Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Columbia President’s Response

Lee Bollinger, the President of Columbia University, has issued a very strongly worded and entirely justified statement in response to campus protestors disrupting a perfectly legal speech at the university last week. I’ll quote the full text below the fold:

Columbia University has always been, and will always be, a place where students and faculty engage directly with important public issues. We are justifiably proud of the traditions here of intellectual inquiry and vigorous debate. The disruption on Wednesday night that resulted in the termination of an event organized by the Columbia College Republicans in Lerner Hall represents, in my judgment, one of the most serious breaches of academic faith that can occur in a university such as ours.

Of course, the University is thoroughly investigating the incident, and it is critically important not to prejudge the outcome of that inquiry with respect to individuals. But, as we made clear in our University statements on both Wednesday night and Thursday, we must speak out to deplore a disruption that threatens the central principle to which we are institutionally dedicated, namely to respect the rights of others to express their views.

This is not complicated: Students and faculty have rights to invite speakers to the campus. Others have rights to hear them. Those who wish to protest have rights to do so. No one, however, shall have the right or the power to use the cover of protest to silence speakers. This is a sacrosanct and inviolable principle.

It is unacceptable to seek to deprive another person of his or her right of expression through actions such as taking a stage and interrupting the speech. We rightly have a visceral rejection of this behavior, because we all sense how easy it is to slide from our collective commitment to the hard work of intellectual confrontation to the easy path of physical brutishness. When the latter happens, we know instinctively we are all threatened.

We have extensive University policies governing the actions of members of this community with respect to free speech and the conduct of campus events. Administrators began identifying those involved in the incident as it transpired and continue to investigate specific violations of University policies to ensure full accountability by those found to be responsible.

University personnel are also evaluating event management practices that are specifically intended to help event organizers, participants and protestors maintain a safe environment in which to engage in meaningful and sometimes contentious debate across the spectrum of academic and political issues. These are some of the many steps we intend to take in the weeks ahead to address this matter in our community.

Let me reaffirm: In a society committed to free speech, there will inevitably be times when speakers use words that anger, provoke, and even cause pain. Then, more than ever, we are called on to maintain our courage to confront bad words with better words. That is the hallmark of a university and of our democratic society. It is also one of our central safeguards against the impulses of intolerance that always threaten to engulf our commitment to proper respect for every person.

I agree with every word of that. I also hope he means it, but I have my doubts. It should be noted that Bollinger is himself a respected first amendment scholar, which probably explains the eloquent defense of free speech. But he has to have the courage to do more than pay lip service to that principle. Those who disrupted the speech and violated the rights of others on campus must actually be held accountable, not just told that they were naughty children. If that doesn’t happen, then all of this is just so much hot air.

Campuses need to crack down on this sort of thing, which happens far too often all around the country. It doesn’t matter whether the speaker is liberal, conservative, communist, anarchist, and so forth. Student groups have the right to invite speakers on campus and audiences have a right to listen to what they have to say. And no, there is no exception to the rule that says “unless you don’t like what they have to say.” And it’s about time we put a stop to these childish spasms of intolerance from students (and all too often, from faculty as well) who think the fact that they don’t like what someone has to say gives them the justification for violating the rights of others.

Comments

  1. #1 MJ Memphis
    October 12, 2006

    Good for Bollinger. The tyranny of the majority is a bad thing regardless of who happens to be in the majority at the time.

  2. #2 Flatlander100
    October 12, 2006

    MJ Memphis:

    In re: the Columbia incident, you wrote “The tyranny of the majority is a bad thing regardless of who happens to be in the majority at the time.”

    Tyranny of the majority? Seems a small group of protesters disrupted a presentation. I think the student body leadership issued a statement denouncing the protesters as violating the principles of free speech that must prevail on campus, and the student legislative body is soon to vote on a resolution along the same lines. In light of which I find it curious that you assume, or seem to, that the small group of louts who tried to prevent the speech represents the majority on campus.

