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tv   Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein Sen. Lamar Alexander R-TN on Campus...  CSPAN  November 25, 2018 4:07pm-4:48pm EST

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>> now, deputy attorney general rod rosenstein talks about free speech on campus. he is joined by republican senator lamar alexander of tennessee, chair of the senate education committee. this is part of a conference hosted by the justice department. it is 40 minutes. rod rosenstein: thank you very much. good afternoon. thank you for joining us on constitution day to discuss a topic central to the rule of law in america. i want to say a special thanks to jesse panuchio, our acting social attorney general and his team for putting together superb agenda inviteing so many superb speakers. more than a decade lapsed
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between the adoption of the declaration of independence and constitution. a decade during which our citizens devoted significant attention to the question of how best to secure the blessings of liberty. on this 231st anniversary of the constitution, we properly praise the written document for establishing the framework of liberty. the constitution did not write itself nor did it take effect automatically. the drafters engaged in a lengthy debate about first principles and the people carefully considered the terms before accepting them. their decision reflected free thought and it required free speech. as jesse described it this morning, freedom of speech was a precondition for the american republic. listening to contentious debate and engaging rhetorically with opponents is at the heart of our nation. as thomas jefferson wrote, "wherever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government." and whenever things get so far wrong, as to attract their notice, they may be relied upon to set them to rights. thanks to the open exchange of
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ideas and concerns, a consensus developed in 1787 that america needed a new form of government. the founders chose a democratic republic governed by the rule of law. the rule of law was the subject of abraham lincoln's first published speech. he prophetically titled it "the perpetuation of our democratic institutions." the year was 1838. the founding fathers had passed away. lincoln was alarmed by the sharp political divisions of his era. he advocated building respect for the law as a way to hold society together. two decades later in 1858, lincoln engaged in a series of debates with his senate opponent, steven douglas. the opening speaker addressed the audience for one hour. the opponent then took an hour and a half to reply. the first debater spent another half hour to respond. people disagreed.
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sometimes vehemently. but they listened patiently and they learned about opposing arguments. that sometimes messy process remains essential because our system of government is not self-executing. it relies on wisdom and self-restraint. in a democratic republic, liberty is protected by cultural norms as well as by constitutional text. theodore roosevelt observed that the survival of a republic depends on the character of the average citizen. he said that the average citizen must be a good citizen if our republics are to succeed. debates and disagreements about public policy and political leadership are essential to building good citizens. the question for today's forum is how to respond when college administrators seek to prohibit or even to punish speech protected by the constitution.
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on college campuses, ideally, students hear about different perspectives. they test conflicting arguments. and they learn how do decide for themselves what is true, what is right, and what is just. to do that properly, colleges must expose students to a range of alternatives. i say that as a parent who just sent my first child off to college and i expect her to learn a wide range of all alternatives and learn how to make her own decisions and choose from among conflicting ideas. yet, we repeatedly hear about examples of hostility to free speech and viewpoint diversity on college campuses. professors, students, and guest speakers are shouted down and even physically attacked for expressing their views or in an effort to prevent them from expressing their views. as attorney general sessions said this morning, "suppression of competing voices is not the american way."
