Claremont McKenna punishes seven for obstructing speech

In April, approximately 170 people marched to Claremont McKenna’s Athenaeum, disassembled a fence newly built to restrain protests, and blocked the entrances. Claremont’s security officers failed to control the crowd. Consequently, Heather Mac Donald, scheduled to address a live audience regarding her book The War on Cops, was forced to speak to a camera instead.

Now, Claremont McKenna has punished seven of the student-protesters. It suspended three for one year, suspended two for one semester, and placed another two on “conduct probation.” One of the suspended students may already have graduated, thanks to the long delay in deciding guilt and punishment.

What about the other 163 speech (or so) obstructors? The college says it was only able to identify 12 Claremont McKenna students in the pack of 170. Two were not charged. Three were charged but ultimately not found to have committed any violation.

Some members of the mob are students of other colleges within the Claremont consortium. Claremont McKenna says it has referred evidence of these students’ misbehavior to their respective deans. It remains to be seen whether they will respond with disciplinary measures.

What should we make of Claremont McKenna’s actions? It’s hard to say without knowing what the evidence is regarding each of the 12 identified students.

Rachelle Peterson of the National Association of Scholars offers “one-and-a-half cheers.” She writes:

Holding seven people responsible for the conduct of 170 seems to fall short of the ordinary standards of justice. But perhaps Claremont found the ringleaders.

Still, the presence of any discipline at all marks a refreshing homage to the ideals of free speech and civility. . . .Few of the recent campus outrages have resulted in accountability for the perpetrators. . . .

For the moment, Chodosh [head of the college] stands out as a president who has actually enforced some rules. In the wake of campus protests nationwide to which campus authorities repeatedly caved, power-hungry student activists have grown inebriated with the appearance of their victory over docile administrators. President Chodosh should be praised for standing against this tide.

The five (or four) suspensions send a good message. However, I agree with Peterson that the college needs to do more:

Students who learned at orientation to respect intellectual differences would not grow violent at the sight of a speaker they disliked. Perhaps if fewer classes extolled political activism and championed instead the pursuit of truth, colleges would not need to call out the police. Administrators and professors should regularly defend—not merely declaim—the importance of intellectual freedom.

We can dream, can’t we?

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