It is not enough to issue mealy-mouthed apologies to speakers and societies after their events have already been ruined by militant student protesters. Free speech must be robustly defended by university administrators at the very moment it is being threatened – something which few liberal university leaders have the courage or character to do
Read this shocking account of how Vichy administrators at DePaul university, entirely cowed and captured by the militant Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics, allowed violent and threatening protesters to shut down a private speaking event organised by DePaul College Republicans.
Michael Sitver writes:
I never realized that forcibly shutting down a private speaking event was considered free speech. I was also surprised to learn that assaulting a police officer is now a form of protest. It certainly never occurred to me that making violent threats towards a speaker was a constitutionally protected right. In fact, I was pretty confident all three of these acts were illegal…highly illegal.
Yet, yesterday I saw radical protesters do all three of these things, without consequence. DePaul University administrators looked on dispassionately, as if this was an every-day occurrence. Watching this all unfold, I had to wonder for a moment whether DePaul administrators were defending some bizarre form of free speech I had never heard of.
They weren’t. They knew they were tolerating a dangerous suppression of speech, but in the face of adversity they chose to do the easy thing, rather than the just thing. As usual.
Years of inaction by university administrators has left radical student activists feeling they are immune from the law. Free from consequences, or dissenting opinions, endowed with a feeling of moral high-ground, students have taken increasingly drastic steps to suppress other opinions, and conservative opinions in particular.
I watched from the front row yesterday as a whistle-blowing “protester” stormed the stage of an event featuring conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos, with about a dozen more radicals following behind him. The event was privately organized by students, requiring months of planning and painstaking fundraising, but that never even factored into their heads. Administrators have handed them a bubble, a “safe space” where they don’t need to consider the impact of their actions on other students.
After the foul-mouthed and intimidating protest continued (one of the protesters simulated punching Milo Yiannopoulos in the face), the event was ultimately cancelled. The screeching, hysterical mob had their victory, aided and abetted by the silent university administrators who reportedly skulked in the corner and refused to take any action – save forbidding on-site security and the Chicago Police from removing the protesters and allowing the event to proceed.
Stories like this are now a dime-a-dozen. Almost every day brings some new egregious case of free speech suppression by supposedly “oppressed” protesters, grown increasingly emboldened with the knowledge that their universities would never dare to bring disciplinary proceedings against them for fear of unleashing the full force of mob justice.
But though these outrages are now common, we should not lose sight of what is lost when the forces of censorship and thought control succeed in one of their grotesque actions. In this case, the DePaul Republican society had fundraised extensively and gone to a significant effort to organise a high-profile event and attract a well-known if controversial speaker (Milo Yiannopoulos including the stop as part of his “Dangerous Faggot” tour of the United States). Many hours and many thousands of dollars doubtless went into organising the event. And hundreds of students made efforts to attend, in some cases travelling from far afield.
The very least that these students should have been able to expect from their university is that the leadership foster an environment of free speech in which the event could take place, and that administrators come down decisively on their side when their lawful event was disrupted. And yet DePaul University signally failed to fulfil this most elementary of duties, ostensibly because the victims were conservative and the perpetrators shielded by the blame-proof cloak of the Black Lives Matter movement.
While an invited speaker was harassed and harangued by protesters, DePaul administrators cowered indecisively in a corner. Faced with a serious challenge to first-amendment rights on their campus, they were visibly frightened of confronting the protesters, who tied themselves to the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
Administrators had fought against hosting the conservative event for over three months. As they watched the event unravel, they seemed almost relieved to see the radical protesters fulfil their wishes. The rights implications were utterly lost on them. All they wanted was a nice, quiet, homogeneously-thinking campus.
Only days before the event, administrators had demanded that DePaul College Republicans, the club that hosted the event, pay hundreds of extra dollars in security costs. This was a clear breach of contract, but the organizers paid the fee under threat of cancellation. Yet, after ordering a dozen security officers, the administrators prevented them from restoring order, forcing them to stand down.
I talked to a few of the dozen Chicago police officers eventually called into the building, and they were irate. They were well-trained, and well-equipped to handle scenarios such as this. They wanted to do their job, and remove the protesters, but administrators demanded they stand passively and watch. Once again, violence prevailed over free speech on a liberal college campus, and the administration was 100% complicit.
And the great sickness at the heart of the academic establishment which allowed these protesters to act with such impunity is revealed in the official response of DePaul University president Dennis Holtschneider, who made absolutely clear that his sympathies lay with the belligerent protesters and not the innocent student society which had its long-planned event ruined in a brazen attack on free speech.