  3. #3 Dave H
    October 12, 2006

    Actually, I don’t think universities have to worry too much about student protestors disrupting and actually halting speech they disagree with–it’s usually the other way around.

    Universities themselves are more likely to be suppressors of free speech, often in the rhetoric of the false people’s right not to be offended. The increased focus on “diversity” has also contributed to these attacks on free speech. Check out http://www.thefire.org and you’ll see what I mean. While that organization is mostly concerned with protecting those persecuted for conservative beliefs, they are still standing up for free speech.

    As for punishment for those students–kids do stupid things (look at the environmental movement), and unless they were part of a specific student group (which could be brought up on charges and have its status as a recognized group challenged), I’m not sure a loose band of students deserve to be expelled from campus. Maybe suspended. They should be put through the legal system just like they would be had they done something like this off campus.

    I mean, it’s not high school; having most of the school’s institutions condemning their actions, I think, is the proper response. And maybe holding a seminar on free speech, or a dialogue, or whatever universities do when they want to feel good about themselves.

    Bringing back that speaker to campus and ensuring this time that he has his say would also be proper. And the controversy surrounding him would probably up the attendance of his speech, and therefore get more people to hear him–something that would make what those kids did actually harmful to their cause, by increasing that nut’s audience.

    Also, these kids recently got it pretty bad: Sean Hannity called them out (and was right!) and then Jon Stewart, probably a hero to these kids, made fun of them and condemned them to being uncool all across campus.

    All that’s enough for me.

  4. #4 MJ Memphis
    October 12, 2006

    Flatlander100,
    My assumptions were just based on the wording from the Columbia Spectator account of the event:

    “The brawl was the culmination of audience dissent which grew louder and more aggressive… During a long pause, one audience member shouted, “In Spanish please!” which brought on an enormous wave of stomping feet and applause from the audience. Stewart countered that “one of the requirements of citizenship is that you speak English,” before he was completely drowned out by the noise of the audience. Many attendees stood up and turned their backs on the speaker in protest and began chanting “wrap it up.””

    Which suggests that the louts in question felt that “their side” was in the majority at the time. If they had not been in the majority (or thought they were, in any event), they wouldn’t have been as likely to rush the stage and start a brawl. Whether they are the majority on the campus as a whole, I have no idea; I was just referring to the fact that they were (it seems) the majority in that venue. Sorry if I wasn’t clear.

  5. #5 Reging Bee
    October 12, 2006

    “Persecuted for conservative beliefs?” That’s about as big a crock as the “war on Christmas.” Next, I suppose, we’ll be hearing about how “academia” is “biased to the left,” including all those colleges in the Deep South, and all those private colleges run by conservative Christian churches. And, of course, all that criticism of Bush from students who actually study is just “persecution” by “irrational Bush-haters,” right?

  6. #6 David Heddle
    October 12, 2006

    Raging Bee,

    Next, I suppose, we’ll be hearing about how “academia” is “biased to the left,” including all those colleges in the Deep South, and all those private colleges run by conservative Christian churches.

    Well of course not at Christian Colleges, but that’s hardly relevant. But apart from that, I don’t see how, in the face of survey after survey (of party affiliation) to the contrary, you could deny that university faculties are not significantly “bluer” than the rest of the country. Including southern (secular) universities. (Got to mention, anecdotally, Prof. George Brandon’s candid explanation that (paraphrasing) Duke’s faculty is more liberal than the great unwashed because universities hire smart people…)

    The universities, for whatever reason, are demonstrably biased toward a liberal political view–a fact that, because it is so obvious, should be acknowledged regardless of whether you view the bias as good or bad.

    Or maybe you mean that the numerical bias is there (it simply cannot be denied) but that doesn’t mean that its presence makes itself felt in the lecture hall?

