    Judging by the comments at Salon, the main flaw with your article is that it failed to condemn Israel for the occupation of Palestine. Although my favorite comment so far is the one that begins "Agreed. A people whose ethnic specialty is humor…"

    Ken, speaking as a friend, I don't think you should be hanging out with those people.

  13. says

    I've written a lot of horrible, horrible things about Salon in my day. I won't stop doing that, whenever the mood strikes me.

    But it's still an important and influential site. I'm proud for my friend who was invited to write for the site. And I'm glad to see that someone at Salon had the wit to recognize the quality of his writing, and the courage to issue the invitation, knowing full well that he may provide a strong challenge to the site's readers.

    "Adopt. Adapt. Improve." — motto of the Round Table

  14. says

    Ken, speaking as a friend, I don't think you should be hanging out with those people.

    Pfffft. That's what people keep saying about the folks at Popehat.

  15. tsrblke says

    Here's my qustion though, when I was in college, the "mock walls" and "die ins" were staged in such a way as to disrupt daily activies (and by this I me they stuck a mock wall in the main through way for campus which jammed up the between class walks and IIRC caused a few minor injuries as crowds attempted to squeeze past it.)
    It seems to me that the very least the school should be able to control that kind of thing, since you've moved beyond speech there. The mock checkpoints give me concern as well, I can't tell based on how you wrote it, are only people involved in the protest pretending to go through checkpoints or are unwilling students submitted to this? Becuase it's less to me about free speech than it is about my ability to go through my day without being harrassed (and I would consider protesters prentending to search my bag to make a point harassment* and beyond free speech protections.)
    While I'm fairly certain the UC policy is overreaching (these knee jerk things usually are) where is that blurry line between "speech!" and "interfernce!"

    *harrassment may be the wrong word here, but I couldn't come up with a better one. I do know back in my college days the various protest groups for many things considered it a goal to see how many people they could irritate beyond what I would think was simply speech. If you tried to walk around the wall they'd block you, etc.

  16. says

    @tsrblke: Yes, neutral time/place/manner restrictions could stop people from harassing strangers at fake checkpoints, or blocking the entire plaza. (Though many schools go too far in that direction by confining protest to tiny "free speech zones.")

  17. says

    public boolean isEyeSporkingNeeded(Article article) {
      boolean sporkRequired = false;
      List<Comment> comments = article.getComments();
      if ((comments != null) && !(comments.isEmpty())) {
        Nutcake nutcake = CakeFactory.getInstance().get(
                          Cake.FRINGE, new Walnut(Nut.DICED));
        for (Comment c : comments) {
          sporkRequired = isMoreWhackThan(c.getCommenter(), nutcake);
          if (sporkRequired) {
      return sporkRequired;
  18. C. S. P. Schofield says


    Yes, that is a message that most protest groups never seem to be able to internalize; "You have an absolute right to speak your piece, and we have an absolute right to ignore you."

  19. AlphaCentauri says

    I theoretically agree with Ken's post. The devil is in the details.

    For instance, in my state, there is a fine state university. It is located in a rural area. It has a reputation for being a hostile environment for African American students. Although a fair number of African American students do take advantage of the low tuition and quality education, a significant number drop out. They feel physically threatened in an environment where racist comments are expressed more openly than they have experienced at home. After months of trying to ignore the racist loudmouths while concentrating on their classes and dealing with the usual stress of being away from home for the first time, they decide it's not worth it and transfer to another state university, located in an urban area, with a less prestigious reputation.

    They could gather in a group for safety while engaging in "more speech," but then people like Reformed Republican will criticize them for having a minority-based student group and for isolating themselves from the university community at large.

    My point is that the idea of preventing hate speech started because of a concern that state resources are less available to members of certain minority groups because of a pervasive hostile atmosphere arising from a small number of potentially violent people who don't represent the student body at large. A blanket prohibition against hate speech is a clumsy response. But to avoid it, people who are not directly affected by hate speech have to be willing to get involved and speak out against it. They can't be cowards and leave it to targeted minorities who may have real fears for their safety if they speak out themselves, then turn around and criticize them for "sticking with their own kind."

  20. Careless says

    Pretty funny (But not surprising) to see the comment thread on Salon immediately go to pro-hate speech ban leftists arguing with anti-Semitic leftists

  21. says

    @AlphaCentauri I think you've hit the nail on the head here. We like to say the solution to bad speech is more speech, but that doesn't just mean "let the people being verbally attacked fend for themselves." If the UC administration finds these protests create a bad atmosphere for Jewish students, they should funnel their time and money into counterprotests, writing articles, support groups and clubs for Jewish students, and so on. Build up their supporters, instead of suppressing their attackers.

  22. Robert says

    I find it ironic that UC Berkeley actually has a monument to free speech on campus.

    The university wasn't very pleased with this art piece though, so maybe it isn't a surprise after all. There's a great episode about this monument on the 99% Invisible podcast.

  23. tsrblke says


    Yeah my university never went that far, although I wish they had confined the student to the standard student group venues (that was pretty much to the side of the walkways, but out of main throughfares along the entire plaza.) IIRC in this case the protesters were supposed to have a standard table area (that any student group could request.) but they deviated from it and set up in the middle of the walkway with a 8 foot wide wall (for a 10foot-ish walkway). The school didn't seem to want to intervene. Which was strange, because their legitmate spot was only 4 feet over in the side space. (Again, not a tiny free speech zone, the entire plaza had a table zone space along it's perimeters, plus students can reserve info table space in several buildings.)

