The Wit and Wisdom of Cornellians

The right of Big Red Bears to babble shall not be infringed

The Wit and Wisdom of Cornellians

The right of Big Red Bears to babble shall not be infringed

Tuition for Safe Spaces

Since we pay tuition to attend Cornell, it is instructive to delve into the meaning of the word, tuition. Tuition was first used in the English language in the early fifteenth century to mean protection, care, custody. It comes from the Anglo-French tuycioun, which comes from the Old French tuicion, which means guardianship. The Old French tuicion comes from the Latin tuitionem, which means a looking after, a caring for, watching over, protection, guardianship.

This deep dive into the meaning of tuition demonstrates the importance of protection as a core value of all tuition-collecting universities. Universities must be safe spaces where no one will be harmed by offensive speech. In his book, Against Free Speech, Anthony Leaker writes:

There are two main reasons to be against free speech. First, because of the way it has been weaponised to legitimise racist, sexist, transphobic, xenophobic and Islamophobic speech and action. Second, because of the ideological role it plays in legitimising liberalism as a ruling or hegemonic ideology.

Leaker goes on to say:

Arguments in defence of free speech often masquerade as a concern for society in general when in fact they are a concern for a narrowly prescribed vision of, and set of people in, society. Free speech is most commonly invoked in order to defend and legitimise the status quo, to legitimise people who already have power against challenges to that power, and contrary to common conceptions, this has more or less always been the case.  For the far right and anti-PC liberals it is a key tool used to defend, perpetuate and promote patriarchal white supremacy and ethno-nationalism, it is used as a Trojan horse by which they infiltrate and undermine the public sphere….

Free speech is effective as a political tool because it is an empty and sacred ideal, but one that, contrary to how it is usually represented, tends to serve dominant power. In practice it is frequently deployed to mark a cultural, political or civilisational frontier between universal and particular-white and non-white, secular and Muslim, male and female-and, as such, is a central part of a broader legitimising ideology that works to silence and castigate the views, beliefs and practices of Others, such as people of colour, women and Muslims, while at the same time denying the positionality (such as the race, gender and sexuality) of normative groups and individuals. It does this most commonly through the ‘free speech defence’: the invocation of a set of arguments concerning the sanctity of free speech, such as ‘commitment to free speech matters most when it involves ideas you strongly oppose’ and other cliches, in order to deflect attention from substantive issues of power, discrimination or epistemic injustice.

Free speech is hate speech and hate speech causes harm. We pay tuition for protection from harm. We at the Babbling Bear continue to celebrate the selection of the members of the Steering Committee for Free Expression, since we are confident that they will protect us and keep us safe from harm.


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