Trustee Defends Free Speech on Campus

At the Lone Star College System’s Board meeting on August 1, I read a statement titled, “A community college often a better option than a university.”  My piece strongly supported community colleges, corroborated with hard data.  At the conclusion of my statement I said:  “There are two major things that would jerk my chain as a trustee.  The first is any violation of anyone’s constitutional rights, especially free speech, obligation of contracts, and due process. The second is any poor treatment of people.

“We are all on the same team, and that team consists of trustees, administrators, faculty and staff—both union and nonunion, students, parents, the public, and, I trust, legislators.  There is no good reason we cannot all work together harmoniously.”

I have come to be paranoid about defending free speech and press.  The only weapon in free speech is words; the only power, ideas.

The inverse of free speech is censorship, which I generally oppose.  I am reminded that when Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels was first published it was widely described as gross, vulgar—something to be censored.  In my judgment, it is the best constructive satire ever written.

I believe that freedom of ideas should prevail on a college campus.  These ideas can come from trustees, administrators, faculty, staff, students, parents, the media, legislators—everyone.

I have long been driven by John Stuart Mill’s observation that “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.”  Mill put the reason for this perceptively in On Liberty:

“If any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true.  To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.

Though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.”

If ideas are bad, let them receive the challenge of scrutiny.

Most of us do not like to hear criticism, especially when it is directed against us or against Lone Star College.  But that criticism can be constructive.

So let the First Amendment triumph.  The Framers knew what they were doing.  And the pen can be more powerful than any institution.


Posted by: Ron Trowbridge

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