The Subtle Mechanics of Unfree Speech Revisted

“Our own FAU handbook says an employee may be terminated for questionable conduct, professional or personal,” trustee Robert Rubin said. “And what Professor Tracy said wasn’t?”

But making comments that are embarrassing to a university is not grounds to fire a tenured professor, said Robert Shibley, senior vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which advocates on free speech issues.

too-much-to-think“Professors are citizens, too. They have the right to espouse various ideas, even if they’re controversial, as long as it doesn’t impact their teaching and their students.” -Scott Travis, “It’s That Professor Again: FAU Egghead Who Doubted Newtown Massacre Questions Boston Bombing,” South Florida Sun-Sentinel, April 24, 2013, A1.

“The Subtle Mechanics of Unfree Speech” first appeared at MHB on November 10, 2013, exactly two years before Florida Atlantic University administrators began threatening Professor James Tracy with disciplinary action for constitutionally-protected speech on his personal blog. The observations below have a special resonance in light of not just the scrapping of Dr. Tracy’s tenure and livelihood, but also more recent developments, including calls by Israel government officials to censor and suppress the free exchange of ideas on social media. 

In this vein FAU and numerous other US universities have implemented administration-sponsored, politically correct “free speech” programs that substitute for genuine academic freedom and free speech, a sign of more-than-subtle hostility toward critical inquiry and discourse that comprises the core of a genuinely vibrant intellectual environment. President John Kelly’s administration further confirmed the university’s hostility toward open exchange in 2015 by jeopardizing tenure and even reprimanding several professors for speaking to news media without obtaining permission from administrators to do so–a clear example of prior restraint. Kelly’s tendency to privilege public relations over free speech and academic freedom culminated in Tracy’s January 6, 2016 termination.-Ed.

The Subtle Mechanics of Unfree Speech

By James F. Tracy
November 10, 2013

“We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?”—Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

A cascade of managerial and public relations blunders has prompted Florida Atlantic University administrators to introduce The Agora Project, a broad initiative intending to promote “the practice of civility and civil discourse in an environment of free speech, academic freedom and open dialogue.”

Faculty valuing free speech and academic freedom whose persistent efforts at cultivating such through their teaching and research will likely be intrigued in hearing of the Agora Project, an endeavor proffering “forums on the importance of academic freedom, academic responsibility, and freedom of expression;” the program even promises to “create workshops on how best to practice civil and respectful interaction with others; and provide opportunities to discuss, dialogue and debate matters relevant to FAU and to our world.”

One is to conclude that, left to their own devices, faculty members and students may never arrive at a rational approach toward civility. Moreover, they may even become suspicious in the event that they are force-fed such an agenda. Indeed, after the Delphi-style exercise was presented at a recent faculty meeting, a colleague quietly pulled me aside and remarked, “This isn’t about civility. It’s about control.”

Will this individual soon be vociferously questioning Agora? Likely no. Wouldn’t want to “rock the boat” and draw attention to her/himself. Could s/he perhaps be on to something? Likely yes.

Not coincidentally, Agora was unveiled by university administrators in August 2013, a few short weeks after a speech code issued by FAU’s Division of Student Affairs was condemned by the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and subsequently revised. “Here at FAU,” the original speech code reads,

we encourage our campus community to exercise this cherished freedom in lively debate. In fact, we protect and promote that right. What we do insist on, however, is that everyone in the FAU community behave and speak to and about one another in ways that are not racist, religiously intolerant or otherwise degrading to others. (Emphasis added.)

FIRE countered that such a policy could impinge on constitutionally-protected speech and expression, possibly quashing not only academic discussion and inquiry, but also protest and debate on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict under the guise of “religious intolerance.”

In addition, an injunction on “racist” speech might be used to discipline vibrant exchanges on immigration and affirmative action. “And the prohibition on ‘otherwise degrading’ speech could apply to speech on virtually any topic that offends another person,” FIRE contends.