  7. #7 AndyS
    October 12, 2006

    David,

    The universities, for whatever reason, are demonstrably biased toward a liberal political view–a fact that, because it is so obvious, should be acknowledged regardless of whether you view the bias as good or bad.

    There is much to be said for the hypothesis that as people climb the ladder of higher education, gain more independent knowledge, and cast off the shackles of what those in authority told them to believe when they were young and could not think for themselves, they then quite naturally become more liberal and progressive. I don’t view the resulting bias as good or bad but rather as inevitable in an intelligent species.

  8. #8 frank
    October 12, 2006

    FYI, some commentary about this as well: Ruben Navarrette Jr.

  9. #9 frank
    October 12, 2006

    Sorry, it’s titled: Minutemen have a right to be idiotic.

  10. #10 Dave H.
    October 12, 2006

    Raging Bee,

    Lighten up on the straw a bit, eh? No, what I said is not a slippery slope toward claiming that criticisms of Bush from students is irrational; you did not demonstrate how it lead to that, and your comment was itself irrational.

    I think you missed the point entirely, and instead fell back on comfortable party lines.

    Your hostile reaction to even the slightest criticism of a group of people who (happen to be) liberal smacks of the same tactics used by the current administration.

    And, of course, the discussion then went to addressing bias in universities. Even if the organization (FIRE) believes there is a bias at most universities, it doesn’t change the fact that the cases they encounter are absolutely embarrassing, and an affront to free speech whether they’re defending conservatives or not.

    Of course, it’s entirely possible that the reason they defend mostly conservatives is because there is a liberal bias on the campuses where their plantiffs come from.

    Now, personally I have no problem with a liberal-biased university (as long as truth comes first–especially in the social sciences). What I take issue with, and what this organization does, is when the university stifles speech (such as punishing a student for sending an offensive e-mail to a GLBT student org in response to an e-mail they sent campus-wide, or canceling a stu org’s planned speaker because he’s racist), it doesn’t matter what side of the political landscape they’re on, they’re wrong.

    And, ignoring the problem just because it’s coming from the liberal end of politics is irresponsible–the illegal actions these universities take give fodder to the pundits and politicians who cry liberal conspiracy and would like to legislate what we learn in college (sounds silly, but they’re working on it, ever hear of the “Student Bill of Rights”? Scary stuff).

    So, do you have anything rational to say about the freedom of speech, or are you just looking to turn this discussion into another RED VS. BLUE debate?

    ‘Cause if that’s it, I’m going to go reorganize my underwear drawer. Yell all you want.

  11. #11 RickD
    October 12, 2006

    The universities, for whatever reason, are demonstrably biased toward a liberal political view–a fact that, because it is so obvious, should be acknowledged regardless of whether you view the bias as good or bad.

    I’m wondering if a trend towards a certain political position qualifies automatically as “bias”.

    Are mathematicians biased towards thinking pi is a transcendental number?

    Are biologists biased towards viewing evolution as a superior theory than creationism?

    See, I tend to view the superiority of evolution as a theory as an objective reality. There are two political parties in the US, one of which embraces this objective reality, and the other of which panders to those who reject this objective reality. Is it really “bias” for me to prefer the former political party?

    The word “bias” is supposed to have a stronger meaning than “preference”. With that in mind, simply noting that the majority of professors prefer left-leaning politics is a necessary but far from sufficient argument along the path towards a demonstration that liberal arts colleges in the US are “biased”. It is lazy thinking that conflates preference for bias.

  12. #12 David Heddle
    October 12, 2006

    The word “bias” is supposed to have a stronger meaning than “preference”. With that in mind, simply noting that the majority of professors prefer left-leaning politics is a necessary but far from sufficient argument along the path towards a demonstration that liberal arts colleges in the US are “biased”. It is lazy thinking that conflates preference for bias.

