Campus mobs muzzle free speech
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.