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How should those who value reasonable pluralism navigate ethical and epistemological challenges related to speech and inquiry in higher education? We propose the ethical pursuit of public knowledge as a guiding vision for public colleges and universities with the understanding that other institutions will serve different purposes. The ethical criterion of mutuality calls for engagement across difference and reciprocal recognition of others’ basic equality and liberty. To maintain epistemic legitimacy, knowledge-production processes in these institutions should elevate ideas warranted by public reasons that have withstood rigorous critical scrutiny above those that have not. Some forms of speech—including the expression of extremist views on both the Right and the Left—will prove unreasonable and incompatible with the guiding vision and should therefore be marginalized (but not necessarily suppressed) within these institutions.
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Educational Philosophy and Theory
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Speech and inquiry in public institutions of higher
education: Navigating ethical and epistemological
Benjamin Bindewald & Joshua Hawkins
To cite this article: Benjamin Bindewald & Joshua Hawkins (2020): Speech and inquiry in public
institutions of higher education: Navigating ethical and epistemological challenges, Educational
Philosophy and Theory, DOI: 10.1080/00131857.2020.1773794
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Published online: 01 Jun 2020.
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Speech and inquiry in public institutions of higher education:
Navigating ethical and epistemological challenges
Benjamin Bindewald
and Joshua Hawkins
Social Foundations of Education, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK, USA;
Special Education,
Northwestern Oklahoma State University, Alva, OK, USA
How should those who value reasonable pluralism navigate ethical and
epistemological challenges related to speech and inquiry in higher edu-
cation? We propose the ethical pursuit of public knowledge as a guid-
ing vision for public colleges and universities with the understanding
that other institutions will serve different purposes. The ethical criterion
of mutuality calls for engagement across difference and reciprocal rec-
ognition of othersbasic equality and liberty. To maintain epistemic
legitimacy, knowledge-production processes in these institutions should
elevate ideas warranted by public reasons that have withstood rigorous
critical scrutiny above those that have not. Some forms of speech
including the expression of extremist views on both the Right and the
Leftwill prove unreasonable and incompatible with the guiding vision
and should therefore be marginalized (but not necessarily suppressed)
within these institutions.
Received 21 April 2019
Revised 5 February 2020
Accepted 23 March 2020
Reasonable pluralism;
public knowledge;
mutuality; free speech;
higher education
Speech and inquiry in public institutions of higher education: navigating ethical
and epistemological challenges
In response to a crisis of democratic institutionsin the present post-Truthera, the invitation
for submissions for this special issue raises questions about the scope and limitations of freedom
of expression in an ideal open society. It highlights concerns about the alt-Rights exploitation
of freedom of speech in liberal societies as a means of trading in hate speechand encouraging
others to adopt false and malicious ideas. Referencing Foucaults(1999) distinction between free
speech as license of tongue to say the most stupid and dangerous thingsand a privilege select-
ively granted to those speaking truth to power (2-5), it asks authors to consider the degree to
which speech should be regulated and how much it should be encouraged and allowed in
schools and universities. Recent calls from other leading outlets for educational scholarship
reflect a similar framing of these problems and their potential solutions.
We agree with the suggestion that there is a crisis of credibility facing democratic institutions,
that public discourse has become increasingly unreasonable, and that extremists on the Right
currently present some of the most pressing challenges for liberal democratic institutions. In our
judgment, however, the common framing in education is not particularly helpful for addressing
challenges specific to the particular context of public colleges and universities in the United
States (the focus of this article). That is, while threats to democracy and pluralism from the far-
CONTACT Benjamin Bindewald Social Foundations of Education, Oklahoma State
University, 213 Willard Hall, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK, 74074.
ß2020 Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia
Right are mostly external to higher education, internal threats come most often from the far-Left.
But because people who lean to the Left are so far overrepresented in the academy, these ser-
ious problems receive far less scholarly attention than they deserve (Jussim, 2018).
We argue for an approach to speech and inquiry in higher education that offers a principled
framework through which to identify and challenge unreasonable views on both the Right and
Left and relegate them to the margins of academic discourse. To best serve diverse liberal,
democratic societies like the United States, we suggest, public institutions of higher education
should clarify their primary purposes and embrace norms of ethical and epistemic reciprocity.
Doing so would likely enhance their institutional credibility as well as their ability to effectively
challenge extremism and promote reasonable pluralism in the broader public sphere.
Theoretical framework
In the context of a deeply divided democratic society, a constructive response to diversity should
emphasize common interests while also allowing for the persistence of meaningful differences.
