Law School Free Speech Crisis Mostly Fake News
September 21, 2022
In the spring of 2018, Yale Law School was embroiled in a free speech crisis that threatened to tear the prestigious institution apart. Students were demanding the dismissal of faculty who had expressed politically incorrect views and the termination of administrators who had allowed conservative speakers to visit campus.
The fallout drew national attention and inspired op-eds, conferences, and protests across the country. But how much of this story is true? In this report, we examine some of the many falsehoods that have been told about Yale Law School’s struggles with free speech.
What are fake news websites?
Fake news websites are websites that publish untrue, false, or exaggerated stories to attract visitors and advertisers. One of the most well-known examples is The Onion. Sites such as these have been around for decades, but fake news sites have become even more popular due to growing distrust of the media and increasing levels of political polarization. Fake news is primarily driven by profit motives rather than political agendas.
Who started the story?
In a blog post for The New Yorker, law School student Alexandra Whitney alleges that free speech at Yale is in peril. She writes that just weeks after entering the elite institution, her students were threatened with expulsion if they peacefully expressed views deviating from those of the wider community.
But as Vox found when it reached out to school officials and students at Yale, Whitney’s claims are mostly false: nobody was punished for any comments about race or religion and administrators routinely encourage free speech.
It seems as though Whitney misinterpreted a mandatory freshman course on the cultural heritage of the Western world. That course discussed discrimination based on race and religion in past decades, but those discussions did not apply to today’s world.
How did it spread?
It started with a rant by a law school professor that was delivered in the form of an email to her students. The email suggested that students were only interested in right-wing arguments because of the climate on campus and the media.
Then, conservative law School blogs picked up on the email and labeled it an admission that liberals law Schools dominate academia and that they are raising new generations of liberals.
Left-leaning blogs wrote rebuttals as well as analyses to debunk this narrative. Liberal social media users also responded with their takes on the exchange, which culminated in it spreading across mainstream media outlets for a few days before it petered out entirely.
Why was it fake news?
The free speech crisis that occurred at Yale was fake news because it never happened. Though, there were messages that appeared on campus buildings that suggested the opposite. A written letter from Yale’s Interim Vice President of Student Life,
David Quenelle said we regret that various people were exposed to these offensive messages. The message left by a student activist group sparked a heated debate on campus with some criticizing and threatening those who wrote the graffiti while others denounced the messages as hate speech.
The activists later released a statement apologizing for their actions saying they deeply regret our implication that violence is acceptable, but they went on to say they are not sorry for writing the message since they didn’t mean any harm by it.
Was it factually correct?
Is Yale facing a free speech crisis? And how do you define a crisis? In this post, I’m going to look at two reports that were largely debunked by the mainstream media, one of which CNN’s Don Lemon called a bogus story, and see what they got right and what they got wrong.
The idea of free speech has been controversial for as long as people have been giving speeches, but in recent years we have seen more stories about speakers being protested or disinvited on college campuses due to student disagreement. Many in the media have declared that we are now seeing unprecedented levels of student protest on college campuses; however, looking back at Yale’s past shows otherwise.
What could they have done better?
The committee should have more law School transparency in their process. The university has created an environment where if a student were to come forward with these concerns they would not feel that their voice would be heard. Too many students fear expulsion and/or blacklisting from jobs or graduate schools.
I think Yale University should issue a public statement as soon as possible addressing the issue to assure the Yale Law School Community that free speech is alive and well at Yale Law School, but to also address any questions about confidential hearings for sexual misconduct cases.
Additionally, since this crisis emerged it seems like the administration and faculty are talking past each other. Some individuals don’t believe what is being said about the campus climate by individual law School students and some do believe it exists.
Was it ethical journalism to cover this story as journalists?
Some might say that the above articles are ethical journalism because they’re making people aware of the issue and discussing what happened, but many also believe that this was a gross misuse of their platform and that journalists should have reported on other events.
Journalists are supposed to provide information to help keep people informed about world events. They have a responsibility to those who rely on them for news. These articles made Yale University look bad and portrayed protestors as aggressive and oppressive when all they were trying to do was raise awareness of how free speech is important, especially at an institution like Yale.
Conclusion and summary
The 2018 Free Speech Crisis at Yale was overwhelmingly portrayed in the media as a result of the conservative professors supposedly being denied their right to express themselves. However, The New York Times revealed that there were no clear instances of speakers being disinvited, while The Washington Post points out that none of the three speech proposals which had ignited controversy on campus would have been given by conservative speakers.
In fact, by not talking about any tangible facts and instead filling its time with anecdotes, but mostly what conservatives are alleged to have said on Twitter or elsewhere online, the video largely propagates incorrect information. Throughout the video, we see deplorable conservative arguments for what it means to be free thinkers presented as key motivations for creating chaos at Yale and campuses nationwide.
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