  24. Ariel says

    Personally, I'm offended by everything I disagree with, or upsets me, or makes me feel unsafe (like a Firefly poster), or anything that's pink with a notable exception. So, really, this entire "free speech" thingy upsets me and should be, well, dealt with harshly.

    Can we talk about it? Over a nice FIRE.

  25. darius404 says

    They could gather in a group for safety while engaging in "more speech," but then people like Reformed Republican will criticize them for having a minority-based student group and for isolating themselves from the university community at large.

    I don't think you actually read his comment. Where does he criticize ANYONE for having a "minority-based student group"?

  26. leo marvin says

    "So it turns out that Salon commenters scare the hell out of me."

    Nice to know I have the power.

  27. says

    @Christopher Swing
    That article by Anil Dash should be required reading for entities (I may be looking at you, Youtube and Salon) that allow open, minimally moderated commenting.

    The chief reason we enjoy relative sanity here at Popehat is our size; we're still smallish enough that only you– you self-selecting rational elite– have managed to find us. But the second strongest reason is that Patrick delights in exercising our bannification manifold, which was modeled after the one in Sweeney Todd.

  28. says

    @David: I've noticed more drive-by dickhattery since I wandered over here at the beginning of the Oatmeal vs. Carreon epic. Nothing too bad, though.

  29. Ultra Venia says

    Your problem was not totally agreeing with the "obvious fact" that the Jews control the media. Any sympathetic coverage of the Palestinians by the news media is just a smokescreen. And of course, Rupert Murdoch is secretly Jewish because otherwise the narrative is shot to hell.

  30. says

    > I kind of like the "MORE KEN WHITE" boldfaced link at the bottom.

    As I said on twitter, I saw the link and clicked it, hoping that it would feed you a high calorie snack.

  31. wgering says

    Wonderful. Now my cooking demos can be shut down because they offend vegans.

    Thanks UC. Thanks a lot. I'm so glad that you are protecting the delicate sensibilities of your cannabis-fueled, work-shy, overly-opinionated and under-educated student population.

    From a convenience standpoint though, if it means people can't bombard me with their solicitations as I walk through Sproul Plaza, it might be worth it. Because, you know, I'm offended by people handing me things.

  32. UDN says

    Lizard, there are several things that bother me about your post. First, you contradict yourself. You say that people shouldn't use force against those that say something they don't like, yet you are saying that force should be used against people who say something you don't like. Second, you seem to be trying to adopt a certain air of levity, while making a serious claim. I have the feeling that you're trying to eat your cake and have it too, advancing a thesis but leaving yourself an out of "hey, don't take it so seriously". But it is serious. Which bring me to my third issue: you are acting as an accomplice to bigotry. Yes, some people are overly sensitive. But a blanket mockery against anyone who speaks up makes it easier for people who are engaging in legitimately abusive behavior. People do have a right to human dignity. And in extreme cases, it is legitimate to make use of force and/or governmental authority in response to attacks on that dignity. Fourth, teaching people that "your personal feelings are utterly and completely meaningless to the world at large" is absolutely the opposite of what we should do. It's astounding that you would even say that. That's the sort of thing an abuser says. Young people should be taught that they deserve to be treated with respect, and if the people in their lives are not doing so, they need to insist they do so, or find other people to be in their lives. Fifth, humans are social animals. Being isolated is extremely psychologically damaging. And if someone is not merely being ostracized, but being threatened, it's truly sickening for you to insult them and say it's their fault.

  33. Al says


    The solution is still more speech. If that school isn't known for being full of racist scumbags then people need start talking about how the school is full of racist scumbags. Name names.

  34. Joe says

    A Stanford man lamenting the fact that kids will never get into Cal?
    You'd better watch it or somebody will show up in the middle of the night and confiscate all your Cardinal gear.

  35. darius404 says

    People do have a right to human dignity.

    No, they don't. People don't have a right to keep others from belittling them.

    And in extreme cases, it is legitimate to make use of force and/or governmental authority in response to attacks on that dignity.

    "[A]ttacks on that dignity" = speech. So you're saying it's ok to punch someone in the face, or use government force, against people's speech. What "extreme cases" are we talking here? I can't think of any cases where someone speaking (and JUST speaking: not threatening nor inciting violence) should be responded to with force.

  36. darius404 says

    yet you are saying that force should be used against people who say something you don't like.

    Except he never actually says that. The only part of his post that could be construed that way is this:

    r you can learn to agree to disagree. Or anything else that doesn't involve running to the government (or the school authorities, same thing) and screaming "He hurt my feelings! MAKE HIM STOP!", or physically attacking them and then claiming it was THEIR fault because they "provoked" you by saying something you didn't want to hear. [Emphasis added]

    He's saying that is something you SHOULDN'T do, not something you should.

  37. Valerie says

    I think the distinction needs to be made between thought and action. We should be a nation that punishes action, not thought or the expression of that thought. We also need to distinguish between giving offense & slightly inconveniencing people (you can still walk past the wall), and threatening behavior or harassment. The first should be considered protected speech (IANAL), while the second constitutes unacceptable behavior.

    I do wonder if colleges and universities should get out of the business of funding political and religious clubs. My gut instinct is that they should stick to funding activities without an agenda – intramural sports, singing groups, French club etc. If political and religious groups want to operate on campus, let them raise their own money.


  1. […] patterns in the build-up begin to emerge. For example, master law blogger Popehat mentions that an upsurge in anti-Semitism can serve as the "canary in a coal mine" for the onset of im…. It's important to see the past for what it is and honor our martyrs. It's equally […]