Blogs > Liberty and Power > The AHA Wimps Out on Speech Codes

Jan 8, 2007 3:13 pm

The AHA Wimps Out on Speech Codes

The business meeting of the American Historical Association easily voted down our proposed resolution opposing the use of speech codes to restrict academic freedom. Our critics from last year who earnestly volunteered that they would support a resolution on this issue if proposed separately remained silent and probably voted against us. The results of the meeting further illustrate that those who set the agenda for the AHA subscribe to the theory of"academic freedom for me but not for thee."

I am told that the AHA emailed a YouTube link to members on the debate but I did not receive it. The Chronicle of Higher Education has a summary

Campus-speech-code opponents vowed to bring their own resolution to the 2007 meeting. Led by David T. Beito, an associate professor of history at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, and Ralph E. Luker, an independent scholar who blogs at the History News Network's Cliopatria blog, the resolution's proponents called on the association to"oppose the use of speech codes to restrict academic freedom."

As evidence, Mr. Beito circulated three recent news articles that he said demonstrated how universities have used"free-speech zones" to restrict student speech. The examples included an Associated Press article from December 17, 2006, reporting that two students at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro faced"disciplinary action for staging a protest about the campus 'free-speech zones' outside the free-speech zones."

Those who opposed the resolution attacked it as overly broad and unclear. One member who spoke against the resolution was Pamela H. Smith, a professor of history at Columbia University, who argued that it"takes for granted what we mean by speech codes" and"negates the complexity" of how to balance the rights of free speech with the responsibilities that accompany free speech.

An amendment to the resolution that would limit what it opposed specifically to"free speech zones" was offered by Warren Goldstein, a professor of history at the University of Hartford. Though Mr. Beito attacked that amendment as"wimping out by the AHA," the amendment succeeded and was subsequently passed unanimously by a voice vote.

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Jonathan Dresner - 1/9/2007


I've not gotten anything from the AHA in the last day or so. The only person at the meeting with recording equipment was Rick Shenkman, so his Reporter's Notebook would probably be the only video available.

David T. Beito - 1/8/2007

Thank you but unfortunately the resolution is so poorly written that it could be interpreted as meaning that the AHA favors these zones!

Common Sense - 1/8/2007

I was not at the aha so can go only on what I read, but a unanimous vote against "free speech zones" (zones that imply speech should not be free elsewhere) seems to me like an accomplishment, albeit a limited one. Congratulations to David and others for fighting the good fight.