To effectively motivate engagement across such differences, it should offer reciprocal terms of
cooperation that reasonable people would accept. Such an approach could draw support away
from extremist movements and motivate a sufficiently large coalition of citizens with a wide
range of reasonable views to engage in more constructive public deliberations (More in
Common 2018). It could not, however, sustainably offer uncritical inclusion to those who reject
principles of reciprocity and basic equality or who would impose on others a narrow, dogmatic
conception of the good.
The Pluralism Project at Harvard University defines pluralism as not diversity alone, but the ener-
getic engagement with diversity …’ This conceptualization of pluralism aims for not just tolerance,
but the active seeking of understanding across lines of difference.It calls for an encounter of commit-
mentsthrough constructive dialogue, which involves give and take, criticism and self-criticism
both speaking and listening. Rather than seeking universal agreement among everyone at the
table, this conceptualization of pluralism involves the commitment to being at the table with
ones commitments …’ (Eck, 2006).
Constructive dialogue across difference is necessary for any well-functioning democratic insti-
tution. Engagement with others in good faith efforts to understand diverse perspectives is par-
ticularly important in the context of public institutions of higher education. In our view,
however, public colleges and universities should also encouragein fact, they should put a pre-
mium onepistemic justification and critical scrutiny of competing knowledge claims.
Distinguishing itself from an unsustainable form of radical relativism, our understanding of plural-
ism (at least within the particular context of public higher education) requires some overarching
metaperspectiveto provide principled guidelines for engagement with diversity (Siegel,
2012, p.76).
On the one hand, to avoid merely replacing one variety of fundamentalism with another, the
overarching view cannot be overly determinant or exclusivist. On the other hand, any sustain-
able, principled framework would have to be, at least to some degree, exclusive. Thus, one is
confronted with what Karl Popper (1945, p. 581) called the paradox of tolerance’—how can tol-
erant societies prevent intolerance from dominating without themselves having to exercise some
form of intolerance (i.e., an intolerance of intolerance)? As long as open societies can counter
intolerance and other challenges to pluralism by rational argument and keep them in check by
public opinion, he argued, suppression would certainly be unwise.
The challenge, then, for those who wish to promote pluralism in diverse societies is to make
the tent of inclusion as wide as possible without causing its legs to buckle under the weight of
its own contradictions. Rawls (1993) offers an ideal conception of reasonable pluralism guided by
principles of political liberalism, but he deals insufficiently with the facts of intolerance and dis-
engagement and does not have much to say about how education might address them. The
theory of mutuality offers additional tools for addressing these challenges.
Compatible with the understanding of pluralism described above, the theory of mutuality seeks
to motivate and develop a will to relationshipor desire to engage across sustainable differences
(Creppell, 2008, p. 323). It aims to instill in citizens a commitment to ethical and epistemic reci-
procity. It is more ambitious than classical liberal tolerance, which merely prohibits individuals,
groups, or state agents from coercively suppressing speech or behavior they find objectionable.
Yet, it is less exacting than the radically relativistic (but often selectively applied) approach of
robust respect, which demands positive evaluation or affirmation of differences and romanticizes
diversity (Rosenblith & Bindewald, 2014).
Drawing from mutuality, the ethical component of our argument suggests that public institu-
tions should actively encourage recognition of the basic equality of all people, the universal right
to maintain differences, as well as a commitment to reciprocity and mutual respect for persons.
Informed by the ideal of mutuality, our understanding of pluralism encourages the free expres-
sion of a widebut not unlimitedvariety of views. As public institutions, however, state col-
leges and universities in the U.S. are accountable to the American people and legally obligated
to uphold constitutional laws pertaining to speech and expression.
Free speech and hate speech in the U.S
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution permits expression of an immense range
of diverse perspectives, including those that may be unreasonable, disrespectful, bigoted, and/or
potentially harmful. It protects vigorous criticism and peaceful protest of such views, as well,
which can contribute significantly to their social marginalization. Public officials are legally pro-
hibited from discriminating against individuals or groups based on their beliefs or coercively sup-
pressing speech on the basis of its political or religious content.
Short of granting blanket tolerance toward all forms of speech, however, the Constitution
requires that citizens refrain from engaging in forms of expression that directly and explicitly
incite violence, disorder, or lawlessness (e.g., Sunstein, 1995). For example, public demonstrations
that threaten to disturb the peace can be declared unlawful gatherings and dispersed by a
democratically sanctioned, lawful use of police force. It is also illegal for individuals to make true
threats and incite imminent crimes against anyone for any reasonor to use fighting words,
which include face-to-face personal insults addressed to a specific person, of the sort that are
likely to start an immediate fight(Volokh, 2015).
