Campus chaos — a shout-down a day

Stanley Kurtz reports on the escalating campus free speech crisis. He notes that last night’s disruption of Charles Murray’s speech at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor means that every working day for the past week has seen a significant shout-down.

Here are the specifics:

Thursday, October 5: Students at Columbia University stormed into a class on sexuality and gender law to protest its instructor, Suzanne Goldberg. Goldberg is both a professor of law and Executive Vice-President of the Office of University Life. She is also a Title IX compliance officer. The classroom invaders were protesting Columbia’s handling of Title IX sexual assault claims.

Stanley observes that Goldberg is considered a pioneer of LGBT civil rights law. Thus, this disruption was an attack on the cultural left.

Friday, October 6: University of Oregon President Michael Schill was prevented from delivering his State of the University Speech when about 45 chanting students took over the stage. Although Schill knew the disruption was coming, he pre-emptively capitulated by pre-recording his speech for later distribution. Those who attended the event may have wondered why they bothered.

Monday, October 9: Texas State Representative Briscoe Cain was shouted down before he could begin a talk sponsored by the Federalist Society of Texas Southern University Law School. After the shouters were ejected by campus police, TSU President Austin Lane called them back and canceled Cain’s talk. Lane’s capitulation is astounding even for a college administrator.

Tuesday, Octboer 10. Student protesters at Columbia University shouted down and largely stopped a talk via skype by Tommy Robinson, the controversial former leader of the English Defense League. Students blocked entrances to the speech, shouted over Robinson, then stormed the stage and forced him to abandon his talk.

Wednesday, October 11: Charles Murray’s talk at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor was severely disrupted. Murray was able to speak only for brief periods in between disruptions lasting 40 minutes before the protesters finally walked out.

The presence of an administrator and campus security may have prevented a total shut-down. However, as Stanley says, forty minutes of chaos cannot become the norm for controversial talks or else free speech and civil exchange are over.

* * * * * *

Shout-downs like these are well-calculated to enforce left-wing orthodoxies on campus. They serve as a warning to students who reject such orthodoxies to hold their tongue. They also discourage invitations to controversial speakers, discourage acceptances, and inhibit debate on controversial topics, even at campuses that merely read about disruptions elsewhere.

The remedy is the adoption of codes that promise (and deliver) tough discipline against the disrupters. Recently, the University of Wisconsin’s Board of Regents adopted such a policy. It mandates suspension for students twice found responsible for shouting-down visiting speakers, and expulsion for three-time offenders.

The policy follows the lead of the Wisconsin Campus Free Speech bill, which passed the State House last spring. That bill is based on model legislation that Stanley wrote, along with Jim Manley and Jonathan Butcher of Arizona’s Goldwater Institute.

The impact of the University’s policy was evident earlier this week when conservative author Katie Pavlich spoke at the UW Madison. Stanley reports:

The protest against Pavlich was obscene, sophomoric, and just plain stupid, but it took place outside the venue. The demonstrators decided not to disrupt Pavlich’s talk, and specifically attributed their decision to the new “three strikes” discipline policy. Had that policy not been adopted, we would likely have seen two shout-downs on Tuesday instead of one.

The alternatives facing state legislators and college administrators are clear. Either adopt and enforce serious discipline policies on the Goldwater model or experience more frequent and increasingly serious shout-downs.

The correct course is obvious for anyone with the slightest regard for free expression.

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