Summer vacation failed to cool Madison’s fiery debates over free speech and reparations for slavery. Grabbing campus dailies before class, students will find a continuation of last year’s newspaper debate in an advertisement placed by 45 UW faculty members.
Furthermore, embodying the debate, proponents of both sides of the reparations argument will grace the Distinguished Lecture Series this fall.
Conservative author David Horowitz, who sparked the controversy by placing ads titled “Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery are Bad for Blacks — And Racist Too” will argue against reparations Nov. 20 at the Wisconsin Union Theater. Civil-rights activist Randall Robinson will challenge Horowitz’s position Dec. 4.
The newest ad in the ongoing debate criticizes a May 1 ad placed by a sizable group of UW administrators asking for limitations on free speech, and calls for “. University leaders to convene a public forum this fall to discuss the role of free speech on campus.”
Political science professor Donald Downs played a major role in organizing the new ad.
“The best remedy for speech you don’t like is your own counter-speech,” he said. “We want people to be able to see that free speech is important to everyone, and there is no need for it, except in very extreme situations, to conflict with a desire for a respectful educational environment.”
The May 1 ad said protecting free speech should not compromise campus climate.
“We must also note that with our freedoms come responsibility and choice,” the administrators’ ad stated. “Freedom asserted without care and thought for others can become destructive to the community and our joint humanity.”
Vice Chancellor Paul Barrows said he supports this position.
“Words do wound, and that’s the issue that people who are First Amendment absolutists don’t want to deal with,” Barrows said. “When you have someone who continuously uses the press or their free speech rights to harangue and denigrate and harass and intimidate people, then they’ve crossed the line.”
While both Barrows and Downs stressed the importance of a respectful campus environment, Peter Collier, Horowitz’s publisher, completely disagreed.
“Campus climate is a vile euphemism for the status quo, which is a radical status quo,” he said. “I’m sure [Horowitz] would be amused and skeptical of this whole idea of campus climate.”
While much of the discussion, sparked by Horowitz’s anti-reparations essay, has focused on free speech, the Lecture Series will host debates mainly concerning reparations themselves.
“There’s a pretty lively discussion going on, and the best way to do it is to bring in the people who claim to be the experts on these issues — Horowitz and Robinson — and let them debate it out,” Barrows said.
Longtime activist Robinson, the author of “The Debt: What America owes to Blacks,” recommends reparations be paid in the form of social programs aiding socially disadvantaged African-Americans.
“Solving these problems means, as I believe it must, closing the yawning economic gap between Blacks and Whites in this country,” Robinson wrote. “The gap was opened by the 246-year practice of slavery.”
Robinson was not available for comment for this article.
In Horowitz’s newest book, “Uncivil Wars,” he rejects Robinson’s arguments. The book is partly a diary of Horowitz’s attempts to publish ads against reparations in campus newspapers nationwide, and partly a criticism of the case for reparations.
Distinguished Lecture Series coordinator Tim Lindl said the paired lectures will give students the chance to hear firsthand information from the major players in the national discussion.
“We’re going to be right on the blade of the knife of the slavery-reparations issue as it gets more popular,” he said.
–Sam Bakken contributed to this report