In a lecture at Harvard Law School on Monday, Loretta A. Preska, chief judge of the U.S. District Court of Southern New York, said she was concerned about the decreasing tolerance for speech on American university campuses.
“A campus with a so-called free speech zone is one in which free speech is allowed in certain designated areas, but not any place else,” Preska stated, adding that “these zones allow administrators to banish protesters to remote or marginal parts of the campus.” Preska suggested that free speech zones are themselves an example of the reduced tolerance for free speech on university campuses.
“The limiting of public discourse is already occurring, and in my view, the most troublesome of those places is the place where the views of the future leaders of our country are formed: on university campuses,” Preska said.
Preska noted that although restrictions on speech are often well-intended, the broad language of university speech policy often results in permissible non-violent speech being shut down. Organizers of the lecture from Harvard’s conservative and libertarian communities claimed that the event resonated with those students who attended.
Trenton J. Van Oss, a law school student who helped coordinate the event, reiterated the importance of the discussion on free speech. “I think one of the things she said that I really appreciated, was the idea that free speech is something that we have to fight for, every generation,” Van Oss said.” We need to work to create a culture of free speech where all views are appreciated.”
Law student Hussein E. Elbakri claimed that while Harvard has done a good job of “maintaining free speech,” there remains significant “social pressure not to say certain things, especially in discussions that affect race and gender.”
Preska suggested that speech restrictions violate one of the most significant progressive ideals: “Not only was freedom of speech the progressive ideal on which our nation was founded, it remains something that distinguishes this nation from every other nation on the planet.”