April 14, 2022

By Joe Setyon

Illiberal activists don’t want to debate ideas they disagree with—they want to silence them. In just the latest example of this hostile climate for free speech at colleges and universities across the country, a leftist mob at the University of Buffalo tried to shut down a conservative group’s event and allegedly forced a terrified student to hide in the bathroom.

The incident underscores the importance—now more than ever—of the Goldwater Institute’s work to restore free speech on college campuses.

Leftist protesters were irate that the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) University of Buffalo chapter had invited retired Army Lt. Col. Allen West, a conservative black politician, to speak on campus last week about how he overcame racism. According to a YAF news release, West’s speech proceeded peacefully, but the situation quickly devolved from there. A question-and-answer session “became a tug-of-war with the microphone, as vitriolic leftists attempted to hijack the conversation and flung insults at West,” YAF said.

After the protesters started shouting “no peace” and “banging on the walls,” police escorted West out, Therese Purcell, president of YAF’s University of Buffalo chapter, told Fox News. As a mob of protesters screamed at them, Purcell, who helped organize the event, got separated from West and his police escort, at which point angry leftists started hunting her and other YAF members, she recounted. They even kicked and punched the group’s treasurer, Purcell said, prompting her to go hide in the men’s bathroom.

“I was really afraid for my life since they physically assaulted my friend,” Purcell told Fox News.

This case is arguably the scariest recent instance of leftists trying to shut down the expression of views with which they disagree. But it’s just the latest in a series of events that illustrate a troubling trend: Universities are turning into cesspools for censorship rather than havens for free speech. Libertarian lawyer/commentator Ilya Shapiro was scheduled to speak at the University of California-Hasting Law School last month—that is, until furious law students shouted at him, got in his face, and pounded on the tables, forcing him to leave. Leftist law students at Yale University were similar incensed late last month by the presence of Kristen Waggoner of the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom. They heckled her, reportedly held up their middle fingers, and allegedly pounded on the doors after leaving the room. 

Nowhere is the need for open debate more important than on colleges campuses. Yet across the country, speech is being stifled by shutdowns and violence. And while university administrators ought to play an important role in shaping students’ openness to ideas and protecting free expression, they often do nothing to fix the problem.

That’s why Goldwater is successfully standing up for the constitutional rights of students being silenced, and it’s why we’ve crafted legislation to address the free speech crisis on public colleges and universities. Our reform, which we have already enacted in five states, creates an official university policy affirming the importance of free expression, including provisions that form a system of interlocking incentives designed to encourage students and administrators to respect and protect the free expression of others.

And our reform is working exactly like it’s supposed to. For instance, in 2017, protesters wanted to shut down Second Amendment supporter and conservative author Katie Pavlich when she spoke at University of Wisconsin-Madison, but they decided against it because our free speech policy had been adopted in the state.

It’s crucial that America’s universities protect all speech—whether that be West’s speech, Shapiro’s speech, Waggoner’s speech, or Pavlich’s speech—so that students can be exposed to and challenged by diverse ideas. The answer to even the most controversial ideas is always more speech, not less.  

Find out more about Goldwater’s work to restore free speech on college campuses here.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email