    I would argue the lazy thinking is on your part. Apple and oranges here–the uniform affirmation that pi is transcendental is a simple acknowledgement of a mathematical fact (or rather, a definition). The bias toward evolution, almost as unanimous, reflects that it is the best science that fits the data. However, there is no objective “proof” that a liberal philosophy is superior to a conservative philosophy (or vice versa.) Your examples don’t speak to the point.

    Also, usage is “king,” and I would argue that a group of individuals that has a signficant preference for one party has always been described as “biased.” Would you not say that evangelical Christians have a bias for the Rebuplican party?

  13. #13 Coin
    October 12, 2006

    The universities, for whatever reason, are demonstrably biased toward a liberal political view–a fact that, because it is so obvious, should be acknowledged regardless of whether you view the bias as good or bad.

    Why?

  14. #14 David Heddle
    October 12, 2006

    Coin,

    Why what?

    1) Are they biased? (I don’t know)
    2) Is it obvious? (Because of faculty surveys and anecdotally)
    3) Should it be acknowledged? (Because it’s true, and to pretend it isn’t serves no good purpose)

  15. #15 Coin
    October 12, 2006

    2) Is it obvious? (Because of faculty surveys and anecdotally)
    3) Should it be acknowledged? (Because it’s true, and to pretend it isn’t serves no good purpose)

    Those two. Or rather, why should I treat a bunch of partisan whining and innuendo-laden opinions as fact? I can see it’s your opinion academia is “liberally” “biased”, I see no reason I must share this opinion or even put any credence in it.

  16. #16 David Heddle
    October 12, 2006

    Coin,

    It’s not an opinion, that’s the point. If you characterize it as opinion, then I can only assume that it is your habit to discount facts that you find inconvenient.

  17. #17 Patrick (gryph)
    October 12, 2006

    As for punishment for those students–kids do stupid things (look at the environmental movement), and unless they were part of a specific student group (which could be brought up on charges and have its status as a recognized group challenged), I’m not sure a loose band of students deserve to be expelled from campus.

    I would agree with that for High School students. Not for College students. They are not “kids” anymore and it does them no favor to treat them as such.

  18. #18 Coin
    October 12, 2006

    It’s not an opinion, that’s the point. If you characterize it as opinion, then I can only assume that it is your habit to discount facts that you find inconvenient.

    Heddle has spoken, so mote it be?

  19. #19 Scott Reese
    October 12, 2006

    Well, as for expulsion/suspension, I wouldn’t hold one’s breath. Academic misconduct is treated as a ‘learning experience’ for most students, at least the first time. If they are repeat offenders, then the big guns roll out, but judicial committees tend to be light on students in these situations. I would imagine that this incident will not get to the level of discipline that many here would like to see.

  20. #20 Scott Reese
    October 12, 2006

    David I have to agree with Coin. You will need to provide concrete evidence for the ‘majority liberal faculty on university campuses’ schtick rather than just anecdotal evidence. My colleagues here in the department tend toward the liberal side of the political spectrum (not all, mind you, just a majority), but when I look across campus at places like the business school or college of education, etc., there are a large fraction of political conservatives. I’m in a ‘secular’ southern university.

  21. #21 Coin
    October 12, 2006

    I mean, maybe I’m being a little meaner about how I’m putting this than I need to be. But I don’t have a lot of patience with the “everyone knows” idiom in political debate.

    Anyway, on the original topic:

    Well, as for expulsion/suspension, I wouldn’t hold one’s breath. Academic misconduct is treated as a ‘learning experience’ for most students, at least the first time. If they are repeat offenders, then the big guns roll out, but judicial committees tend to be light on students in these situations. I would imagine that this incident will not get to the level of discipline that many here would like to see.

    Are there any comparable or recent incidents at Columbia University that might give us an idea of what the normal punitive response is when someone disrupts or halts an event like this? Or would such information not be public?