There is, however, no hate speechexception to the First Amendment(Volokh, 2015). We
understand hate speech to include forms of expression whose dominant purpose is to insult or
denigrate members of a social group identified by such characteristics as race, ethnicity, religion,
or sexual orientation, or to arouse enmity or hostility against them(Sumner, 2009, pp. 2089).
Within this particular legal context, calls for more powerful institutional responses to potentially
harmful speech on campus draw our attention to important ethical and epistemological chal-
lenges. For example, such calls have prompted some institutions to implement speech codes,
bias response systems, unconscious bias training, and seminars designed to combat insensitive
or insulting forms of expression that radical scholars identify as microaggressions(FIRE, 2017;
Snyder & Khalid, 2016; UCLA, 2014).
Advocates of free speech on both the Right and the Left have raised concerns about these
initiatives, which some critics consider little more than a politically correct effort to prevent any-
one from voicing views that do not fall in line with a narrow social justiceideology(Ben-
Porath, 2017, p. 11).
Critics of these efforts have argued that a substantial portion of reported
biasor hateincidents on campus are more accurately described as expressions of mild disres-
pect, insensitivity, or mere political conflict (FIRE, 2017). Some have gone even further to chal-
lenge the narrative of ubiquitous hate speech on campus. For example, Wilfred Reilly (2019), an
African American scholar of race relations, concludes from an extensive study of over one hun-
dred high profile cases that, rather than facing an increase in the frequency or severity of hate
incidents, American colleges and universities are experiencing an epidemic of hate crime hoaxes.
Political terminology
We use the term Leftin reference to anyone from moderate liberals and progressives who
mostly vote Democrat in the U.S. to radical socialists, anarchists, and allied identitarian move-
ments for historically marginalized groups. Similarly, we use the term Rightto describe anyone
from classical liberals and moderate conservatives who mostly vote Republican to radical libertar-
ians, fascists, religious fundamentalists
, and allied identitarian movements for historically domin-
ant groups. We use the terms radical,far-Right, and far-Leftin reference to those on the
extreme ends of this spectrum. Intolerance refers to an unwillingness to grant basic human rights
to those with whom one disagrees, and, with the exception of radical libertarians, the highest
levels of intolerance are usually at the extremes(Jussim, 2018).
In Living with Moral Disagreement, Moses (2016) suggests that, for democratic societies to func-
tion well, public deliberations must include a wide range of reasonable perspectives.
Paraphrasing Rawls (1993), she states, The concept of reasonableherein excludes oppressive
and hateful views(Footnote 12, p. 115). In an essay entitled, Diversity of Thought on Campus
To a Point, she elaborates upon her position and considers how it applies within the particular
context of higher education. Focusing on bigoted forms of expression from far-Right political
activists like Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopolis, she identifies white supremacist, sexist,
homophobic, transphobic, and any other views that are indefensible or intimidating, especially
to marginalized groupsas beyond the limits of reasonableness (Moses, 2017, pp. 533534).
We are sympathetic to the concerns reflected in the common framing and echoed in Mosess
positionfor ones legal right to free speech is not the same thing as epistemic or ethical justifi-
cation for expressing hateful, intimidating, or malicious views. Overtly bigoted expressions that
serve no clear academic purpose are indeed unreasonable. However, stigmatizing labels lose
their power when used in a cavalier manner, and, as such, moralistic labels alone do not effect-
ively demonstrate a perspectives unreasonableness or justify its exclusion from public delibera-
tions. By what processes and criteria, then, ought stakeholders in public colleges and universities
to make such judgments? How should they respond to people who express unreasonable views?
Answers to these questions have important ethical and epistemological implications for higher
education. Below, we consider two competing visions for public colleges and universities and
their distinctly different responses to these questions.
A radical vision for higher education
Critical theorist Herbert Marcuse, the intellectual leader of the New Left in the 1960s1970s,
greatly influenced the radical shift in campus culture and politics that has taken place since that
time. His profound impact is clearly evident in the rhetoric and behavior of many of todays cam-
pus activists (e.g., Sculos & Walsh, 2016). Rejecting the liberal values of reciprocal tolerance and
free speech, Marcuse (1965) called for intolerance of movements from the Right, and toleration
of movements from the Left(109). More specifically, he sought to justify restraining the liberty
of the Rightwith the goal of strengthening the oppressed against the oppressors(119-120).
The New Left thoroughly embraced discriminating (in)tolerance as a guide to militant, often
violent political action during the 1960s and 70s. Facing strong resistance from the federal gov-
ernment and wanting to distance themselves from communisms spectacular failures and mass
atrocities (e.g., Courtois & Kramer, 2014), however, many former New Left activists settled into
academic positions. Securing control of campus culture and politics was a primary component of
the movementsstrategy of the long march through the institutionsin which a militant minority
(Marcuse, 1972, p. 55) would launch an aggressive campaign to bendthe major social, cultural,
and political institutions in the direction of socialism(57).
