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Chancellor Gillman Talks About Free Speech on UCI’s Campus

By Audrey Kemp

UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman visited Professor Amy Depaul’s Literary Journalism 21 class on Oct. 16 to discuss his views on public universities and their obligation to protect speech, regardless of whether it is deemed offensive or marginalizing.


His talk came in light of disagreement about whether UCI should fulfill the College Republicans’ request to host right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos.


According to Gillman, who co-founded The University of California’s National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement, punishing or censoring someone for the mere expression of a viewpoint would undermine the very idea that higher education is designed to promote.


“Milo coming to our campus isn’t part of our core mission, but we allow student organizations to invite people,” Gillman said. “We don’t ask them only to invite PhDs from fancy places.”


Gillman, a scholar of the American Constitution and judicial politics, teamed together with Berkeley’s  Dean of Law, Erwin Chemerinsky, to write the book, “Free Speech on Campus” and to teach a freshman seminar class of the same name.


Gillman explained that his book is meant to educate people on the centuries-long battle to attaining free speech, which was inevitably fought by vulnerable and marginalized groups.


According to Gillman, UCI faculty have made several administrative changes to foster knowledge on the topic of free speech this year, including updating free speech material for orientation and disruption policies, updating major events on campus, and creating a free speech website where students can learn the basic principles of constitutional law and free speech.


Gillman explained that universities are about the ongoing exploration of knowledge, and the adjustment of knowledge as you get new information.


“Everything that you think is true about the natural world, about the nature of life, about a just society, was not too long ago considered a dangerous heretical challenge to the sacred beliefs of established authorities,” he said, noting Darwin’s “Origin of the Species,” John Locke’s “Letter on Toleration” and John Milton’s “Areopagitica.”


According to Gillman, students must be mindful of the opposite of free speech, which would be the authoritarianism and oppression the world suffered under prior to the Enlightenment period.


“Progress has never been made by silencing the powerful. It’s only been made by giving a voice to the powerless,” he added.


According to Gillman, fostering knowledge, facts, history and strong arguments at universities will help improve conversations in public discourse.


“In Higher Ed, it’s especially important to protect the expression of ideas, because the point of university is that we are in the idea assessment business,” he said.


He explained that a university community would not only react to controversial ideas emotionally, but assess those ideas, explain their shortcomings, and suggest better ones.


Gillman also explained that in order for a free and diverse society to maintain its freedom and diversity, the other side must be treated as the loyal opposition, rather than the enemy.


“There will be people that you disagree with, but there also may be tremendous value in sitting down and having the patience to listen,” he said.


During his visit, the chancellor confirmed that Milo Yiannopoulos will visit UC Irvine this month, however a date has not yet been set.  


Photo courtesy of UCI Office of the Chancellor.