  22. #22 David Heddle
    October 12, 2006

    Scott,

    I’ll be happy to provide references to surveys. But just an experiment first, because I am curious–do you (or anyone else) doubt that I can do this? That I cannot present data (or articles based on data) that corroborate that university faculty tend to be liberal (democrats) at a percentage substantially higher than the rest of the country which, to first order, is evenly split?

    As I said I am curious–it seems to me that denying (what I suspect everyone knows) is no different than denying that the ID movement is biased (heavily) toward theists. I mean, what’s to gain from the denial? It makes more sense to acknowledge it and then try to explain it.

  23. #23 kevin v
    October 12, 2006

    a story to go along with Bollinger’s message:

    http://scienceblogs.com/nosenada/2006/10/columbias_free_speech_issues.php

  24. #24 Coin
    October 12, 2006

    I’ll be happy to provide references to surveys.

    Surveys saying what? “Are you biased”?

    no different than denying that the ID movement is biased (heavily) toward theists

    Academia isn’t a “movement”. It doesn’t have leaders. It doesn’t have goals. It doesn’t have distinct funding sources, unless you count taxes. It doesn’t have an office somewhere putting out press releases. It doesn’t even have definable *boundaries*.

    You can draw conclusions about a singular movement consisting of two or three legally incorporated special interest groups, where every important related author or public advocate has been at one time employed by the same think tank, and the bulk of the ideas stem from fewer than five people and all of them have been publicly interviewed.

    In the specific case of ID, things are even more singular than they would be with most “movements”; if someone were objecting to generalizations about ID, we could just as well conclude “ID” doesn’t exist and go back through the anti-ID literature and replace all references to “ID” with “the discovery institute”, and neither the importance nor the conclusions of the statments about ID are changed. If someone denies “the universities” or “the liberals” exist as categories, where does one go from there?

    In short the difference between these two things is exactly the difference between an observation and a mass generalization.

  25. #25 David Heddle
    October 12, 2006

    Coin,

    Surveys saying what? “Are you biased”?

    No, surveys asking “what is your party affiliation” or “place yourself on this conservative-to-liberal scale” etc.

    Do you deny that the results for academics deviate from the population at large in a statistically significant way? It’s a simple question.

  26. #26 Scott Reese
    October 12, 2006

    Coin,
    Typically judicial proceedings try to be confidential. I haven’t seen any that have made it into the media and I would suspect Columbia tries to keep it that way.

    David,
    I don’t doubt that you have the faculties to present evidence on a topic if you so choose to do so. What I have a doubt about is the notion that universities are inherently bastions of liberal politics. There are some that I would not be suprised to find have a high percentage of democratic leaning faculty, I’ve even been to some. However, the notion that all universities, or even a majority of universities, are composed of faculty that are mostly democrat or liberal is a statement that I cannot accept without some evidence. And I would like to see it in proportion to the political stance of the population. It would especially be meaningful if a particular university was compared to the the local population, rather than at a national level, though this detailed of an analysis may be hard to find (assuming its been done).

    As an example, I have worked at Brown University and I am quite confident that the vast majority of their student body and faculty are liberally minded souls, but it wouldn’t be out of place in a city like Providence where democrats are the dominant political party of the state. On the other hand, I am at a southern university where the majority of people in the surrounding towns are seriously conservative. Is this university a bastion for liberalism in a sea of conservatism? I would have to anecdotally say, no (I haven’t done a poll).

    So, David, I’m not calling you out and telling you your a dolt. However, before I go and start ‘admitting’ that universities have a liberal bias, I would like actual evidence that they do.

  27. #27 Scott Reese
    October 12, 2006

    David said:

    at a percentage substantially higher than the rest of the country which, to first order, is evenly split?

    Gotta be a bit careful here David. Data suggests that very high voter turnout usually results in Democrats being elected as the majority, suggesting that its not a 50-50 split in this country. That said its hard to get a high voter turn out, so one could probably say that ‘of likely voters’ its a 50-50 split. Thats the pollister’s language though and I’m not sure its a good indicator of social/political leanings.