Though advocates of discriminating (in)tolerance probably represent a numerical minority in
the academy, the threats to reasonable pluralism and the credibility of democratic institutions
that they present should not be minimized or ignored. As countless examples in history have
shown, an intolerant, militant minority can, in fact, exercise significant power and do great harm.
Many who sympathize with radical political aims do not endorse violence or intolerance, but
they often fail to adequately challenge those who do. Likewise, intellectual supporters like
Marcuse do not usually commit acts of violence or intolerance themselves, but they provide the-
oretical justification and rhetorical cover for those who do (Jussim, 2018). As a result, the far-Left
has a significant amount of power and influence in higher education that is disproportionate to
their numbers and the reasonableness of their ideas.
The academyscritical turn
Since taking a critical turnin the 1970s, radical politics and epistemology have become increas-
ingly mainstream in education, the social sciences, humanities, and other academic fields
(Gottesman, 2016). An especially noteworthy example, Foucaults(1984) conceptualization of
knowledge/power provides radical scholar-activists a discursive strategy for accepting or rejecting
knowledge claims not primarily on the basis of their epistemological warrants but according to
whose political interests they potentially serve (Zhao & Bindewald, 2018). The ultimate goal of this
approach, then, is not to pursue truthin any normative sensethe traditional aim of scholar-
shipby identifying the best warranted knowledge claims and elevating those above the rest.
Rather, by implicitly redefining truthin reference to forms of expression that support radical
political interests, it grants a sense of academic legitimacy to far-Left activism and delegitimizes
opposing arguments without regard to their epistemic warrants.
It is this reconceptualized meaning of the word truththat Foucault likely has in mind in his
suggestion that free speech should be reserved for those speaking truthto power. Presuming
to occupy the moral high ground, some proponents of this approach (e.g., Applebaum, 2003;
Boler, 2004; DiAngelo & Sensoy, 2014) assert a special right to determine who gets to speak, on
which issues, and by what standards their claims will be evaluated (Zhao & Bindewald, 2018).
Their radical interpretation of social justice demands that dominant knowledge claims must be
silenced …’ so that marginalized perspectives can be advanced (DiAngelo & Sensoy 2014, pp. 3
and 4). In other words, regardless of epistemic warrants, perspectives favored by the far-Left and
allied identitarian movements should be treated as true/good and opposing views as false/bad
on the basis of whose political interests they purportedly serve. Toward that end, proponents of
the radical vision selectively grant license of tongue and epistemic privilegeto their allies
(Gottesman, 2016, p. 98).
From this perspective, violating the basic rights of political opponents (especially members of
so-called oppressorgroups) is indefinitely justified as a means to the radical Lefts utopian ends:
Until all voices are recognized equally, we must operate within a context of historicized ethics which
consciously privileges the insurrectionary and dissenting voices, sometimes at the minor cost of silencing
those voices that have been permitted dominant status for the past centuries [emphasis added] (Boler,
2014, p. 13).
The most salient question to ask individuals who object to these practices, a proponent of
the radical vision suggests, is not, are your democratic rights being violated, but rather, are you
suffering?(Wahl, 2018, p. 532, paraphrasing Rorty, 1989, p. 198). In the spirit of Marcuse, these
scholars selectively demand robust respect for some, while explicitly justifying intolerance toward
others (Campbell, 2018).
It is, therefore, unreasonable to characterize the expression of such views as speaking truth to
powerparticularly when they are articulated from positions of power. For example, consider
the case of Dr. Charles H. F. Davis III, who has explicitly endorsed violence against Whiteness
from his Black Identity ExtremistTwitter account, which drew the attention of Right-wing media
(Rubbelke, 2017). Though he claims white supremacists have waged a campaign to have him
fired, he maintains his tenure-track faculty position and prestigious appointment as Chief
Strategy Officer and Director of Research for the Race and Equity Center at the University of
Southern California (Menahan, 2017).
Progressive campus communitiesreluctance to challenge overreach from the far-Left allows
radical activists to excuse themselves from generally applicable scholarly standards. Some schol-
ars in identity-oriented fields, for instance, suggest that identity groups have their own distinct
ways of knowing. Because inquiry paradigms that require justification of knowledge claims with
public reasons and evidence were developed primarily by white men, it follows, they have no
relevance to people outside of that group. Thus, when institutions of higher education require
members of historically marginalized groups to justify knowledge claims (whose validity the
claimants presumably expect others to accept) with so-called white/male standards of evidence,
they engage in a form epistemic injustice.