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our next speaker brings considerable expertise and experience to this forum. a graduate of vanderbilt university and new york university school of law, senator alexander spent a large portion of life around campuses. his mother was a schoolteacher and his father, a school principal. he became secretary of education and a university president. well not serving in government he worked as a lawyer and entrepreneur. during his successful campaign, senator alexander was known for walking across his home state of tennessee dressed in casual attire to engage his fellow citizens in face to face conversations about public policy. he repeated that approach when he ran for president in 2000, driving across the country in an suv. in 2002, he won election to the united states senate where he
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serves as the chairman of the health education labor and pensions committee. he continues to devote substantial time and attention to the issues of free speech and higher education. senator alexander well understands the importance of education and the role of free speech in supporting it. please join me in welcoming senator alexander to discuss the congressional perspective about free speech on college campuses. thank you. [applause] mr. rosenstein: as we were walking down this afternoon, senator alexander pointed out that in addition to the biography i told you, he was also an intern in the department of justice many many years ago. 50 some odd years ago and still has fond recollections of that experience. let me start out by asking when was it in your career that you first became interested in the
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issue of free speech on campus? sen. alexander: late in my career. i supposed i noticed it when i was a student at vanderbilt, and the john birch society wanted my political science professor fired because they said he was a communist. they didn't fire him. i guess i noticed at that time at the university of texas a big fight between the conservative regions and the liberal professors. as joe biden has said, for people our age, most of the ferment on this issue came with conservatives trying to suppress liberals in the 1960's. as joe says, it has now switched to the other side. come to think of it, when i was a student at vanderbilt. mr. rosenstein: you mentioned that in some respects shouting down speakers on campuses or trying to suppress opposing views is not a new issue. we talked earlier about the incident at the university of
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chicago in the 1930's when the chairman of the communist party was prevented from speaking. and the 1960's, university of wisconsin when senator kennedy was heckled. more recently at middlebury college, professor alison steiger. is there anything different about the challenges we face today compared to those of the past? sen. alexander: what's different today is the iphone. i gave mine away before i sat down. it has revolutionized all forms of activity, including politics. the principles are the same. let me give you a story that illustrates today. susan collins is, you would say, the most moderate republican senator. she was invited to go to a northeastern university to speak. not long ago. several students told the administration that if she were allowed to speak without meeting with them first, they would disrupt her speech.
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the administration caved in and susan met with them, which she didn't think she should have to do and then she made the speech. what the administration did was to allow the students to "theise what we could call heckler's veto." it allowed those students to prevent or threaten to prevent a united states senator with whom they disagree from speaking on their college campus. what the administration did that was wrong, to cave into them. what they should have said is, you may not attend. you may cross your arms. you may even turn around and look the other way. oou might even hiss or b occasionally but if you disrupt her speech, and to prevent others from hearing her, you will be punished because you have no right under the first amendment to do that. that is not a new issue. that has been around for a long time.
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what we have is the iphone devices which stirs things up better. what we need is for college administrators to know the rules and to know they should veto the hecklers' veto and make it clear at the beginning of school that this is what you can do and this is what you can't do. mr. rosenstein: you mentioned your own experience with a professor who was criticized for his political views. there are some who say conservatives only care about free speech when the voice is being suppressed on the conservative side of the spectrum. how do you respond to that? sen. alexander: maybe there's some truth but there's not much chance to worry about it. historically, college campuses everywhere in the world are more liberal in orientation. that is the nature of things. ucla did a survey of professors in the united states, 6-1 liberal to conservative. the more disturbing thing is the
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brookings institution says half the students today believe it is ok to disrupt a speech that you find offensive. 20% believe it's ok to use violence to disrupt a speech. that's what's different. that needs to be challenged. mr. rosenstein: there was a recent poll that found 58% of republicans believe college has a negative effect on american life. i believe it found the reverse for democrats. what do you attribute that to? sen. alexander: this issue. think about that for a minute. we have almost all the best colleges in the world in the united states. most people agree with that. second, we are at a time when many people, most people believe that you need more, not less education to get the technical skills that you need to have a good standard of living. so, despite that, you've got 58% of the party that controls the
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presidency and the congress thinking colleges -- and we have 6000 of them of one kind or another -- have a negative effect on american life. it's because of two things. one is the feeling that conservative views are underrepresented on campus. second, campuses coddle students through such things as speech codes, triggers that warn them of something offensive that might come along area the idea that a student who graduates from a college should not be prepared to deal with an offensive tweet in the morning and needs to be trained to retreat to some safe place is the kind of thing that would cause a lack of support for institutions. i think the lack of support among republicans for colleges right now is directly related to the feeling the conservative views are underrepresented. mr. rosenstein: during your time as administrator or otherwise
