Sunday, December 21, 2014


The line "Everybody is entitled to my opinion" is usually attributed to Madonna.  Former network TV newscaster David Brinkley wrote a book by that title.  Blog readers will know about the brouhaha when TV personality Bill Maher was invited to give the keynote speech at the December UC-Berkeley graduation.  According to news reports, he has now delivered the address.  Nothing terrible happened.  He said what he wanted to say.  A few protested.  Really, the only odd thing that happened was a statement made by a student leader:

Marium Navid, a UC Berkeley junior and ASUC senator who participated in the silent protest, said Maher’s discussion of liberalism was ironic, considering that he is “intolerant” of certain communities. “(Free speech is) not the ability to stand on a pedestal and just say whatever you want,” Navid said...

Full story (and quote) at 


Actually, free speech IS the ability to say whatever you want, other than the old proviso about not falsely crying "fire" in a crowded theater.  However, effective speech is not the same thing as free speech.  If you want to convince someone of something or simply to explain it, saying whatever it is in a deliberately offensive way will probably not get you there.  TV personalities, of course, may not be especially concerned with that type of effectiveness and may just want to provoke or to be funny or to raise their ratings.  Academics generally (should) want their speech to be effective in the sense of being convincing or explanatory.

In any event, perhaps the Maher episode will put an end to a series of aborted graduation speeches, pushes for "trigger" warnings on syllabi, and similar clouds over higher ed that have been an embarrassment to academia and have generally been fodder for folks who are not friends of the university.

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