Freedom of Speech is under attack in “public” higher education, from the Kansas Board of Regents deeming any speech a fireable offense, to the South Carolina Legislature cutting funds from the College of Charleston (in retaliation for recommending Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home as a summer read). Offering a more subtle version of the South Carolina model, Tennessee Senator Stacey Campfield is sponsoring two bills, one which would tell the university how it should apportion student fees, and another which would prohibit the university from using any of its funds to pay outside speakers.
What inspired these bills? Senator Campfield is apparently upset that the University of Tennessee sponsors a sex education week. Last year, he threatened to pull all public funding for the university if the event received any financial support from the university. So, in 2014, he’s offering this more insidious twist on the original idea; no university funds for any speaker. His vigorous attack on free speech is just the latest from a publicity-seeking legislator who maintains a public blog but warns that it is private and that any quotation from it will be charged at $1000 per word. You will not be surprised to learn that the students and faculty oppose this attack on their rights. You also will not be surprised to learn that Senator Campfield is not an especially agile thinker — as this email exchange between him and Professor Misty G. Anderson (of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville) demonstrates.
On Mar 8, 2014, at 10:04 AM, Misty G. Anderson wrote:
I write to you as a parent of a college student as well as a middle schooler, as a Tennessean, and as a teacher to ask you to oppose SB1608 and SB2493. These bills are far too sweeping and undermine the project of inquiry, First Amendment rights, and the kind of professional development we try to offer our students at UT. Just this academic year, for instance, we were able to host Tom Brokaw. Two of my students had the opportunity to interview him about his career as a journalist, and he was generous with both his advice and time. This was a crucial professional development opportunity that would have been completely unavailable to them under the terms of these bills.
Students at UT have chances to weigh in on what kinds of speakers and activities take place, they have chances to participate in a wide array of learning opportunities, and to debate with significant voices in a range of cultural conversations: novelists, political scientists, religious leaders, philosophers, business innovators, and more. That is as it should be. It’s part of the strength of our American education system, and it encourages students to debate, develop their perspectives, and become better citizens. Please don’t take that away from them.
I realize, Senator Campfield, that you are the sponsor of both of these bills, but I’m including you in my appeal nonetheless. I urge you especially to reconsider your position and to consider the free and secure future of UT.
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I will be watching with great interest to see how you all vote, and I implore you to vote down both bills.
On Mar 8, 2014, at 11:04 AM, Stacey Campfield wrote:
While I support diversity of thought at the university. What is currently in place is not diversity. Sadly, when you look at a list of the paid speakers for the university the vast majority are from one point of view and balancing points of view are minimized.
Truly, more balance is needed. The current committee that decides who gets funding is @35-4 from one point of view. And they fund accordingly. The current system also does not allow for changes to the committee because new members to the committee are picked by the current members on the committee. It is impossible for diverse points of view to get a fair hearing. Instead, It is “two lions and a lamb deciding on what to have for dinner.” That is not a system that creates a diverse menu. In fact it eats the minority points of view.
To make sure all points of view get a fair opportunity to be funded I have proposed two bills.
The first would say all fees for optional political type speakers should be optional to join or not. No one should be forced to pay for speech they find objectionable. Current student tuition and fees are high enough. People are graduating in incredible debt. There is no need to heap insult on top of injury. If they wish to hear speakers let them decide by joining and paying the speakers fee. If not, they should not be forced to do what they find objectionable. Forced speech is not free speech. It is the oposite.
As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently said I couldn’t agree more.
If a student wishes to pay the optional student activity fee for speakers then those fees should be dolled out on a fair basis so all points of view get a fair hearing. To do this, I think the best way is to allow the students themselves to decide by joining clubs that interest them and allowing funding to be dolled out on membership basis. That way, if say college Democrats have 50 members and college Republicans have 50 members both would receive a fair share of the funding. If it were to tilt to 60/40 democrat leaning, the democrats would receive a larger proportion but not a 100% per portion. Diverse points of view would be heard and have a fair shot at receiving funding.
As I have said from the beginning, I still stand ready to negotiate the system details but leaving things as they currently are is a non starter. We need diversity of thought and not tyranny in action.
Yours in service,
Sen. Stacey Campfield
On Mar 8, 2014, at 12:12 PM, Misty G. Anderson wrote:
Dear Senator Campfield,
With all due respect, I had a hard time following your reply because it was full of sentence fragments that did not make clear how one idea flowed from and logically gave rise to another.
Your claim that the current committee is “35-4 from one point of view” is a mystery to me. What is that one point of view? And how is it that you can claim that the vast majority of speakers on campus are “from one point of view” when they have addressed so many different issues and topics? How can one say that points of view are to be calculated? Most thinking people hold a range of points of view on many subjects. Are you alluding to two-party politics? If so, I would submit that such a designation hardly summarizes all possible points of view, and to imagine a world where it does is deeply disturbing to me as a citizen and an educator.