Matias and Diangelos(2013) peer reviewed article in Educational Foundations on white neur-
osis and racial cray-crayexemplifies major problems of the radical vision. The authors employ
interdisciplinary approaches of critical Whiteness studies and critical race theory(4) to determine
that raising White children to be White is a form of child abusethat produces the condition of
white neurosis(11). Not seeking therapy to address, this pathology forces upon People of
Color the need to placate the irrationalityof white colleagues (11-12). In stopping the abuse,
White norms of rationality should not be the standard for which change is measured…’ (17).
For, if their psychiatric diagnosis and prescribed treatment for the pathology of whiteness must
be justified with public reasons and empirical evidence rather than appeals to emo-cognitions,
parables, and poetic letters, the authors suggest, we lose the only remedy we have to White
racial toxicity(14).
Being Critical About Being Critical
Protecting members of historically marginalized groups from arbitrary forms of discrimination
and recognizing their equal human rights are requirements of the vision of mutuality and rea-
sonable pluralism that we endorse. Suggestions that campus radicals should have license of
tongueto engage in overtly bigoted speech or that they have the authority to (perpetually?)
discriminate for political purposes (DiAngelo & Sensoy, 2014, p. 7; Boler, 2004, p. 3), however, are
not. The radical visions discriminatory approach is, at best, a nonstarter for the majority of
Americans (More in Common, 2018). At worst, it alienates potential allies, undermines progres-
sive aims, and exacerbates existing political and social conflict. Some influential philosophers of
education (e.g., Ben-Porath, 2017; Burbules, 2016; Hytten, 2015) have, however, argued for a
more measured approach to speech and inquiry in the academy.
Urging caution against the radical vision, for example, Burbules (2016) emphasizes the import-
ance of being critical about being critical. He notes that many scholars in the critical(i.e., rad-
ical) tradition take a dichotomous view of conflict: Group A is always right, and group B is
always to blame; all conflict is the result of X, and if you can just transform or overthrow X,
everything will be better(3). Alternatively, there cannot be simple dualities of oppressor and
oppressed, and ones theory of social change or transformation cannot be reduced to simply tak-
ing sides in advancing one groups interests over anothers or overthrowing one particular sys-
tem and replacing it with something else(3). A more constructive solution, he argues, is an
ongoing, iterative process of critique, reform, and self-questioningthat includes thoughtful con-
sideration of the history of idealism gone awry, of good intentions that end up yielding their
opposite, of absolutisms that end up creating their own oppressions …’ (3).
A Vision of Mutuality and Reasonable Pluralism in Higher Education
Toward a vision of mutuality and reasonable pluralism, we propose the ethical pursuit of public
knowledge as a guiding mission for public colleges and universities (with the understanding that
other institutions will have different primary purposes). The distinction between epistemologic-
ally warranted public knowledge (Kitcher, 2011) and personal(i.e., not necessarily warranted) pri-
vate belief, however, is an essential feature of this vision. Public institutions of higher education
should focus primarily on the production of public knowledge, calling on participants in such
processes to assume the role of public scholars.
Unlike preachers, lawyers, politicians, and professional activists, whose work often prioritizes
other interests, scholars, if that word means anything at all, should place a premium on epistemic
warrants. Scholars in/of public education, then, should justify their claims with public warrants
that is, with reasons and evidence that can be subjected to critical scrutiny by a community of
competent professionals and justified to the public. Though this approach has necessary limits, it
should not be confused with positivism, scientism, identitarianism, or an overly restrictive meth-
odological fundamentalism (e.g., Denzin et al., 2006). To the contrary, publicly warranted scholar-
ship, in accordance with reasonable pluralism, would include a wide variety of reasonable
perspectives, regardless of their origins. It would consist of quantitative, qualitative, and mixed
methods approaches to empirical research as well as philosophical inquiries (and some studies
that contain elements of each).
When scholars make empirical or moral/political claims that they expect others to accept as
justified or legitimate, they assume these claims have normative forcethat is, they imply that
others ought to also consider them valid and worthy of high epistemic status. If one expects
others in a context of great diversity of perspective to accept the legitimacy of or obligations
associated with ones claims, then such claims require justification in the form of public reasons
and evidence. While appeals to private beliefs, subjective interests, or psychological experiences
may be personally meaningful and often serve as legitimate starting points for scholarly inquiry,
they are, by themselves, insufficient sources of epistemic justification for public knowledge.
To determine whether a public knowledge claim is warranted, one should first attempt to
understand and then critically evaluate its public reasons and evidence. By criticalevaluation,
we mean applying tools of critical thinking to a knowledge claim and its epistemic warrants; not
accepting or rejecting the claims validity on the basis of its compatibility with the political com-
mitments of critical theories.