Immediately after the event, Holtschneider wrote:
Mr. Yiannopoulos and I share very few opinions. He argues that there is no wage gap for women, a difficult position to maintain in light of government data. As a gay man, he has claimed that sexual preference is entirely a choice, something few if any LGTBQ individuals would claim as their own experience. He claims that white men have fewer privileges than women or people of color, whom he believes are unfairly privileged in modern society — a statement that is immediately suspect when white men continue to occupy the vast majority of top positions in nearly every major industry.
Generally, I do not respond to speakers of Mr. Yiannopoulos’ ilk, as I believe they are more entertainers and self-serving provocateurs than the public intellectuals they purport to be. Their shtick is to shock and incite a strong emotional response they can then use to discredit the moral high ground claimed by their opponents. This is unworthy of university discourse, but not unfamiliar across American higher education. There will always be speakers who exploit the differences within our human community to their own benefit, blissfully unconcerned with the damage they leave behind.
In other words, Holtschneider cannot even bring himself to unequivocally condemn the acts of the protesters – rather, he begins with this lengthy and cowardly disclaimer, making it crystal clear to any would-be student tormentors that he disagrees with pretty much everything that Yiannopoulos says and believes. Such a statement, it hardly needs pointing out, should be utterly redundant in a university setting. Whether the university president agrees or disagrees with the views expressed by a lawfully invited speaker is utterly irrelevant when it comes to condemning the subsequent disruption of the event. Yet Holtschneider is so terrified of his restive student population that he has to get his disclaimer in quick and early.
The statement continues:
Now that our speaker has moved on to UC Santa Barbara and UCLA, we at DePaul have some reflecting and sorting out to do. Student Affairs will be inviting the organizers of both the event and the protest — as well as any others who wish — to meet with them for this purpose. I’ve asked them to reflect on how future events should be staffed so that they proceed without interruption; how protests are to be more effectively assisted and enabled; and how the underlying differences around race, gender and orientation that were made evident in yesterday’s events can be explored in depth in the coming academic year.
This is about the tamest statement of disciplinary intent one could imagine. University administrators will not be summoning and ordering those who participated in this suppression of free speech to attend and account for their actions – rather, they will merely be “invited” to share their thoughts, and come armed with reflections on how things might be done differently next time.
At this point it is worth reminding ourselves that it is the university administrators who are supposed to be the authority figures, not the anti free speech student protesters. And when students have egregiously violated the university’s own code of conduct – as Sargon of Akkad shows conclusively that they did – campus authorities have considerable scope in imposing sanctions on the guilty parties. Yet the DePaul hierarchy seems so terrified of incurring the wrath of their own students that the most they are willing to do is meekly request a sit-down with the young woman who jabbed her fist mere inches from the face of an invited guest speaker.
At the end of his statement, Holtschneider does manage to scrape together the basic decency to apologise to the DePaul College Republicans for the disruption and abandonment of their event. But free speech is not something which can be protected in retrospect, or the harm inflicted by its suppression made good by a subsequent apology. Either a speaker is able to air his thoughts in the public square, free from intimidation and undue disruption, or he is not.
Issuing an apology once an event has already been disrupted and abandoned does nothing to redress the injury to free speech which has taken place. If anything, failing to tackle disruptive protests as they occur and relying on subsequent mealy-mouthed apologies exacerbates the problem, emboldening militant students to repeat the same childishly aggressive behaviours again and elsewhere, knowing that they will be free to achieve their aims while any mild repercussions will lag long behind.
Thus far, in the battle for academic freedom and free speech rights on campus, university authorities have been found dangerously wanting. At best they are paralysed by an overwhelming fear of their most militant students and the potential disruption (and potentially career-ending bad PR) they can bring, and at worst they are outright collaborators in the activists’ efforts to suppress freedom of speech and establish a culture of intellectual and ideological homogeneity on campus.
This is untenable. Academic institutions cannot properly function when the most immature and authoritarian students are flattered and pandered to by terrified university leaders. And neither can conservative students alone be expected to keep the flame of academic freedom and free speech alive while fully grown academics cower in the corner and shamefully shirk their own duties.
University administrations should be championing the cause of academic freedom and providing vital air cover to students on the front line of the debate. But sadly, at present many university leaders would rather stab such students in the back rather than openly support their right to freedom of speech and expression.
And for this cowardice they should feel heartily ashamed.
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