Message from the NYU Provost About the Mohammed Cartoons Matter:

Provost David W. McLaughlin sent this message in response to a student's inquiry, and then gave me permission to post it:

Thank you for writing. I'm sorry I wasn't able to respond sooner on behalf of John Sexton and myself.

I disagree with a number of your views with respect to the event involving the Danish cartoons.

First of all, at no time did the University say that cartoons could not be shown; indeed, just the reverse. For that reason, I reject the assertion that free speech was abridged. That the Objectivist Club, the student organization, ultimately chose not to include the display in its event was its decision, not the University's. The University made clear to the club -- as well as to the Muslim groups on campus asking for the cartoon display to be prohibited -- that the display would be permitted.

Secondly, you, like the Muslim students on campus, have a right to make your voice heard when you think something is objectionable. We would handle your objections no differently; that is, our tradition of free speech would prevail, as it did in this instance.

Thirdly, as to the media -- I believe this matter has been mischaracterized by several media outlets, driven by accounts offered by others that have been crafted in a way to obscure the crucial, central fact: the University made clear that the cartoons could be displayed as part of the event.

Good luck with your studies. Thanks for writing

I should say that I'm quite unpersuaded by this message -- unless I'm mistaken, it's quite clear that NYU did indeed insist that the Objectivist Club choose between (1) displaying the cartoons, in which case the event would be closed to audience members from off-campus (even though NYU student groups are generally allowed to open their events), or (2) having the event be open to off-campus visitors, but not displaying the cartoon. It's hard for me to say that, given this, "at no time did the University say that cartoons could not be shown; indeed, just the reverse." But if I'm mistaken on the facts, I'd much appreciate being corrected.

McLaughlin lied; free speech died!
4.11.2006 7:15pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Naw. Would a university administrator lie?

For shame!
4.11.2006 8:30pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
It would be interesting to write back to him, explaining his oversight so he would know he's easily seen as a liar.
I mean, if he's going to presume his correspondent is an illiterate idiot--how else would you believe him?--the insult should be returned.
4.11.2006 8:31pm
It seems a similar event is going to be held at UChicago, though the admin seems OK with it. We'll see what happens with that.
4.11.2006 9:44pm
Ex-Fed (mail) (www):
The email flows much better if you read it in a Scott McClellan voice.
4.11.2006 11:10pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Ohh C'mon neither is McLaughlin a liar nor the response about giving the club a choice between showing the cartoons and being closed to off-campus visitors.

Actually I was kinda impressed with the craftsmanship of the letter which pretty skillfully avoided saying anything false while seeming to really answer the point. Technically he is right at no time did the campus say the cartoons couldn't be shown. He is just delibrately avoiding stating that they required a condition and all that saying he doesn't believe their free speech rights were violated amounts to is that he doesn't believe he did anything wrong (in common usage rights seem to only exist in those situations where they are wrong to abridge).

But C'mon what did you expect the guy to say? Yes we decided that engaging in viewpoint discrimination would be better for the university in the long run? Or that he thinks the sensitivities of the muslim students matter more than the objectivists free speech right? Quite likely he believes one of these two things, and it isn't even clear that he is wrong, but if he is pragmatic enough to believe it he is going to be pragmatic enough not to advertise it.
4.12.2006 3:57am
Richard Riley (mail):
Well, isn't David McLaughlin basically taking the same approach as the Supreme Court in the recent Solomon Amendment case? The Court said Congress was welcome to condition the law schools' exercise of their First Amendment rights on their agreeing to forego federal funds. I recognize the Court also went one step further and said that, in this case, Congress could have prohibited the law schools' actions (discrimination against military recruiters) directly, not through conditions attached to federal funds. But as I understand it, even aside from the latter point, the Court certainly did uphold Congress's right to impose a pretty drastic condition on the exercise of a free speech/free association right. Why can't NYU (assuming it has conceded to be bound by First Amendment principles) take advantage of the principle of the Solomon Amendment case and impose conditions - even strict conditions - on its students' exercise of their free speech rights?
4.12.2006 1:54pm
James of England:
Logicnazi, I think that I agree with regard to most of the letter, but Prof. Volokh rightly highlites this sentence: First of all, at no time did the University say that cartoons could not be shown; indeed, just the reverse.
This is a lie. It is not a cunning evasion of the question. The University said that the cartoons could not be shown to numerous identifiable people. This is not the opposite of refusing to allow the cartoons to be shown.
4.12.2006 2:43pm
I assume that's the entire substance of the message. That seems really odd. Does he mean to say that he only placed reasonable restrictions on how and to whom the cartoons could be shown, and that that's meaningfully distinct from prohibiting them outright?

Before this comments thread degenerates into people finding a bunch of different ways to say "liar," I'll say that those who disagree should give McLaughlin's statement its best possible reading and see if it holds up to scrutiny. I don't think it does, but only "James of England" has said anything constructive on that point so far.
4.12.2006 2:51pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Why can't NYU (assuming it has conceded to be bound by First Amendment principles) take advantage of the principle of the Solomon Amendment case and impose conditions - even strict conditions - on its students' exercise of their free speech rights?
Because that's not at all what FAIR v. Rumsfeld said. Even assuming that it was really a free speech case, it said that conditions could be imposed on receipt of federal funds. Not on exercise of free speech rights.

Turning that around, we could phrase it as, "You can't speak if you want this benefit from us." NYU simply said, "You can't speak."
4.12.2006 3:39pm
John Henderson (mail):

However, on Monday afternoon, NYU Director of Student Activities Robert Butler sent an e-mail requesting a meeting with the leaders of the Objectivist Club the next day. He also informed them that NYU would now "require that this event be open only to members of the NYU community." Butler cited "the campus climate and controversy surrounding the cartoons," ordering the students to inform the "non-NYU people" who had already registered that they "should not plan on attending." He concluded, "This is not negotiable."

Following the meeting, Butler sent another e-mail clarifying that the students have two choices: they must either not display the cartoons, or not allow anyone from off campus to attend the event. Approximately 150 off-campus guests are currently registered to attend.

From the first email message mentioned above (that says the public cannot come if the cartoons are shown):

As I have stated before, security and safety are always a concern when a controversial program is held on campus. After consulting with Jules Martin (VP for Public Safety) and Pamela Bolen (Kimmel Operations) regarding the campus climate and controversy surrounding the cartoons we are going to require that this event be open only to members of the NYU community. This event is to be close to all non-NYU guests including any non-NYU guests who have already made a reservations with you. Stephan had reported to us in the security meeting last week that there were only about 75 non-NYU people who had asked to attend so you'll need to contact them and let them know that the event is no longer open to non-NYU guests so they should not plan on attending. Only members of the NYU community holding a valid NYU photo ID card will be allowed to enter the event. Please add this info to any future advertising and if possible remove the info on your web site. This is not negotiable.

From the second email message mentioned above (that says the public can come if the cartoons are not shown):

Any update on the display of the cartoons? I have confirmed that the 75 guests on the guest list will be allowed to enter if the cartoons aren't being displayed. If they are displayed then the security assessment will dictate that we don't open the event to the 75 guests. We will assist you with getting the word out if there is a change in the advertised program.

In other words, the University said the cartoons could not be shown at an event open to the public.
4.13.2006 6:04pm