  28. #28 David Heddle
    October 12, 2006

    Scott,

    Just to be clear, I don’t have a problem with it–for whatever reason it simply happens to be true. In general I suspect that most professors are professional and are capable of grading thier students fairly. Also, I don’t think that professors actually have all that much influence over their students’ political leanings.

    I always preferred, in humanities, professors with whom I disgreed. That was much more fun.

    As for references, I’d start with Paul Krugman who takes (as I said) a sensible approach: he acknowledges what is obvious and then tries to explain it.

  29. #29 Coin
    October 12, 2006

    No, surveys asking “what is your party affiliation” or “place yourself on this conservative-to-liberal scale” etc.

    So in other words, surveys not about bias.

    Do you deny that the results for academics deviate from the population at large in a statistically significant way? It’s a simple question.

    And not a particularly interesting one. Even assuming a clear and fair standard of how to define the set of “academics” or a meaningful way to measure political affilation (both of which I somewhat doubt we have), this is playing games with statistical trivia. Statistics can tell us frequencies; they can’t tell us the why behind the frequencies, or even what the frequencies mean. A statistically significant portion of african americans will at some point in their lives go to jail; this is not sufficient information to draw conclusions about the set of african americans.

    If you show that someone holds a political view, it doesn’t follow that personal political views impact their work, or that they are in a position to impact “the universities”. (Do the political views of a math professor, a history professor, and an admissions officer all have equal importance? Let’s hypothetically say that we had studies showing that newspaper reporters are politically left-leaning and newspaper editors are politically right-leaning. What would this tell us about “the media”?) Though the subject is so unbelievably slippery I doubt such a poll could easily be made fair, I would not be particularly surprised if there existed a study persuasively demonstrating that a statistically significant proportion of university employees hold views that can be fairly described as “liberal”. But if that were true, all that would tell us is that a statistically significant proportion of university employees hold views that can be fairly described as “liberal”. Nothing more. This is the kind of statistic that is easier for casting innuendo and aspersions than it is for concluding facts.

  30. #30 Oran Kelley
    October 12, 2006

    I think it’s a bit harsh and, frankly, mean-spirited to be calling for the sort of punitive measures being called for here.

    Bollinger does not have to prove his seriousness by seriously disrupting someone’s academic career, and he doesn’t have to impress the blogosphere, which is only looking for conversation fodder, to do his job properly.

    In fact, I’d say the less pleased the blogosphere is with the punishments he doles out, the better. Baying for exemplary punishment seems to me to be illiberal in the broader sense of that word.

    Let the punishment fit the crime, I say. Public and widespread disapprobation and some standard light punishment are plenty for the kids. The problem on university campuses is the culture, which allows a lot of this sort of thing to go on on a smaller and less public scale.

    Confronting that vigorously (but reasonably) is the challenge, not stringing up a few stupid kids who don’t have the sense to see where the lines in the road are.

  31. #31 Coin
    October 12, 2006

    Well, I mean, it seems to me that the most important thing they could do is get campus security aware of when contentious situations like this might arise, and have them more ready and able to act during events like this such that the next time someone jumps up on a stage with a banner, it leads to them promptly being kicked out of the building and the event continuing, rather than leading to a quiet riot breaking out.

    The most important thing here is to prevent this kind of incident in future. Though this is a goal that is served by Columbia punishing the students, this isn’t something that’s served much by more intense punishments for the people who did it this time– in fact, if the punishment is too harsh it may even be counterproductive, since the harsher the punishment the more the people with the banner look like martyrs to their allies.