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did you develop a sense of what the ideal of the university is? in what way do you think it could be adversely affected by this free speech issue? sen. alexander: well, i guess i have learned by listening to others. i came to washington with a senator named howard baker who was a wonderful man. he had a phrase that said "the other fellow might be right," which is applicable to this discussion. i have learned from other campuses more how to do with this then i understood what i -- when i was president of the university of tennessee. for example, the president of the university of chicago and his senior faculty have adopted the chicago principles. it's a restatement of they have always believed. they basically say free speech is a part of the university of chicago. the president of princeton says as a tactic, he tries to make
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having controversial speakers so routine that it is not an event. if someone is looking around to stir up trouble because you have a controversial speaker they will have to come every three days because it happens. those are tactics that i have learned from. adopting the chicago principles, vetoing the hecklers' veto and making your campus one where there are many points of view is routine. those are all ways to diffuse the possibility of a big explosion over free speech. mr. rosenstein: i have plenty more questions of my own. theme pause to invite audience, if you have notecards, pass them forward. the senator is prepared to take unscripted questions. take advantage of that opportunity. let me follow up by asking you what you think is the best pathway forward. you have spoken eloquently about the notion that colleges should
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treat intellectual diversity like other forms of diversity. do you think colleges should support underrepresented points of view? sen. alexander: i do. that's probably the best thing. when i was a senior of vanderbilt university, 1962, vanderbilt was segregated by race. i was the editor of the newspaper and a group of us objected to that. the board of trust changed the policy that year. since then, universities have done a pretty good job of finding a whole variety of ways to take underrepresented students and make them part of a university community. for example, vanderbilt has something called the posse, where they find kids of limited background who had never even thought of going to vanderbilt university but they select those of promise and then they go together and help each other. that's a good way to do it. you could do the same thing with points of view.
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arthur brooks, the head of the american enterprise institute is going to harvard. that ought to stir things up. the more of that the better. i think if universities and campuses recognize that conservative points of view are undervalued and underrepresented and use the same sort of creativity and enthusiasm for making other points of view represented on campus that they did to make underrepresented students on campus -- that would go a long way to solve the problem. mr. rosenstein: you have in mind going out and recruiting students with diverse points of view or speakers? sen. alexander: you could do it in many different ways. arthur brooks is one way. he is very talented. if harvard students are exposed to him, they will learn something from him. i was on the faculty at the harvard kennedy school of government. the dean recruited me because there were not many republicans who were there.
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another way to do it would be to deliberatelye to recruit students. i hate to keep using personal examples, but the attorney general mentioned when i went to law school i went to new york university. when i went in 1962, almost everybody was from the bronx and queens. they were trying to find ways to get kids from all over the country. they created scholarships based upon judicial districts. they got hillbillies like me, or swedes from minnesota, or people from all over the country and began to diversify the student body at nyu and they felt it made it a richer place. speakers, faculty members, students just to make sure that you are not constantly exposed to one point of view. mr. rosenstein: the concept of limited powers in our federal government. at the same time, we have a vast federal government with many powers, departments, including
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education. one with which you are very familiar. what do you think the federal government should do? that is essentially supporting free speech claims by students who have been discriminated against. what more do you think the federal government can do to support free speech on campus? sen. alexander: i can tell you what i think they should do and what they should not do. what they should do is more things like this day. like your statement of interest in cases that students bring or someone brings. a private right of action, alleging free speech has been violated. what people might not know is that most -- we have 6000 colleges and universities, many of them smaller. the average tenure for a university president is probably three to five years. the average tenure for a board
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trustees member is about the same. they may not know what to do. they may not know what the law is, the history is, the options. so i would suggest more of this. i would suggest you have more regional forums sponsored by the universities themselves in which you bring in university presidents and board of trustees members and you say here's the history, here is the law, here are your options. you can enforce -- you can veto the hecklers' veto. you can adopt the chicago principles. you can diversify your campus in a variety of ways. you can use the same skills to recruit underrepresented points of view that you did to recruit underrepresented students. that is what the federal government could do. what the federal government should not do is pass a law trying to solve all of this.