Values will, however, inevitably inform such judgments. Although
facts and values are not irrelevant to one another (e.g., empirically warranted claims could be
used in support of ethically sound or unsound practices), participants in knowledge production
processes should carefully demarcate empirical from ethical/political claims and warrants to the
greatest extent possible (i.e., a claim could very well be epistemologically warranted and incom-
patible with ones political commitments).
Values associated with reasonable pluralism and mutuality would play a significant role in the
knowledge production processes we envision. Except in extreme cases that involve individual
harm or threaten public safety, however, we argue that public institutions should generally
emphasize epistemologically relevant values(Phillips & Burbules, 2000, pp. 54 and 55).
Epistemologically relevant values include clarity and precision of language, logical coherence in
argumentation, commitments to justifying ones claims with public warrants, dedication to the
pursuit of truth, openness to counter evidence, receptiveness to criticism, accuracy of measure-
ments and observations, honesty and openness in reporting results, and the like(Phillips &
Burbules, 2000, pp. 54 and 55).
As necessary (but, by themselves, insufficient) prerequisites for the ethical pursuit of public
knowledge, free speech and open inquiry are also, in important ways, epistemologically relevant
values. They contribute immensely to the institutional credibility, health, and sustainability of
public colleges and universities. Protecting free speech and open inquiry from coercive suppres-
sion promotes freedom of conscience and provides necessary checks against unjustified forms of
discrimination, authoritarian policies and practices, and the entrenchment of orthodoxy. These
institutions are accountable to the public, but protections of academic freedom should prevent
the public from coercively suppressing unpopular viewpoints in the academy. These protections
do not, however, require uncritical inclusion of unreasonable forms of expression.
When campus speech explicitly calls for or directly incites physical violence or lawlessness, it
should be suppressed by the appropriate, democratically sanctioned law enforcement authorities.
For example, the 2017 gathering of torch-wielding white nationalists at the University of Virginia
in Charlottesville drew upon violent imagery associated with Nazis and Klansmen, included pri-
vate militia armed with assault rifles, and clearly intended to threaten and intimidate political
opponents (Heim, 2017). As such, local police should have more swiftly declared the event an
unlawful assembly and dispersed the crowd. A more timely and forceful police intervention
would likely have prevented much of the street violence that followed, including, most signifi-
cantly, the murder of counter-protestor Heather Heyer.
Similarly justified is the use of police force against far-Left militants who harass, intimidate,
and attempt to violate the civil liberties of political opponents. Consider, for example, the 2017
student takeover of Evergreen State College. Angered by professor Bret Weinsteins public objec-
tion to a racially segregated day of absence/presencein which white people were pressured to
absent themselves from campus, a mob of approximately 50 students disrupted his class, sur-
rounded and accosted him and his students, denounced him as a racist, and demanded that he
resign or be fired. The students then barricaded themselves and several administrators in the
library. Some can be seen on camera expressing racially chauvinist and bigoted sentiments and
menacing those who objected to their unreasonable speech and behavior. The college president
placated the mob and, in spite of multiple threats of violence, ordered campus police to stand
down. At least initially, faculty and administrators roundly condemned Weinsteins alleged racism
and praised the militant students.
These are clear examples where intolerance should not have been tolerated and hate speech
should have been directly challenged and intentionally marginalized. When objectionable speech
does not warrant a coercive response but includes unreasonable, offensive, disrespectful, or big-
oted content, public institutions should call it what it is and respond to it directly (Lawrence,
2017). Beyond their important role in protecting free speech, public universities have additional
obligations that include subjecting ideas to critical scrutiny and calling for them to be justified
to the public. Some expressions will prove unreasonable and incompatible with the guiding pur-
pose, and should, therefore, be actively marginalized within these institutions. For example, if
extremists and provocateurs engage in unreasonable, disrespectful, or bigoted forms of expres-
sion, these views should be directly confronted with peaceful, lawful protests, reasonable coun-
terarguments, and formal institutional counter-messaging.
When a member of the campus community claims to have experienced harm or intimidation
from the expression of a particular viewpoint, such claims should be met with a presumption of
worth. Institutions have an ethical obligation to directly challenge and counter actual hate
speech, regardless of its source or target. No one should be expected to respectfully engage
with those who clearly and intentionally insult them, openly question their basic equality as
human beings, or suggest that it would be okay to violate their democratic rights. Whether from
the Right or Left, campus speech should be critically scrutinized, explicit incitements to violence
suppressed, and unreasonable expressions marginalized.
