We have been discussing the alarming rollback on free speech on United States campuses with the active or passive support of university and college administrators (with the exception of schools like University of Chicago). Students now treat free speech as itself a threat and seek to prevent other students from hearing from speakers with whom they disagree. The latest such example is at Claremont McKenna College where students succeeded in preventing other students from hearing from Heather MacDonald due to her pro-police views.
MacDonald is the author of the book The War on Cops and was faced with protesters blocking the doors to her speech. She said that she was forced to speak to a largely empty hall by live streaming because people were unable to come into the Atheneum. She said that the podium was even moved to prevent protesters from seeing her through the windows. Nevertheless, protesters pounded on the windows and screamed to drown out her words.
We had a similar situation when I recently debated John Yoo, who regularly draws protesters due to his key role in the “torture memos.” However, GW made clear that we believe in free speech and would not allow protesters to disrupt the event. Protesters were removed from the building and two protesters were later removed from the audience for interrupting Yoo. Protesters then yelled next to the windows to drown out Yoo. They were moved back from the windows to allow the debate to proceed unimpeded. The debate was able to occur in a civil and open forum.
In this case, protesters organized with the goal of stopping others from hearing from MacDonald with cites like “Shut Down Anti-Black Fascist Heather Mac Donald.” These protesters are the antithesis of the academic mission. They speak not to protest speakers but silence speech. It is the responsibility of the school to keep access to forums open and to prevent protesters from drowning out speakers by banging on the windows. I have no problem with protesters who are themselves exercising free speech. However, they have no right to prevent speech of others.