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conservatives don't like it when judges try to write laws. conservatives shouldn't like it when legislators and agencies try to rewrite the constitution. i do not want to see congress or the president or the department of anything defining what a speech code should be or shouldn't be. what you can say or what you shouldn't. what should define that is the first amendment and the 14th amendment and the private right of actions in the courts of the united states should define that. mr. rosenstein: first question from the audience follows up on that issue. how do you think and who do you think in the department of justice or the federal government should be charged with engaging with colleges and universities to address concerns about free speech? sen. alexander: who should? i guess the attorney general or the deputy attorney general. [laughter] mr. rosenstein: i don't have enough to do.
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sen. alexander: i think it should be a two or three year process because everything in theuniverse cities -- in universities works slowly. there's a building over here that bill bennett used to call the block where all the universities have their associations. i think they would be happy to organize almost every one of their meetings, a forum for college presidents. you need the presidents and the board members to say what i've said before. here is what the history is, here is what the law is, here is what you can do and here are your options. i think if the university of chicago president says here is how and why we adopted the principles and the princeton university president says here is how we make controversial speech routine. if the attorney general says this is the state of the law. and you can say at the beginning of every year, here is what you may do, here is what you may not
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do, and if you violate that, you will be punished. i think that would make its way through the various campuses. the other reason not to try to do it by a federal mandate or federal law is that it doesn't work. we saw it with something called common core in education. all states were using that to develop higher standards in elementary and secondary education, but as soon as the u.s. department of education ordered that it be done, everyone went bazooka and the black helicopters started flying. and it actually backfired and you had less effort on higher standards. you have to have ownership on this campus by campus. mr. rosenstein: i can suggest your answer to this question but i will pose it anyway. the question asks -- congress has passed important laws to protect first amendment rights freedomthe religious act and the equal access act.
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what would legislation look like to protect free speech on college campuses? sen. alexander: i wouldn't want to see it. if you think it is hard for a campus to write a free speech code, let's just take my committee. we have 23 members, elizabeth warren, bernie sanders, rand paul, so we're going to write a free speech code of what you can and can't say every campus? in two years from now, maybe nancy pelosi is writing it, maybe president trump is writing it. then, once you write a law, you have regulations. you don't know exactly who is going to be writing those. so, i don't want to see a lot -- a law written by congress that tries to define what free speech is on campus. i think we have a constitution, federal courts, the u.s. department of justice and a private action that students may bring. 80% of students go to public colleges and universities. the first and 14th amendment applies to them. there is plenty of opportunity there to be with free speech.
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mr. rosenstein: how broad of a problem do you believe this is? the challenge of free speech on college campus. do you see it as a problem that is growing in significance or simply that is tracking more attention? sen. alexander: i think it is a big problem. people might say i'm as big a defender of our system of higher education as exists in the united states congress. i worry this will undermine it. it is really pretty dumb to deliberately make your biggest donor unhappy, right? most college and university presidents wouldn't do that. who is the biggest donor to colleges and universities? the biggest donor is the federal government and the taxpayers that provide more than $30 billion a year for pell grants. they provide more than 100 billion for new student loans. they provide about $35 billion a year for federal research grants
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through the national institutes of health. if 58% of republicans think colleges are bad for the american way of life, that is not very smart. if you're thinking about making your biggest donor happy. my advice is to do all the things i've talked about, hecklers' veto, chicago principles, diversify opinion, have the forums because it's the right thing to do. i believe i would go see my local united states senator or congressman and say you have heard that we don't have diverse views on our campus, but let me show you that we do. let me show you all the things that we have in place to do it. i think it is a very big threat to the quality and support for higher education in the united states. mr. rosenstein: the next question relates to that issue. given that higher education is a pillar of our democracy, our
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economy, and society, which is a view i think you share. congress does provide significant funding and various ways for universities. as you mentioned donors can , elicit particular actions that they want by conditioning their donations on actions by universities. do you believe congress should do the same thing? that is congress should condition funding on universities complying with first amendment principles? sen. alexander: no, i don't. how would you do that? that means someone will have to write a definition of free speech. i suppose congress could, by sense of the senate resolution adopt the chicago principles, but the next congress might adopt another set of principles. if you pass a law, then you get regulations. i don't think congress should do that. i think what would be another