A cynic might conclude that The Agora Project is a backdoor effort to provide the basis for extending such criteria across each of the University’s constituencies—faculty, students, staff—with their implicit approval given the plan’s professed effort of consultation and engagement.

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Along these lines, perhaps the endeavor is an effort to assuage certain communities who for some reason aren’t comfortable with or seek to discontinue open discussion, debate, and social protest—all of which are to be anticipated in a space devoted to the expansion of intellectual horizons.

Of course, those in the upper echelons of university oversight—the administrators and trustees—who are pushing for prospective speech protocols are exempt from such measures, as their actions and behavior are apparently beyond reproach.

For example, last spring then-president Mary Jane Saunders ran into a protesting student with her Lexus sedan, fled the scene down the wrong way of a one-way street, and was subsequently defended by FAU trustees while the police investigating the incident discounted Saunders’ clear commitment of one or more felonies.

In the wake of the “conspiracy theory professor” and “stomp on Jesus” controversies, and protests surrounding a deal that would name the university’s new football stadium after a transnational for-profit prison outfit, dental industry entrepreneur and Republican Party functionary Jeffrey Feingold remarked, “I don’t want [to] hear any more people say they think the lunatics have taken over the asylum.”

Feingold went on to criticize continued use of a headhunting firm that identified administrative candidates including Saunders because it allegedly produces “losers.” He further suggested a remarkably bizarre and insulting conspiracy theory that nonviolent campus protests by FAU students—the very children of Florida taxpayers who’ve elected to attend FAU–may culminate in violent terrorist attacks comparable to the Boston Marathon bombings! Unsurprisingly, no media attention or faculty outrage is afforded Feingold’s truly wacko theory.

One might ask, how is anyone given license for such behavior and remarks? Well, in January the ever-modest Feingold gave FAU $250,000 to name the university’s Board of Trustees room after him. “From those to whom much is given, much is expected,” he dictated.

With the above in mind, one’s imagination needn’t work overtime to identify the likely proponents of The Agora Project and its velvet-gloved implementation of “free speech and civility.” When FAU’s head honchos recently sat down to discuss selection of a new president, FAU Foundation Board Vice Chair and former Virginia “super lawyer” Jay Weinberg observed,

Because we are a diverse university … that doesn’t mean that we tolerate bigotry or prejudice. You have to draw a keen distinction between free speech and hate speech. I think that [in light of] recent events at this university, we need a president that understands that and who will act decisively with respect to it.

In other words, a principal holder of the institution’s purse strings asserts that the ideal chief administrator should reprimand and perhaps even fire faculty and staff who articulate extraordinary perspectives—ones that may fulfill the arbitrary and Kafkaesque notion of “hate speech.” In Agora-speak, this would inevitably involve violation of proposed “respectful” and “civic” discourse with-a-twist etiquettes.

In the subtly forced conversation on “civility,” “academic freedom,” and “respectful interaction,” a more clear-cut definition of what exactly constitutes meaningful exchange has been wholly lost, or, perhaps more fittingly, supplanted. In reality, couldn’t such a discussion be targeting the ideals that provide the basis for better understanding “something important, something real” that “really bothers” certain individuals … thus challenging them to consider an issue, an event, or a problem at a far deeper level?

When a university ceases to be a place where a wide expanse of “controversial” ideas and dialogues can be spontaneously ruminated on, one can safely conclude that it has made the transition from sanctuary and laboratory of free thought and ideas to a mere appendage of the consciousness industry and workhouse of the mind.

24 thoughts on “The Subtle Mechanics of Unfree Speech Revisted”

    1. I haven’t read this yet, but I did reply to you–went to moderation.

      The gist of it is of course I am not advocating any curtailment of free speech at all. I was pointing out hypocrisy. And the principle that a bully can only be defeated by fighting back.

      1. As I said in the other thread, and you again stated in your response there, you want to “fight back” with censorship, with the suppression of ideas.

        You realize you’re at Memory Hole Blog, right?

        1. I replied at length over there, and it went to moderation.

          The gist of what I said is that you utterly and completely miss the idea I am trying to explain to you. You get it exactly inside-out.