Epistemic processes, assessments, and the ways in which participants are treated do, however,
raise significant ethical considerations. Power plays a significant role in such processes, as Foucault
(1984) and many others have noted. As such, potential abuses of power ought to also be sub-
jected to critical scrutiny from a wide variety of perspectives (Siegel, 2012). Yet, contrary to
Foucault, warranted knowledge claims and arbitrary assertions of power are not the same thing.
Claims are not reasonable or unreasonable simply because they are uttered by a particular group
of people or because they serve specific political interests. Instead, knowledge claims made by all
people, from all groups, should be granted an initial presumption of worth and should, therefore,
be taken seriously enough to scrutinize according to public principles of reason.
Assessment of a claim is not the same thing as an evaluation of the human worth of the
claimant, although it could be subjectively experienced that way. We treat others with respect as
persons by taking their views seriouslynot by granting them automatic, uncritical acceptance.
It is possible, however, that after giving due consideration we can justifiably determine that
some claims do not have normative force or warrant the same epistemic status as others. If pub-
lic institutions do away with reciprocal obligations to justify public knowledge claims with public
reasons and evidence, they become unable to credibly marginalize unreasonable views or effect-
ively establish that purported victims of injustice are actually victims, for such claims would also
require some sort of publicly assessible, reasoned justification (Siegel, 1995).
We acknowledge that there will be individuals and groups who express views at odds with mutu-
ality and reasonable pluralism. Public institutions should marginalize these views. If people wish to
establish free associations guided by and committed to the promotion of unreasonable views in the
private sphere, however, they should be permitted to do so. Private institutions are not bound by
the same First Amendment constraints as public institutions, and they can legally promote sectarian
views and limit or restrict speech inconsistent with their guiding mission and values (FIRE, 2015).
Highlighted in the common framing in education, extremists on the Right indeed exploit free
speech protections and post-Truthconditions to spread falsehoods, denigrate historically margi-
nalized groups, and advance narrow identitarian interests. Scholars of education are justified in
their efforts to challenge these significant threats to pluralism and liberal democracy. De-empha-
sized in our field, however, are the far-Lefts probable contributions to the chaotic ethical and
epistemological conditions in which their counterparts on the far-Right presently thrive. The
aggressive campaign to bend higher education and other liberal, democratic institutions in the
direction of socialism has, in our judgment, come at a significant cost to institutional legitimacy
and credibility.
A recent PEW Research Center survey found that 61% of American adults believe higher edu-
cation is headed in the wrong direction, and strong majorities of both Democrats and
Republicans prioritize free speech on campus even when some students find particular view-
points upsetting (PEW, 2018). Along with the arguments presented above, these facts suggest to
us that the type of responses hinted at in the common framing are ill advised. In our judgment,
doubling down on discriminating (in)tolerance, identity politics, and radical epistemology in the
academy would further undermine institutional credibility, inflame intolerant movements on the
far-Right, and intensify ongoing public divestment from higher education.
Specifically, suppressing dissenting views and selectively distributing ethical and epistemic
privileges on the basis of political perspective or group identityeven when done in the
euphemistic language of social justice or as a supposed corrective to past and present injust-
iceerodes trust and disincentivizes good faith engagement across difference. Alternatively,
more substantive critiques of unreasonable views and behavior from the far-Left inside the acad-
emy could give institutions of higher education a boost in credibility needed to more effectively
confront external threats to reasonable pluralism and democracy from the far-Right. Rather than
mirroring the forms of injustice, discrimination, and unreasonableness that often characterize the
broader world, the ethical and epistemic norms of public colleges and universities should model
those most of us would like to extend to it.
Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author(s).
1. Here, Ben-Porath is merely framing the debate about free speech on campus and is not endorsing this view.
2. In the West, rightwing religious fundamentalists primarily include dogmatic believers in the Judeo-Christian
traditions, whereas other fundamentalists, including Islamist extremists, often ally with the far-Left
(Walzer 2015).
3. See, e.g., Phillips (2012) for a critical review of several influential examples from this body of literature.
4. See Burbules and Berk (1999) for a clearly articulated distinction between these two uses of critical.
5. See links to videos in Heying and Weinstein (2017).
Notes on contributors
Benjamin Bindewald is former secondary social studies teacher who completed his Ph.D. in curriculum and instruc-
tion with a focus in social foundations of education at Clemson University. He is now an assistant professor of
social foundations at Oklahoma State University. His primary scholarly interests include tolerance and its limits in
pluralist, democratic societies and the epistemological and ethical challenges such considerations present for public
schools and universities.