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thing that would be more effective would be for consumers to get active. within the last two or three weeks, two national publications came out with 100 best colleges and universities. the wall street journal had 300 of them rated. all of the colleges and universities object to the u.s. news & world report rating. but every single one of them brags about it when they are on the list. if they were a consumer report organization that was bipartisan, independent, well respected that ranked the 100 best colleges in terms of free speech and the 25 worst, i guarantee it would have some effect. mr. rosenstein: to what extent do you think it would be appropriate or wise for parents and prospective students to
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consider a university's attitude toward ideological dissent and -- in deciding whether or not to attend that university? sen. alexander: i think it's a good idea. why would you want your kid to go to a college where he is coddled so much he can't live in the real world? do you want to come out of a college unable to withstand an offensive tweet? asking for a safe place to go when someone insults you? you've got to live with the rough and tumble of the world. that has always been the case. this is not anything new. you have had people here today who have written about fragile students. on one campus, students objected to the fact of a study in homer and the ancient western literature because students might be presented with difficult and offensive information. that is true, but you need to know about it, because it is out there. you are going to have to deal with it one way or another
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unless you live in a cocoon once you graduate. my idea of a college is a place that you can go, make a few mistakes, hear some points of view that you really disagree with, sharpen your ability to challenge those points of view, and come out stronger in your ability to withstand and live in a world that is complicated. mr. rosenstein: you mentioned that when you went from tennessee to new york city for college, you experienced an environment very different from what you were accustomed to. how did that influence you in do you have recollections of any disputes that you had with fellow students about politics? sen. alexander: sure. think about this for a minute. i had never been to new york city until i enrolled at ny university law school. and if you know where that school is, it's in greenwich village. i got one round trip a year in the scholarship i had. i got off the plane, took a bus
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into greenwich village, looked out the window at 3:00 in the morning and thought who are all these strange people? i'm in the wrong place. i went to school. i am a presbyterian from the mountains of tennessee. 95% of the kids at nyu were law school were jewish or roman catholic. they came from very different backgrounds than what i did. they asked me who i wanted to room with, i said someone with a different background as possible. i did all of that deliberately. that i could learn to live in a world that strengthened me a lot. i'm not sure i would write that down today if i were looking for a roommate. maybe things have changed. but, deliberately being exposed to different points of view is a part of growing up and we want a nation of leaders and neighbors who are familiar with many points of view, can withstand
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them, know when to ignore them, know when to challenge them, know when to agree with them. all that is ideally what ought to be happening at a college campus. mr. rosenstein: setting aside the question of whether reform should be driven by legislation or by a self-help of universities, there are a number of ideas for reform and they include things such as banning trigger warnings, creating programs that teach about respectful dialogue and abandoning speech codes. which, if any of these do you agree with? sen. alexander: i will summarize some of the ones i've mentioned. i would consider adopting the chicago principles or something like the chicago principles on a campus. it needs to be done bottom-up. the campus needs to adopt it. two, i would get agreement from the board that governs our campus and the university administration that we veto the heckler's veto.
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if you are a student here, you may exercise -- you may go to anything you want or not go, you may wear a shirt that says you disagree. you may turn your back and you might even hiss occasionally, but if you disrupt the speech and make it impossible for the speaker to speak and the audience to listen, you will be punished, period. so don't come here if you don't want to do that. a third thing to do is to be aggressive in recruiting underrepresented points of view, namely conservative views on campus so that students have that. then to be practical about it, since your biggest funder is the united states government and 58% of the governing party thinks you are not good for the country, i believe i would go what you'red say doing and say come to our campus and look how were not the stereotypical campus that
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doesn't allow different points of view. mr. rosenstein: so you mentioned inviting legislators to come to campus, but you also said to encourage people to write to their representatives about their concerns. do you think it's appropriate for the congress to hold hearings when incidents arise on campuses and have a formal congressional inquiry into how the events occurred and what decisions were made? sen. alexander: yes. we had a good such hearing, but what i think really would make more difference, if you're looking for results, and being a former governor, i am always looking for results. if i were a consultant to my friends who are presidents of colleges and universities, i would develop a three or five year plan and i would begin to schedule those forums that i talked about earlier. for a university president themselves, for members of boards of campuses, and i would have someone from the department of justice there to say here's the history, here is the law, someone else to say here are your options.