          When you assert that I keep stating that I want to ” “fight back” with censorship, with the suppression of ideas,” you are reversing my intended meaning. Why do you keep insisting I’m saying the opposite of what I actually AM saying?

          Let me say it again, a little differently: If Israel actually meant to get the world to implement mass censorship (it doesn’t), and got its way, it would mean essentially silencing the Moslem world, because it would eliminate their ability to express their monumental hatred, which is most of what they use the media for. They have a monomaniacal fixation. It would also cut off a very great deal of the nasty expressions of the Left, especially in Europe.

          Do you think this is remotely possible? As I said early on, what once was the West is supine, and soon to be prostrate, when Islam bullies its people. There is no conceivable way the world would tell Islam to shut up about the people they are intent on exterminating (it’s in the Koran that they will eventually accomplish that goal).

          Do you think the Left would stand for it? Their hatred is almost as intense as that of Islam, when it comes to Islam’s fixation.

          This is, as I keep saying, a propaganda war, not an advocacy of censorship.

          I’m running out of ways to rearrange words to correct your false understanding of my meaning.

  1. Any university that has not straightforwardly affirmed 9/11’s essence as a false flag is “a mere appendage of the consciousness industry and workhouse of the mind.” FAU is not alone.


    1. ““a mere appendage of the consciousness industry and workhouse of the mind.”

      One of my favorite quotes from JFT

  2. Perhaps one day I will write something that could hope to support the better minds who have expounded the subject of freedom of speech before me. Today, I think I can do no better than to quote them directly.
    With this Constitutional framework in mind, acts of journalism indeed extend to all forms of political speech, for humans are by their very nature political beings. The ability to accurately observe our world and its many confusing facets can only be arrived at through an often discordant multitude of voices, information, and perspectives that comprise a free marketplace of ideas.
    ― James Tracy, “Free Flow of Information Act” Targets Independent Journalism
    “The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”
    ― John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
    “I have always strenuously supported the right of every man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this right, makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it.”
    ― Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason
    “Let her [Truth] and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter? Her confuting is the best and surest suppressing.”
    ― John Milton, Areopagitica
    “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.”
    ― John Milton, Areopagitica
    And finally, summarizing the thoughts of John Milton, Thomas Paine and John Stuart Mill:
    What they say is it’s not just the right of the person who speaks to be heard, it is the right of everyone in the audience to listen, and to hear. And every time you silence someone you make yourself a prisoner of your own action because you deny yourself the right to hear something. In other words, your own right to hear and be exposed is as much involved in all these cases as is the right of the other to voice his or her view. Indeed as John Stuart Mill said, if all in society were agreed on the truth and beauty and value of one proposition, all except one person, it would be most important, in fact it would become even more important, that that one heretic be heard, because we would still benefit from his perhaps outrageous or appalling view.
    ― Christopher Hitchens on Free Speech

  3. It is an outright embarrassment for this academic institution to convey such a poor understanding in public of what free speech is through this project.

    Free speech is about protecting controversial opinions, not cheering on speech we all agree on or debates where opinions differ but no one is really challenged.

    1. Try to understand for yourself, this is not a misunderstanding, it is an agenda. They know exactly what they are doing.

      The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion:

      “8. In a word, knowing by the experience of many centuries that people live and are guided by ideas, that these ideas are imbibed by people only by the aid of education provided with equal success for all ages of growth, but of course by varying methods, we shall swallow up and confiscate to our own use the last scintilla of independence of thought, which we have for long past been directing towards subjects and ideas useful for us. The system of bridling thought is already at work in the so-called system of teaching by OBJECT LESSONS, the purpose of which is to turn the GOYIM into unthinking submissive brutes waiting for things to be presented before their eyes in order to form an idea of them ”

    2. “But making comments that are embarrassing to a university is not grounds to fire a tenured professor, said Robert Shibley, senior vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which advocates on free speech issues.”

