Free speech, however, as I have said a number of times, is not the right to say whatever one will whenever one wants. There are a variety of limits, which are broadly and generally accepted and should be because they make sense. Those people who argue for free speech at any cost are actually making a fake argument because they have turned an important matter of public policy, essential for democracy, art, education, into an academic debating club in which the objective is to make one's opponent look bad (I suspect often for political reasons) as opposed to seriously thinking about what free speech is and its legitimate boundaries and having a conversation about that. One-liners don't help us, in other words.
I don't want to go over the reasonable limits (contract, for example) because I've blogged on these points so many times I assume anyone who has any interest in what I am saying can google it. I'll put up a blog that reviews this point sometime in the future.
What is important here is procedure. I've been blogging about procedures because they are essential to free speech, they are essential to fairness, and they are ways of resolving problems or conflict potentially before they began. I believe that the situation at Wilfrid Laurier that I have been using as an example to illustrate my point is a case in point. You might use another term to describe my point -- say, due process -- but the point is simple: in instances where a sanction of some sort (say, a reprimand) is going to be applied in a speech situation (where the defense is going to involve a claim to free speech) (there might be other instances, but I am dealing with speech), there are rules we have to follow and if we breach these rules, the legitimacy of the sanction -- the limit to free speech -- is cast into doubt. So far I have said that the procedures (or, processes) involve:
- Proper orientation that establishes limits to pedagogical aids in advance of teaching
- The tribunal (or, committee) adjudicating the case must get the rules the accused is accused of breaking correct
- If someone is accused of an offense (say, creating a toxic environment), they must be informed of this in advance of a hearing (or committee meeting or whatever it is called), which includes reference to the specific rule (say, university rule) that they have broken
- In cases of new faculty or teaching assistants, etc., there must be an orientation that fully informs them of institutional rules
- The accused has the right to read the complaint in advance of the proceedings so that they can prepare a counter argument
- The accused does not have the right to know the complainant, but does have the right to know the number of complaints and the process through which complaints are made in advance of the proceedings
- The accused has the right to counsel
- The judges in the case cannot also be the prosecutors
I do believe that there will be conflicts around issues of speech because people will intentionally misuse free speech. They will use it to insult people, to organize hate, to call others' identities into question, to marginalize and to oppress and we cannot -- if we want to be a good and democratic society -- accept these things. Thus, avoiding all conflict cannot be out objective in establishing policy because we will not be able to meet that objective. But, I do think we can take steps to minimize conflicts and to find ways to carry on conversations that bring people together into communities of interest. One way to do that is to avoid binaries. Or, at least this is what I think.