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those forums would at least equip the people in charge of colleges and universities to know what to do. mr. rosenstein: we talked quite a bit about the role of the department of justice. what about education? should the department of education have a role in this? sen. alexander: my view of the department of education has always been that the secretary has a wonderful bully pulpit, but he or she should not be telling colleges and schools what to do. there are 6000 colleges, 100,000 public schools. we don't need a national school board. but i certainly think the united states secretary of education could have a role in reminding university presidents and board members of all the same things i just talked about. i think the credibility of the u.s. department of justice would be important here just to say,
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here is the law. here is what the supreme court has said. the first amendment requires. let's keep it simple. here's what a heckler's veto is and you can't do it. you can't do it under the law. we just did that one thing and that eliminates 40% of the problems. mr. rosenstein: final question from the audience, a bit of a different perspective. it asks, it seems university departments such as diversity and inclusion that are aimed to empower students are only creating entitled students. how do you respond? sen. alexander: to create entitled students? mr. rosenstein: when universities create departments to promote diversity and inclusion, do they create entitled students or have an adverse effect? sen. alexander: the answer is yes. the problem is that the word
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"diversity" has become stolen. it doesn't mean diversity anymore. diversity means a certain point of view. so, it is almost a useless word. it is a wonderful word in its right sense. diversity means or should mean that you have real differences of opinion allowed and expressed. many students of different backgrounds and races and origins and that all of that is tolerated. too often diversity has come to mean that you have a certain point of view and if you don't have that point of view, it is not diversity. i think the word diversity has been stolen, really and its meaning is not what it ought to be. i guess i would choose a different word, and the way i talk about is to say, let's recognize that campuses need
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underrepresented points of view as much as campuses need underrepresented students. universities should work just as hard to have those underrepresented points of of view, which are today, in many cases, conservative points of view on the campus. that is just a fact. we should deal with things the way they are. that's the way they are and we should deal with them. mr. rosenstein: senator, i spoke too soon. we have time for one more question. it has some parts to it. a request to expand on the idea of a forum for college presidents. who do you think should convene it, what should be the objective and what work product would you expect to come out of it? sen. alexander: let me think out loud for a minute. i would have the colleges convene it.
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because this is a case where you want a sense of ownership. if you are talking about raising children, you can tell them what to do, but until they decide for themselves what they want to do, they're not going to do it. and then when you make people go to things, they don't accept it as well as when they decide to go to things. maybe what you do is you create a limited opportunity for a certain number of college presidents to come to a very interesting forum on the subject and you have people like the president of chicago and princeton and other campuses that have dealt with this successfully, and you let presidents decide to come. i would have it sponsored by the organizations of the colleges and universities themselves. i think they will be glad to do it. but i would make sure that on that forum is someone of the stature of the deputy attorney
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general to say this is the law. someone of the stature of the former president of the americans for civil liberties union like nadine strossen who can say very clearly what the law is and what the options are. then i think if many of the prestigious colleges do this, there will be another 100 that say, maybe i should get on that, too. and i would have it moved through 2, 3, 4, 5 years. you accompany that with the consumer's report of 100 colleges. i would make that independent. the 100 best free speech campuses and the 25 worst. the combination of those two things could make a real difference fairly quickly. mr. rosenstein: senator, i want to thank you for a superb segue for our next and final presentation. we very much appreciate you spending time with us today. we want to thank you for your long-standing and continuous commitment to education and the first amendment. thank you very much.
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[applause] >> also at that conference on college of speech, former american civil liberty unions president nadine strossen and was the keynote speaker. this is just under one hour. [applause] thank you very much distracting associate attorney general and good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. my name is peter and i am a trial attorney and the civil , educationalon opportunities division here in the department of justice. in this capacity, i have contributed to several stages of interest to free speech rights at public colleges and univti


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