      I find it distressing that an advocate of free speech has so clearly missed the mark in defending Dr. Tracy. Shibley should have pointed out that it should only be embarrassing if Tracy’s points had been logically and objectively rebutted; nothing of the kind occurred.

      Instead, with each invitation to correct any flaws in his conclusion, detractors have run away as fast as possible while hurling ad hominem attacks and unfounded and unproveable slurs at Tracy.

      While should FAU be embarrassed when a tenured professor manages to hold his own on a very controversial subject, with hard facts to support his position?

      It’s obvious why: Because he has hit on a topic that is toxic to the illusion of a benign government made up of fundamentally decent people. In fact, this government is the most successful criminal syndicate since Genghis Khan ravaged the known world.

    1. More accurately, “Smoking kills more people than Obama, although he kills very many people.”

      Russia really does kind of see the US as the evil empire if that’s an actual bus stop poster. Or maybe it’s more tongue-in-cheek.

  4. Cornell University Threat Assessment criteria: How “civil” is this?:


    Repeated absences from class, section, or lab

    Missed assignments, exams, or appointments

    Deterioration in quality or quantity of work

    Extreme disorganization or erratic performance

    Written or artistic expression of unusual violence, morbidity, social isolation, despair, or confusion; essays or
    papers that focus on suicide or death

    Continual seeking of special provisions (extensions on papers, make-up exams)

    Patterns of perfectionism: e.g., can’t accept themselves if they don’t get an A+

    Overblown or disproportionate response to grades or other evaluations


    Direct statements indicating distress, family problems, or loss

    Angry or hostile outbursts, yelling, or aggressive comments

    More withdrawn or more animated than usual

    Expressions of hopelessness or worthlessness; crying or tearfulness

    Expressions of severe anxiety or irritability

    Excessively demanding or dependent behavior

    Lack of response to outreach from course staff

    Shakiness, tremors, fidgeting, or pacing


    Deterioration in physical appearance or personal hygiene

    Excessive fatigue, exhaustion; falling asleep in class repeatedly

    Visible changes in weight; statements about change in appetite or sleep

    Noticeable cuts, bruises, or burns

    Frequent or chronic illness

    Disorganized speech, rapid or slurred speech, confusion

    Unusual inability to make eye contact

    Coming to class bleary-eyed or smelling of alcohol


    Concern about a student by his/her peers or teaching assistant

    A hunch or gut-level reaction that something is wrong (at pp.14-15).

    At least half of the stated criteria are likely to provoke a witch hunt that, in the case of Loughner at Pima, incited violence. Nearly half of the threat criteria can also be considered prima facie discrimination based on the Americans with Disabilities Act.

  5. There are no “Islamic” names at FAU intent on putting Tracy out of the picture. I see names like Feingold and Weinberg. Do those look like “Islamic” names to you? The enemy is already in the gates, and it is not Muslims. Cicero realized this in ancient Rome while in court defending a friend, and he had to whisper the name of the tribe lest they come against him. But nobody today seems to recognize the true enemy of a free people, the tribe who is the Fifth Column already established here. Look at the surnames of Obummer’s “Czars” and tell me who is running things in this Corporation called “United States”. Again, it certainly isn’t Muslims, and the same was true during “Dubya’s” reign.

  6. I made a playlist on Spotify when I found out your employment was terminated, Dr. Tracy. It is titled simply “James Tracy: American Hero” and is a public playlist.

    Your actions have meant a hell of a lot to me.

    Thank you,


  7. Just a few thoughts about so called “free speech.”

    (I have some similar “problems” with those two Larkin Rose videos.)

    I did not read this article but I hope that does not disqualify me from commenting as I did want to comment about free speech.

    I think there are serious wrong takes on “freedom” “liberty” “democracy” and a long list of American values. There are correct understandings of those words and then there are manipulated, brain washed understandings of those terms.

    Go to about 18:29 on this video and watch the rest of the way.

