Guest Viewpoint

This piece reflects the views of Joshua Nybo, and not those of Emerald Media Group. It has been edited by the Emerald for grammar and style. Send your columns or submissions about our content or campus issues to [email protected] 

I am writing this letter in response to the editorial published on Nov. 16, 2018, “Don’t be fooled by phony free speech rhetoric.” I found the position of the Executive Board of the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation to be appalling in its assault on free speech, coupled with an absurdly ignorant, slanderous portrayal of Cabot Phillips and the attendees and supporters of his speech.

In broad, dramatic strokes, it paints anyone who disagrees with the GTFF’s position as juvenile thugs harassing students. It is clear that the GTFF has no actual firsthand experience with Cabot Phillips or the attendees, and simply parrots talking points from a point of view that is regarded as the radical fringe by more reasonable liberals and Democrats. Mr. Phillips’ speech was moderate and conciliatory in tone, promoted free speech and condemned responding in kind to the violence, harassment and death threats that certain individuals have seen fit to  inflict on their more conservative fellow students.

Since I’m not the GTFF, I won’t claim that such individuals stand for all liberals or Democrats, because I know that most of my fellow students are more reasonable, a charitable view apparently not shared by the GTFF executive board towards those it disagrees with (or even those it claims to represent).

Several Democrats were in attendance, and Mr. Phillips had a cordial, civil discussion with them.  At least half of the attendees were non-white, “historically marginalized groups.” They were not harassed, bullied or shouted down, unlike the treatment that conservative students and speakers often receive by people in groups like the GTFF. If GTFF had bothered to listen to the speech before condemning it in such shrill tones, they would have heard him explicitly condemning the kind of “doxing” and similar measures they claim he promotes.  

Furthermore, after looking through their Facebook page, I can’t find a single instance of GTFF condemning the “doxing,” harassment and outright violence inflicted on peaceful conservative speakers by radical groups like Antifa and other, similar, terrorist organizations (as defined by the DHS).

By condemning a speech they have never heard, in an utterly predictable knee-jerk reaction, GTFF has made Mr. Phillip’s point: they are not interested in diversity, tolerance or the vigorous discussion of ideas in a civil, academic environment. Students are not toddlers who need  protection from “bad thoughts” as determined by an insulated, elitist group like GTFF that feels it has the right to determine what kind of words and thoughts are acceptable for all students.

Students need to be challenged to be exposed to contrary views that force them to re-examine their own and either abandon what may be flawed ideas, or come away stronger for having had to defend them. Conservative students go through this on a daily basis, yet to the best of my knowledge none of them have died or suffered PTSD from having their beliefs challenged or even ridiculed every day. The ideological straight-jacketing and rigid political orthodoxy that GTFF and its affiliates try to force on campuses and students is doing terrible harm to both the cause of higher education, and American democracy itself.

Enforced ideological orthodoxy does no service to any student.  It merely encourages stagnancy, groupthink and radicalization, as those who don’t toe the line to the officially sanctioned political correctness are given emotionally charged labels that remind one more of religious fanaticism, than a marketplace of ideas. Stifling all thought and speech that is even slightly outside the views approved by our self-appointed betters only turns some students into shallow, vapid thinkers unable to grasp with challenging thought, and drives others, in frustration, towards the very extremism they are already being (unjustly) labeled with.  

Ideas are like organisms: they need challenge and competition to become strong and thrive.  This knee-jerk ideological response assaulting free speech itself doesn’t make liberalism or progressivism stronger, but rather weaker, and the students who sincerely believe in such things are less equipped to deal with a world that doesn’t always agree, let alone tolerate healthy constructive criticism or debate.

GTFF claims to speak for “marginalized groups.” It is essentially claiming to speak for all non-whites, women, non-Christians and non-heterosexuals. Who elected them as leader of such a vast group, that taken as a whole, forms the majority? Nobody asked GTFF to speak for them, GTFF simply chose to arrogate that right to itself, of its own volition, and with nobody’s consent or even consultation. Did Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. march to promote a one-party police state? Did Cesar Chavez demand absolute political orthodoxy as determined by a small left-wing clique? It seems GTFF has no real connection to the people it claims to admire.

I am mixed race, and I do not want or need “protecting” from ideas determined to be bad for me, as determined by some cloistered ideologue in their ivory tower. GTFF doesn’t care about people like me, or other minorities for that matter. To them, we’re just dolls, we are “noble savages” they can pretend to care about for cheap political points from their peers, not humans with independent thoughts and actions from their preferred narrative. To them, we exist as an extension of their ego, and being offended on our behalf has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with them virtue signaling to their friends to give themselves a pat on the back. We are nothing but cheap “progressive points” to be scored in their little clique.

I cannot claim to speak for all UO students, but I can claim to speak for at least some of them, in denouncing the glaring hypocrisy of the GTFF. To denounce free speech in the name of an ideological conformity is the most illiberal, anti-American thing I can imagine. One need only  look at the groups associated with them, such as the Young Democratic Socialists of America, to see that GTFF and its elitist ilk are badly out of touch with most students, and with America at large.


Joshua Nybo, a concerned student at UO



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