    In the weird calculus of activism, history is written by the losers and the most powerful tool you can give a partisan, regardless of what kind of partisan they are, is to do something that makes them seem repressed. Thus the Minutemen, a group that literally exists to impose will on others, were massively helped by this group that tried to disrupt their talk– because it lets them appear as valiant oppressed people and gives large sections of the blogosphere an opportunity to rally behind the Minutemen without actually having to take a stand for the Minutemen and their principles themselves. Meanwhile on the students’ side, as soon as Columbia gets around to punishing them, I guarantee you it will be a massive boon to them– because suddenly the spots in the “OPPRESSED” and “OPPRESSOR” chairs will switch, and the students will be able to run around going oh look at poor little old me, I got expelled just for holding up a banner, our cause faces great hindrances but will persevere… it’s all crocodile tears, but crocodile tears make for great PR.

  32. #32 Ed Brayton
    October 12, 2006

    Some people here seem to be having trouble with the notion that college campuses tend to be hostile to conservative opinion. And while I find many statements to that effect to be overly broad attacks on liberalism itself (see my previous criticism of David Horowitz in this regard), it’s still true that situations like that at Columbia last week are routine when it comes to conservatives speaking on college campuses. It’s not at all unusual to see similar actions taken by leftist groups at colleges around the country to shut up speakers they don’t like. It’s happened many times to Ward Connerly (an anti-affirmative action leader from California), John Yoo, Ann Coulter, Horowitz himself and many others. And while I happen to think that there is a hell of a lot to criticize in the views of most of those people (and I do so often), I think it’s reprehensible for anyone to violate their rights or those of others who want to hear them speak.

    And whether we want to admit it or not, this rarely happens to left wing speakers at most schools. Now, I don’t believe for a moment that this is because they wouldn’t like to. Put Horowitz in charge of universities and the purges of liberal thought would be swift and sure, Yoo would be more than happy to write a memo supporting such purges if Bush claimed it was in the interests of national security, and Coulter would be mocking the left about how whiny they were for complaining about it. But the very fact that such purges and attempts to shut down liberal thought would be wrong if they had the kind of power is why it’s also wrong when the left does it.

  33. #33 Goumindong
    October 13, 2006

    However, challenging speech is ineffectual if you do not do it at the point which it enters the common discourse. The groups could have organized a seperate event to speak out, but it would not have done anything but preach to the choir.

    The protest could have gone better, and the audience ought to have been silent. However, the decision to end the event was made by the speaker and not by the students. There was no initial violence perpetrated by the protesters. The event could have gone on, had the organizers wished it to.

    If you are not allowed to challenge speech when it enters the public discourse, then you might as well not be allowed to challenge speech at all.

  34. #34 Andrew McClure
    October 13, 2006

    However, challenging speech is ineffectual if you do not do it at the point which it enters the common discourse. The groups could have organized a seperate event to speak out, but it would not have done anything but preach to the choir.

    They could have stood outside the event and handed out flyers or pamphlets to people going in, or stood there holding signs as people went in. Either of these things could have been done without disrupting or obstructing the presentation in any way.

    This might not be okay under whatever rules Columbia University has set up for distributing literature, of course, but neither was what they chose to do okay under Columbia University’s rules. So if they were going to do something to get themselves in trouble, they might as well have gone with the one that makes Columbia seem like the assholes. Instead they went with the option that made themselves seem like the assholes.

    There’s a pretty wide range of established ways of making oneself heard while still firmly coming across as passive and pacifist.

  35. #35 Gretchen
    October 13, 2006

    I think it’s clear that a number of people here have not seen the movie PCU.

  36. #36 Scott Reese
    October 13, 2006

    I have to agree with the original premise of this discussion; what the protesters did to disrupt this speaking engagement is absolutely wrong. Any university that does not take action to prevent such suppression of speech is doing a disservice to higher education and to its students. I can think of one justification for preventing such speakers from coming (I don’t buy into it, but I can see it as an alternative viewpoint); higher education is about learning. Many of the speakers that Ed mentions as having been shut down don’t just make opinionated statements, they say a lot of things that are patently incorrect and lie about it. The university might have a legitimate argument in limiting such speakers. That said, it would have to be a university decision, not a student decision and as I said earlier, I don’t think its a good way to go.