Joshua Hawkins is a former K-12 teacher and administrator who earned a Ph.D. in educational psychology from
Oklahoma State University. He is now an assistant professor of special education at Northwestern Oklahoma State
University. His primary scholarly interests include retention, resilience, and relationships in special education, and
philosophical and psychological foundations of education.
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Full-text available
Americans are deeply and increasingly polarized along political and ideological lines. The lack of engagement, understanding, and appreciation between people of divided groups is stunning and potentially catastrophic. In this paper, we will analyze ideas of Herbert Marcuse’s proposition of “discriminating tolerance” (1965) to Foucault’s analysis of the “knowledge/power” apparatus (1984), which may have contributed to a contemporary form of intolerance in education, and introduce, as an alternative, Habermas’ approach of deliberative democracy where challenges and differences in political and ideological views are seriously engaged, understood, and debated, and better arguments are sought after. We argue that the Habermasian approach, both as a principled guide to public discourse and basis for civic education, is crucial for the establishment of a pluralist, democratic community where productive engagement across difference is the norm and reason is to defeat ignorance.
Full-text available
This chapter is reprinted from the article with the same title in Educational Researcher 35(2):3-12, (2006). Research in education and the training of education researchers are often said to require attention to epistemological diversity: Researchers ought to be familiar with different ways of knowing and diverse epistemological perspectives. But the notion is unclear. What is “epistemological diversity”? What exactly is epistemological about? Why is it important for education researchers to be knowledgeable about it? In addressing these questions, Siegel argues that the call for epistemological diversity is not, where justified, as radical or significant as it is often taken to be; and that, where it is radical or significant, it is not justified. Harvey Siegel, Educational Researcher, Vol. 35, No. 2, pp. 3-12, copyright © 2006 by Educational Researcher (SAGE Publications), reprinted by permission from author and SAGE Publications.
Full-text available
How to handle affirmative action is one of the most intractable policy problems of our era, touching on controversial issues such as race-consciousness and social justice. Much has been written both for and against affirmative action policies—especially within the realm of educational opportunity. In this book, philosopher Michele S. Moses offers a crucial new pathway for thinking about the debate surrounding educational affirmative action, one that holds up the debate itself as an important emblem of the democratic process. Central to Moses’s analysis is the argument that we need to understand disagreements about affirmative action as inherently moral, products of conflicts between deeply held beliefs that shape differing opinions on what justice requires of education policy. As she shows, differing opinions on affirmative action result from different conceptual values, for instance, between being treated equally and being treated as an equal or between seeing race-consciousness as a pernicious political force or as a necessary variable in political equality. As Moses shows, although moral disagreements about race-conscious policies and similar issues are often seen as symptoms of dysfunctional politics, they in fact create rich opportunities for discussions about diversity that nourish democratic thought and life.
With the recent surge of college protests against various forms of economic, political, social and racial injustice, there have been persistent and pernicious reactions from other students, administrators and public figures that function to undermine the emancipatory impulses animating these demonstrations. The reactions are often justified under the banners of tolerance, chastising students to listen instead of protest. This article, focusing on Marcuse’s concepts of repressive toleration and counterrevolution, evaluates the reactionary responses to these events, as well as the critical potential of this fledgling student sensibility, a burgeoning refusal represented by protest events at American universities. We maintain that many of the calls for tolerance are actually demands for silence and belong to a wider counterrevolutionary phase of late capitalism observed by Marcuse. Bedrock liberties are dialectically inverted whereby speech and toleration are repressively deployed against demands for justice. This essay concludes by arguing that it is crucial to the success of this resurgent sensibility for justice—and progress towards a radical socialist movement that coincides with the emancipatory vision of Herbert Marcuse—that the counterrevolutionary character of the responses are demystified.
The Critical Turn in Education traces the historical emergence and development of critical theories in the field of education, from the introduction of Marxist and other radical social theories in the 1960s to the contemporary critical landscape. The book begins by tracing the first waves of critical scholarship in the field through a close, contextual study of the intellectual and political projects of several core figures including, Paulo Freire, Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis, Michael Apple, and Henry Giroux. Later chapters offer a discussion of feminist critiques, the influx of postmodernist and poststructuralist ideas in education, and critical theories of race. While grounded in U.S. scholarship, The Critical Turn in Education contextualizes the development of critical ideas and political projects within a larger international history, and charts the ongoing theoretical debates that seek to explain the relationship between school and society. Today, much of the language of this critical turn has now become commonplace-words such as "hegemony," "ideology," and the term "critical" itself-but by providing a historical analysis, The Critical Turn in Education illuminates the complexity and nuance of these theoretical tools, which offer ways of understanding the intersections between individual identities and structural forces in an attempt to engage and overturn social injustice.