Freedom of speech is not an abstract absolute, but rather is shaped by the context in which particular speech acts occur, Yale Law School Dean Robert Post LAW ’77 told students at the Yale School of Management on October 24. Communication in the context of political disagreement is different from speech within business organizations and educational institutions.
Post, the Dean and Sol & Lillian Goldman Professor of Law at Yale Law School, discussed free speech as part of the Convening Yale lecture series, which brings scholars from throughout the university to Evans Hall to share their research with SOM students.
SOM Dean Edward A. Snyder moderated the discussion, which was the third of four Convening Yale events focusing on current events this year.
A leading free speech scholar, Post said that even while the U.S. Supreme Court wrestles with conflicting views of the First Amendment right to free speech in recent high-profile cases, the issue has also arisen within business organizations and college campuses.
Controversies on campuses, including Yale’s, have focused on concerns about racist speech. Those who advocate the value of free speech often claim that speech should be always be free and unregulated. But according to Post, “We regulate free speech all the time. Whenever we regulate behavior, we also regulate the speech associated with that behavior. Think of the role of communication in the context of questions of medical or legal malpractice. The question, therefore, is what we want to achieve in particular social contexts.”
Post observed that in business or educational settings, the parameters of free speech are determined by the mission of the institution.
“The point is to achieve the purpose of the organization,” he explained. “Managers of organizations need to think about the purposes of an institution, and about how speech serves or disserves those purposes.”
Educational institutions should not regulate speech by suppressing ideas, but by making sure that all views are shared in civil, respectful terms, Post said. Because a university’s goal is typically to develop the ability of students to think in a critical manner, no idea can be dismissed without evalulating its merits.
Post observed that “it is ultimately a managerial problem” to determine “how conflict can be structured in ways that promote the educational goals of the university.”
Post said that “you need complete freedom to discuss ideas, but in a university we frequently control the manner of speech so as to ensure that what is said maximizes the educational potential of dialogue. No teacher believes that allowing students who want only to insult each other in class would serve an educational purpose.”
About the Event
Robert C. Post, Dean and Sol & Lillian Goldman Professor of Law, will join Dean Edward A. Snyder for a discussion on the “First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
Convening Yale presents talks by faculty and leaders from throughout Yale University, who share their research and expertise and help students broaden their understanding of an increasingly complex world. The Convening Yale series is made possible through the generous support of the Robert J. Silver ’50 Fund for Innovation in Management Education.
This event is open to the Yale SOM Community.
Robert Post is dean and Sol & Lillian Goldman Professor of Law at Yale Law School. Before coming to Yale, he taught at the University of California at Berkeley School of Law. Dean Post’s subject areas are constitutional law, First Amendment, legal history, and equal protection. He has written and edited numerous books, including Citizens Divided: A Constitutional Theory of Campaign Finance Reform (2014), which was originally delivered as the Tanner Lectures at Harvard in 2013. Other books include, Democracy, Expertise, Academic Freedom: A First Amendment Jurisprudence for the Modern State (2012); For the Common Good: Principles of American Academic Freedom (with Matthew M. Finkin, 2009); Prejudicial Appearances: The Logic of American Antidiscrimination Law (with K. Anthony Appiah, Judith Butler, Thomas C. Grey & Reva Siegel, 2001); and Constitutional Domains: Democracy, Community, Management (1995).
He publishes regularly in legal journals and other publications; recent articles and chapters include “Theorizing Disagreement: Reconceiving the Relationship Between Law and Politics” (California Law Review, 2010); “Constructing the European Polity: ERTA and the Open Skies Judgments” in The Past and Future of EU Law: The Classics of EU Law Revisited on the 50th Anniversary of the Rome Treaty (Miguel Poiares Maduro & Loïc Azuolai eds., 2010); “Roe Rage: Democratic Constitutionalism and Backlash” (with Reva Siegel, Harvard Civil-Rights Civil-Liberties Law Review, 2007); “Federalism, Positive Law, and the Emergence of the American Administrative State: Prohibition in the Taft Court Era” (William & Mary Law Review, 2006); “Foreword: Fashioning the Legal Constitution: Culture, Courts, and Law” (Harvard Law Review, 2003); and “Subsidized Speech” (Yale Law Journal, 1996). He is a member of the American Philosophical Society and the American Law Institute and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is a former member of the Board of Directors of the American Constitution Society.