    Saint Pope Pius IX in 1856 wrote the Syllabus of Errors and Error number 79 reads…

    Moreover, it is false that the civil liberty of every form of worship, and the full power, given to all, of overtly and publicly manifesting any opinions whatsoever and thoughts, conduce more easily to corrupt the morals and minds of the people, and to propagate the pest of indifferentism. — Allocution “Nunquam fore,” Dec. 15, 1856.

    “…the initial furor over the Syllabus died out. But the Syllabus generated the most difficulty in the United States, where it was often used as anti-Catholic fodder to make the case that the Church was fundamentally opposed to the separation of church and state, religious tolerance, public schools, and free speech. Some Fundamentalist critics still use it that way. ”

    Robert P. Lockwood, director of communications for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, is the author of A Faith for Grown-Ups: A Midlife Conversation about What Really Matters (Loyola Press).

    A whole lot of what masquerades as “freedom” is simply rationale for license.

    1. I understand this point (licentiousness vs true freedom), and this is my main (only?) bone of contention with anarchists and voluntaryism. When I went to Libertopia year before last, I felt out of place among the throng of atheists (the “heathens”, as I privately refered to them). However, I think, theoretically at least, the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP) should protect all of us from each other.

      Speaking only for myself, “freedom” does not equal “license”, though I can see that that’s where we end up. “Anarchy” doesn’t mean “no rules”; rather, it means “no rulers”. In that case, for myself anyway, it would be more accurate to say “no EARTHLY rulers” maybe. It’s NOT God’s rule (or rules) I object to, but man’s.

      Legally speaking, a license gives one the privilege to do that which is otherwise illegal. I have no such license, nor do I have the authority to grant such license. If I don’t have the authority, how can I possibly grant the authority to another? That’s one of Rose’s argument against government: who gave them their authority?

      This is a good discussion. All the Voluntaryists I listen to are atheists; I’m interested in how–if it’s even possible–one might be voluntaryist/anarchist AND religious. Because that’s where I’ve been standing, but I’m not 100% sure of my footing.

      1. I appreciate your comments, Recynd77. I guess this is a separate whole big discussion.

        I went through my conservative / libertarian / anti-government phase many years ago. I have come a long way from that but still am trying to learn and understand but my main solid foundation is Christ the King and He is my only Hope and the only Hope of the world.

        As a little aside, I used to listen to the local Libertarian show every week on public access TV and this included the time that 9-11 happened. All of these young smart men and women who would speak on the show about their religion — libertarianism and the Libertarian party. Many of them were strongly anarchist at least in their rhetoric. And all of them believed the official story of 9-11 and ridiculed anyone who had any questions about it from Day 1 as I did.

        I think libertarians ought to look up the complete list of the founders of and leading lights of that philosophy and system. See what virtually all of those people have in common.

      2. We must take in these these things keeping in mind that sin is real, and we are all prone to it. Anarchists and libertarians seem incapable of that.

        The Bible, which is the truth, is an anarchist’s handbook: no government is prescribed. We are to be government by Yahweh alone, through His Holy Spirit.

        And the Law. The moral law will bind the human race forever and ever; there will never dawn a day when murder is not a sin, for instance.

        Libertarians think the NAP is sufficient, but it’s not. A book came out some years ago, called The Nine Commandments. The tenth one, the one not focused on, is covetousness, because the title of the book could easily be The One Commandment: all the rest stem from covetousness. It’s why we need to be reminded that Yahweh is jealous, why we are prone to worshiping any of the other gods. It’s why we steal, and lie, and all the rest.

        There is something wrong with us, the moment we are born, and it does not go away. We have to fight against it, and we need God’s Law (the moral portion) to provide the guidelines as to how. An atheist anarchist can’t see that.

        When John Calvin set up his little dictatorship in Geneva, he decreed that all unsaved people had to adhere to Biblical Law, even though he assured them that they were going to roast in a fiery Hell for all eternity. If I were a Calvinist, I’d let the tragic sinners have their fun for a few years on Earth, since the world beyond is going to be so horrible for them. But then, I’m not a Calvinist.