You then say that all fees “for optional political type speakers should be optional.” How are we to determine what speakers are political and which speakers are not? Was Tom Brokaw political? Is a visiting novelist like Elizabeth Gilbert political? How would we calculate the “interest” represented by such speakers? I would hate to restrict that representation to the number of journalists or novelists in the student body. The bill pertains to all speakers, who can hardly be screened only on their party affiliation. But on that subject, let me offer an analogous question: I often find your speech objectionable, yet my tax dollars fund your salary. May I opt out of paying the portion of your salary that I pay, particularly since your speech is not only objectionable to me but has binding consequences on my life as a citizen, unlike open debates in which I can choose to participate or not?
What was it that Thomas Jefferson said? Because that sentence is actually a fragment and not a complete sentence, it is not at all clear. I am not being a mere grammarian about this fact; it is significant because it is fundamental to clear meaning. Thomas Jefferson said many things I cherish as examples of wise and thoughtful statesmanship, in spite of his actions as a slaveholder. Here are a few of my favorites:
- “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”
- “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”
- “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”
- “Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty.”
I would hope that we could find a zone of agreement on this important Enlightenment thinker, who was a staunch supporter of both education and free speech.
To conclude, I am writing back to you because I am distressed both by your approach to micromanaging the process of speakers at UT and other universities and your failure to comprehend the consequences of your own bills, which seem to have more in common with a totalitarian nation’s approach, rather than a free country’s approach, to public discourse. Curiously, you claim the opposite is true, calling the current system “forced speech” and even “tyranny in action.” But you, sir, are the one in the governing position. I would suggest you reconsider the language of tyranny and how it reflects on your own position in the legislature.
Misty G. Anderson
On Mar 8, 2014, at 12:49 PM, Stacey Campfield wrote:
Thomas Jefferson so eloquently said “To compel a man to furnish money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical”
On Mar 8, 2014, Misty G. Anderson’s final reply to Sen. Stacey Campfield:
Dear Senator Campfield,
Context, so often, is everything. The short quotation you have pulled is from Jefferson’s 1779 Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom (not passed until 1786), which was an argument for more free speech, as well as freedom of religion, by prohibiting the state support of the clergy and state tests for office based on religion or lack thereof. Accordingly, it proposed that “the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical” not “assume dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible.” Jefferson’s own position as a Deist inclined him strongly to realize that both the state and the church can conspire to compel and restrict speech and behavior in ways that are an anathema to free people. I quote the 3 sections of the act for your convenience, with some of the more relevant selections bolded:
SECTION I. Well aware that the opinions and belief of men depend not on their own will, but follow involuntarily the evidence proposed to their minds; that Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, but to extend it by its influence on reason alone; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time: That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness; and is withdrawing from the ministry those temporary rewards, which proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind; that our civil rights have no dependance on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right; that it tends also to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing, with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it; that though indeed these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way; that the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous falacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own; that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order; and finally, that truth is great and will prevail if left to herself; that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate; errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.
SECT. II. WE the General Assembly of Virginia do enact that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.
SECT. III. AND though we well know that this Assembly, elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies, constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.
Misty G. Anderson
As added context for Sen. Stacey Campfield’s understanding of “tyrannical,” one might point out that the senator has also proposed legislation banning public school teachers from using the word “gay,” and legislation tying Welfare payments to a child’s grades in school. He is a man of many unusual ideas. Here is another:
Given statements like this, one imagines that Sen. Campfield might benefit from attending some of the University of Tennessee’s sex education events.
Further information & actions:
- If you would like to contact Sen. Stacey Campfield, here is his email address: <email@example.com>. He is also on Facebook. He doesn’t seem to use Twitter, though he does have an account. The parody Twitter account is active, though: @StaceyCampfield.
- Petition to support the current student fee allocation process, sponsored by the University of Tennessee-Knoxville’s Student Government Association. You can sign this if you’re student, staff, or faculty at the University of Tennessee. If not, then see the Change.org petition, below.
- Student Fees, Student Freedom. Petition on Change.org. Anyone can sign this petition.
- PolitiFact’s Stacey Campfield page. This rates Senator Campfield’s statements, evaluating their veracity or lack thereof.
- Wikipedia’s Stacey Campfield page.
- Claire Dodson, “Opinion: An open letter to Stacey Campfield,” The Daily Beacon, 21 Feb. 2014.
- Stupid Shit Stacey Campfield says (Facebook page)
- Recall TN State Senator Stacey Campfield (Facebook page)
- “Wrecking Balls: Campfield’s SB 1608 and SB 2493, “ Better English for Politicians, 9 Mar. 2014. Prof. Misty Anderson has now posted the above exchange of correspondence, including her own introduction. [This link added on 9 March.]