What is William & Mary prepared to do to defend free speech on campus?

As Steve discusses in the post just below, students affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement shut down a presentation at the College of William & Mary. They rushed the stage and prevented the invited guest from speaking.

The invited guest was Claire Gastañaga of the American Civil Liberties Union. Gastañaga, a William & Mary alum, had intended to speak about “Students and the First Amendment.”

She never got that chance. The protesters drowned her out with chants of “ACLU, you protect Hitler, too,” “the oppressed are not impressed,” and “shame, shame, shame, shame.”

Tellingly they also chanted: “The revolution will not uphold the Constitution,” (we know) and “Liberalism is white supremacy” (that, I didn’t know).

After 20 minutes of this, a co-organizer of the event rewarded the Brownshirts by handing one of them a microphone. The protester read a prepared statement that apparently attacked the ACLU for its principled defense of the civil liberties of the alt-right Charlottesville protesters.

Then came what Steve calls the most chilling part. Having given the BLM mob a platform without having secured one for the ACLU, the organizers declared the event cancelled. Some members of the audience approached the podium in an attempt to speak with Gastañaga, but the BLM thugs would not permit it. They surrounded Gastañaga, raised their voices even louder, and drove everybody else away.

William & Mary responded to this assault on free expression with the following statement:

William & Mary has a powerful commitment to the free play of ideas. We have a campus where respectful dialogue, especially in disagreement, is encouraged so that we can listen and learn from views that differ from our own, so that we can freely express our own views, and so that debate can occur. Unfortunately, that type of exchange was unable to take place Wednesday night when an event to discuss a very important matter – the meaning of the First Amendment — could not be held as planned. …

Silencing certain voices in order to advance the cause of others is not acceptable in our community. This stifles debate and prevents those who’ve come to hear a speaker, our students in particular, from asking questions, often hard questions, and from engaging in debate where the strength of ideas, not the power of shouting, is the currency. William & Mary must be a campus that welcomes difficult conversations, honest debate and civil dialogue.

If William & Mary has any commitment to the free play of ideas, it must identify and punish the perpetrators. Otherwise, as Reason’s Robby Soave says, the college’s high-minded statement is meaningless.

College isn’t for everyone. It’s not for those who are unwilling to tolerate respectful dialogue, including disagreement. Not only can they not learn, they are an impediment to others learning.

College students, like the rest of us, can believe and spout whatever idiotic propositions — e.g. “liberalism is white supremacy” — capture their fancy. But they cannot be allowed to shutdown speakers — either liberal or conservative — who hold differing views.

William & Mary is a state school. It likely will be under pressure to respond to the outrageous treatment of the ACLU speaker with more than just slaps on the wrist.

But that doesn’t mean it will so respond. This is a good test case. We’ll be watching closely.

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