        Still, contemplating that has some value. SHOULD unsaved people be forced to keep the Sabbath holy? That’s one of the Big Ten, after all.

        My point is that the Bible is quite clear about what it takes for a fallen human race to function in reasonable healthiness, given its mortal sickness, and it’s adherence to God’s written Law. Atheists won’t ever agree to that, so the whole thing will crash and burn if they ever get the chance to implement it. That’s because there is a spirit realm, and it oversees the physical world we inhabit.

        The Law was given to a nation God created, as a model, which whom He made a covenant. They agreed to its stipulations, and the human side immediately went about not keeping its promise. If they had been upstanding in this matter, Israel would have been an anarchist paradise, because they would have all been on the same page, dealing with sin consistently and cheerfully.

        So how can we expect such a result outside of those tight confines of reality, especially given the fact that Israel failed so spectacularly?

        1. Yes! That’s exactly it, Pat.

          The lack of a belief in God is the anarchist’s Achilles’ heel. Materialism will/can only lead to an ever-more powerful State, because when there’s no other god (any higher power outside of man) to do the ruling, the State’s more than happy to step up to the job…and always will. (THAT, right there, is Satan, and he works whether you believe in him or not.)

          We humans rarely (if ever) do ANYTHING “consistently and cheerfully”, especially that which is in our best interest. We groan and grumble and gripe and rationalize our way out of whatever it is we should (or shouldn’t) be doing. And, by nature, we are sheep. We look for people and things to follow. Look at how we (myself included) say we “follow this blog”, or “I’m an Alex Jones follower”, or “I’ve been following the work of James Tracy”. We follow. Some of us follow more closely or more blindly than others, but we all do it to a greater or lesser extent. When I finally saw that in myself is when I decided to get serious about my religion.

          Your question (and the larger question it addresses), “Should unsaved people (I prefer “unbelievers” or “heathens” myself) be forced to keep the Sabbath holy?” IS an important one. My answer is no, absolutely not. No one should be forced to do anything; where would that authority come from? God does not use force, He uses persuasion. WE choose. When force is involved, it erodes agency. We are to FREELY choose to follow our God. The saving principles only work if they’re voluntary.

        2. It’s hard to find anything more delicious than the moment an atheist Jew is confronted with the question, “If all morality is arbitrary, and men make up their own law without an outside Legislator imposing it, then how can you say the genocide of your race by the NAZIs is in any way wrong? They squirm with righteous outrage. But never repent.

          If God does not deliver the Law from outside space/time, man will have to do it. Thank God for Sinai, and His desire to make covenants with us. Thank God for Abraham, and Moses. And all the prophets, who pointed out all the failures to live up to those promises all along the way–on the part of the Jews. But God is faithful. If we didn’t have that record, we’d know nothing.

          A very fine, if difficult, resource is the book of Job. It gives enough insights for many volumes I could write, but in the end, it’s a lot to do with how we face the conditions we find ourselves in, and what we simply can’t know about what’s behind it. This, too, escapes the simplistic model of the anarchist model.

          God went to the trouble of showing us how wretchedly His selected nation, to whom He gave every blessing, uniquely, managed. We have the record. At Sinai, they all, the whole nation, agreed to the covenant Yahweh proposed. Then He called Moses up the mountain to give him the details. He was gone from the camp for more than a month, but that’s not so long , considering the portentousness of the event. But noooooo. They immediately grew impatient, and commissioned MOSES’ MOUTHPIECE, Aaron, to craft them an idol to worship, because obviously Moses wasn’t coming back, and this Yahweh fellow can’t hold a candle to a golden calf.

          I say this is fantastic, because the Jews are never portrayed as some wonderful example. “Warts and all” fails to describe the Old Testament’s depiction of the nation He created for Himself. It’s more like “warts ARE all.” It’s fantastic because the Jews are a stand-in for all of us. We see how easily we fall away, no matter how wonderful the blessings we get directly and obviously from our creator.

          Anarchists are dreamers. We need more realism. Deuteronomy 32 is as realistic as it gets.

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