- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 7, 2014

Chancellor Nicholas Dirks at the University of California, Berkeley sent an email to faculty, staff and students on Friday, arguing that civility is a prerequisite for free speech.

“[W]e can only exercise our right to free speech insofar as we feel safe and respected in doing so, and this in turn requires that people treat each other with civility,” he wrote in an email addressed to the “Campus Community,” published by the legal blog Popehat.

“Simply put, courteousness and respect in words and deeds are basic preconditions to any meaningful exchange of ideas. In this sense, free speech and civility are two sides of a single coin: the coin of open, democratic society,” he wrote, arguing that civility should be exercised not only in political speech but in everyday interactions in everyday life.

Social media users accused the chancellor of promoting censorship.

“This concept of subjective ‘courtesy’ is academia’s carte blanche for unfettered censorship,” wrote Michael E. Sellars.

“College: an oasis of totalitarianism in a desert of freedom,” tweeted David Burge of Iowa Hawk Blog.

“Man, someone should have told the founders this. Maybe the British wouldn’t have been so pissed off,” wrote @undeadninjas.

Chancellor Dirks went on in his email to argue that the boundaries “between protected and unprotected speech, between free speech and political advocacy, between the campus and the classroom, between debate and demagoguery, between freedom and responsibility,” have never been fully settled.

“As a consequence, when issues are inherently divisive, controversial and capable of arousing strong feelings, the commitment to free speech and expression can lead to division and divisiveness that undermine a community’s foundation,” he wrote.

Popehat called that last statement by Mr. Dirks “legally incoherent and misleading.”

“If a community is built upon the rule of law and the rights of the people, evil speech does not threaten its foundations,” Popehat countered. “It is only when the state arrogates to itself the right to pick and choose what speech is permitted — to ‘balance’ the interests of the speaker and the interests of the community — that the foundations begin to crumble. That’s because such a balancing is inherently inconsistent with a free and self-governing people.”

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