Cam­pus mobs muz­zle free speech

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION -

This ap­peared in USA To­day:

At Clare­mont McKenna Col­lege in Cal­i­for­nia, pro­test­ers blocked the doors to a lec­ture hall pre­vent­ing con­ser­va­tive au­thor Heather Mac Don­ald from speaking. At Mid­dle­bury Col­lege in Ver­mont, a pro­fes­sor ac­com­pa­ny­ing lib­er­tar­ian au­thor Charles Murray was in­jured by an angry mob. At the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia-Berke­ley and its sur­round­ing com­mu­nity, protests against sched­uled speak­ers have turned ugly.

In just the place where the clash of ideas is most valu­able, stu­dents are shut­ting them­selves off to points of view they don’t agree with. At the moment when young minds are sup­posed to as­sess the strengths and weak­nesses of ar­gu­ments, they are an­swer­ing chal­lenges to their be­liefs with anger and vi­o­lence instead of facts and rea­son.

As much as univer­sity ad­min­is­tra­tors lament stu­dent-led in­tol­er­ance and nar­row ideas about free speech, they played a role in their cre­ation. For decades, uni­ver­si­ties have been fight­ing in court to main­tain ridicu­lous re­stric­tions on ex­pres­sion. The Foun­da­tion for In­di­vid­ual Rights in Ed­u­ca­tion cat­a­logues them ex­haus­tively. Last month, Fair­mont State Univer­sity in West Vir­ginia fi­nally ac­cepted that stu­dents have a right to gather sig­na­tures on a pe­ti­tion with­out a school per­mit. In March at Regis Univer­sity in Colorado, the school shut down a stu­dent sale that charged dif­fer­ent prices for baked goods based on the buy­ers’ race, gen­der, re­li­gion or sex­u­al­ity to protest af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion. That’s the same month the Univer­sity of South Alabama tried to force a stu­dent to take down a Trump/Pence sign from his dorm room.

Cam­pus ad­min­is­tra­tors and stu­dent groups, who de­fend the growing in­tol­er­ance for un­pop­u­lar ideas, see them­selves as pro­tect­ing what New York Univer­sity vice provost Ul­rich Baer calls “the rights, both le­gal and cul­tural, of mi­nori­ties to par­tic­i­pate in public dis­course” in a unique moment when Don­ald Trump and na­tion­al­ism are on the rise. But those who’d re­strict free­dom of speech al­ways have an im­por­tant ex­cuse for their ac­tions. The grave threat of global com­mu­nism abroad was no ex­cuse for McCarthy­ism in Hol­ly­wood. And Euro­pean car­nage in the First World War was no ex­cuse to shut­ter the Ger­man-lan­guage press at home.

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