Carson’s Commentary: Hey USG, freedom of speech is not controversial

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“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.” 

George Orwell wrote those words over 70 years ago in his dystopian classic “1984”. And if Orwell knew anything of the current debate plaguing The University of Connecticut’s Undergraduate Student Government elections, he would be outraged. 

Voting for next year’s USG president ends at noon today, yet none of the three candidates have expressed support for the free speech petition started last month by student Isadore Johnson. Among many reasons, Johnson cites his desire for UConn to adopt the Chicago Statement, as well as the fact that current USG Bylaws protect its members from being punished for “exercising their constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of speech.” 

How anyone could oppose such a resolution, I do not know. The benefits of upholding free speech statutes and expanding such privileges far outweigh any attempt to restrict them. Like so many others at this publication, I am first and foremost a journalist. Journalism is inherently a progressive profession, as it provides information to the masses; my style of journalism provokes further discussion among the masses. It is the freedom of speech that protects me to say that HuskyCT is flawed, Ted Cruz has lost his mind and yes, that two plus two make four. 

Unless journalists break their news and discuss their policies, candidates are irrelevant. Yet somehow, free speech has become the alt-right’s weapon of choice? 

At least, that is what the stances taken by USG’s presidential candidates would lead one to think. In their interviews with The Daily Campus Editorial Board, all three candidates implied that many proponents of free speech don’t like to be held accountable for their words. To them I say, you’ve missed the point. So long as words are not  defamatory or directly proven to incite violence, there is nothing to hold to account. Such words are protected by the U.S. Constitution, as well as (ironically) by the USG organization itself. 

Strengthening UConn’s commitment to free speech is also a way to improve our university’s image. The 2019 Charter Oak incident — both the student’s utterances and the university’s response — was disgraceful and brought national attention to UConn for all the wrong reasons. In a 2020 First Amendment Watch article, UConn was named one of the 10 “worst colleges for free speech” in the entire country. We clearly have a long way to go, and repairing UConn’s free speech reputation should be right up there with tackling mental health issues on campus. Unfortunately, too many students seem unbothered (and almost content) with this “top” 10 ranking. 

Lastly, given how committed USG and other UConn institutions have become in increasing diversity on campus, what better way to do so than make it easier for students to speak their minds? Free speech promotes diversity in the sense that it encourages minority opinions to be heard. 

In his 1859 book “On Liberty,” British philosopher John Stuart Mill established that there will always be two prevailing opinions in society: the received (majority) opinion and the suppressed (minority) opinion. According to Mill, suppressed opinions could either be entirely true, entirely false, or somewhere in between — it was up to society to figure this out by exchanging opinions in a “marketplace of ideas.” 

What UConn needs right now is a marketplace of ideas, for if complete falsehoods go unchallenged, they will only fuel the burning flames of conspiracy that are already so prevalent in our country. The form of troubling, subjective censorship  that university administrators and student-run institutions alike advocate for will never appease “incorrect” speech or ideas. Free speech advocacy enables diversity, while free speech restrictions only enable conformity. 

To the next USG president, I call upon you to resist acting against both the U.S. and USG Constitutions and reject subjective notions of speech limitation. So long as you do, you can uphold the very marketplace of ideas so critical to the functioning of our republic…   

And you can assure that two plus two will never make five. 

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