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CAUT Bulletin Archives

May 2009

Open discussion often uncomfortable

It seems, according to some people, that free speech on campus ends when members of the audience feel uncomfortable. I refer to letters from Alan Kaplan and Ira Robinson in your April issue condemning some campus meetings critical of Israel’s policies (Yuri Leving’s letter in the same issue is so sarcastic that its message is unclear.)

The issue of Israel and Palestine is controversial indeed and emotions are high on all sides — even at a university. Just because an audience member with opposite views to those of the majority in a meeting feels somewhat cowed is no reason to condemn the meeting. If I were a creationist at a meeting on evolution, I would feel intimidated.

As a Jewish critic of Israel, I have gone to pro-Israel meetings and felt intimidated. So what? As long as the speakers are not breaking the law, they are entitled to say whatever outrageous things they wish. They can be one-sided. O they can even tell lies — even at a university. If I don’t like what they say, I can speak up. Or I can picket the meeting or hand out leaflets. Or I can write a letter to the editor. Or I can call my own meeting with my own speakers.

Having an “open discussion” on an issue is desirable. But that open discussion need not, often cannot, and sometimes should not be encompassed within the bounds of a single meeting. To suggest otherwise is, in fact, to limit free speech. Universities are big places with lots of opportunities for open discussion in many forms and forums.

Larry Haiven
Saint Mary’s University

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