It happened again this week. Twice. Protestors shouted down speakers on college campuses, undermining the freedom of speech. And remarkably enough, university administrators stood by and didn’t do anything about it. Jonathan Butcher, senior fellow at the Goldwater Institute, explains:
At the City University of New York (CUNY) law school, students shouted at guest lecturer Josh Blackman for approximately 10 minutes before he could continue his remarks. Remarkably, the CUNY law school dean issued a statement saying there would be no consequences for those that delayed the event and called it a “non-violent, limited protest,” even though video evidence shows protestors prevented Blackman from speaking before filing out of the room. Inside Higher Ed reports that students who wanted to hear Blackman speak were “intimidated” from coming in the room because of the protestors.
Last weekend, Duke University President Vincent Price’s speech before alumni during Alumni Weekend was stopped when “student protestors commandeered the stage,” according to the Raleigh News Observer. The paper reports some 30 protestors used a bullhorn to shout demands and told the university president to leave the stage. Some alumni “walked out of the event.” Though “administrators stood by and conferred about how to handle the situation” when it unfolded, as of this writing, the News Observer and Duke Chronicle do not report that school leadership is considering taking action after the event.
This trend of blocking others’ freedom of speech at America’s institutes of higher education has reached a crisis point—and it needs a solution, as Peter Berkowitz writes in the latest Weekly Standard:
“From speech codes, trigger warnings, microaggressions, and safe spaces to disinviting speakers and shouting down lecturers, free speech is under assault on college campuses. One reason is that, as polls by Gallup and others show, many students do not understand the First Amendment. And when they learn that it protects offensive and even hateful speech, they dislike it.”
Berkowitz calls for action, writing, “Since free speech is essential to liberal education, we must devise reforms that will enable colleges and universities to reinvigorate it on their campuses.” And he points to the Goldwater Institute’s model legislation as an example of a proposed reform.
The Goldwater proposal establishes a system of disciplinary sanctions for students and anyone else who interferes with the free-speech rights of others. North Carolina and the Wisconsin university system have adopted similar policies. In Arizona, the state senate voted to send a bill protecting campus free speech to Governor Doug Ducey, based on the Goldwater model. These policies are already protecting free speech. When Second Amendment supporter and conservative author Katie Pavlich spoke at the UW Madison, demonstrators staged a protest but decided not to disrupt her talk and specifically attributed their decision to the new “three strikes” discipline policy.
The proposal also includes critical due process protections so students accused of violating others’ free speech rights would get a hearing and proper legal representation. But the key provision that sets Goldwater’s proposal apart is that it stops shout-downs from turning violent, ensuring free speech for everyone—speakers and protestors alike.
If we cannot engage with people who disagree with us, violence is the predictable result—like the kind we saw at Middlebury College after Charles Murray was shouted down, or the violence that erupted in Charlottesville this summer after counter-protestors challenged the horrible ideas of the White Nationalists assembled there. We must make violence beyond consideration when we hear ideas or witness expressions with which we disagree, and fight back with better ideas.
You can learn more about how the Goldwater Institute’s proposed legislation will restore free speech on campus while protecting the right to protest, all in our new video.
Liberty in the News
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You need a government license to style hair? Yep. Goldwater Institute Executive Vice President Christina Sandefur appeared on a podcast this week and discussed how in California, Arizona, and states nationwide, you can be fined thousands of dollars and even sent to jail for doing nothing more than blow drying someone’s hair without government permission. Listen here.