    In truth, the protesters should have found a different way to correct any perceived errancy in the speaker’s talk. Either a follow up talk that explicitly dealt with perceived problems, or a pamphlet, or a counter-rally. I would prefer the first of these, having a learned individual sit in on the first talk and then discuss any points that were found inaccurate or inconsistent in a follow-up talk, but thats just my preference.

    What I still do not buy into is that universities are bastions of liberalism throughout the country. What David linked to yesterday indicated ‘elite universities,’ but I’m not sure exactly how many that is and I know a lot of them that are probably on that list happen to be in liberal sections of the country. The ability of a liberal group to shut down a conservative speaker says more about the liberal group than about the university. Many a conservative (including the idiot that started this current discussion) have come to this campus and talked without disruption.

    Could universities be bastions of liberalism? Certainly, and the commentary that David linked to yesterday gives several good reasons why it might be likely (it certainly hit on my personal points), but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are. And my experience over the years suggests that many universities don’t even have a liberal majority, so painting all universities as having a liberal bias is absurd. Also suggesting that universities have failed conservative speakers because they let those ‘liberal groups’ get away with suppression is naive. Universities don’t haul out the security for every speaker that comes to town. When problems arise, they are dealt with, but in a university setting that does not mean suspension/expulsion/or jail time. Usually it means a trip to the judiciary group (student, faculty, or combined) and some internal penal process that provides a learning experience rather than a strictly putative experience.

  37. #37 Raging Bee
    October 13, 2006

    Dave H.: Before you accuse others of attacking strawmen and otherwise going off the deep end, let me remind you that you were the one tossing off inflammatory accusations with no evidence, or even specific allegations. Here’s an example of your own words:

    Universities themselves are more likely to be suppressors of free speech, often in the rhetoric of the false people’s right not to be offended. The increased focus on “diversity” has also contributed to these attacks on free speech…While that organization is mostly concerned with protecting those persecuted for conservative beliefs, they are still standing up for free speech.

    Please provide specific examples of “suppression of free speech,” “attacks on free speech,” and “persecution” of students for conservative views. If you cannot provide such evidence, then you have no case.

  38. #38 Ed Brayton
    October 13, 2006

    Goumindong wrote:

    The protest could have gone better, and the audience ought to have been silent. However, the decision to end the event was made by the speaker and not by the students. There was no initial violence perpetrated by the protesters. The event could have gone on, had the organizers wished it to.

    Sure, if they had arrested all of the people in the hall who were trying to shout down the speaker. That’s called the heckler’s veto and the only way to avoid it is by not allowing those who exercise to be anywhere near the speaker – in other words, arresting them. Then the speech could have continued. This is a lot like arguing, “Hey, he made the choice” while you had a gun to his head.

  39. #39 Ed Brayton
    October 13, 2006

    And for the record, FIRE is not “mostly concerned with protecting those persecuted for conservative beliefs.” They are concerned with all attempts in academia to silence those speaking out for their beliefs. And they’ve gone after Horowitz for his attacks on the rights of liberals just as hard as they’ve gone after leftists on campus for their attempts to silence conservatives. They’ve defended even people like the Wisconsin professor who says that 9/11 was perpetrated by our own government. They are consistent in their principled opposition to silencing the views of others. But the reality is that, in much of the academic world, it happens to be that most such attacks on free speech tend to come from the left and be aimed at the right. Hence, the ubiquitous campus speech codes, which have often been used as a weapon against conservative speech. Hence also the very common attempts to shut down speeches by conservative speakers on campus (the Columbia incident was just the latest example of a process that has become pretty much routine around the country). You just don’t see speeches by Noam Chomsky or Angela Davis being disrupted and shut down on college campuses (and if you did, I would be saying exactly what I’m saying now, that any attempts to disrupt the free speech rights of others is reprehensible and ought to be punished).

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