We have been discussing the erosion of free speech on our campuses across the country through speech codes and increasingly violent protests. Conservative speakers are now routined denied the opportunity to speak on campuses by university officials who cite security concerns or by mob action preventing events from occurring. The latest example is Ann Coulter whose speech was cancelled at the last minute by the university even though she agreed to additional conditions set by officials. Coulter however pledges to show up to speak regardless of the decision. That could produce a confrontation with the university in its continued failure to protect free speech on its campus.
We have been discussing the rising intolerance and violence on college campuses, particularly against conservative speakers. (Here and here and here and here). Berkeley has been the focus of much concern over mob rule on our campuses as violent protesters have succeeded in silencing speakers. Both students and some faculty have maintained the position that they have a right to silence those with whom they disagree and even student newspapers have declared opposing speech to be outside of the protections of free speech. At another University of California campus, professors actually rallied around a professor who physically assaulted pro-life advocates and tore down their display.
Coulter has a legitimate grievance with Berkeley and, even if they disagree with her conservative views, both professors and students should be defending her right to speak and the right of others to hear her. A college Republican group invited Coulter to speak but university officials declared that her appearance on campus was too dangerous in light of past protests. That is yielding to the heckler’s veto. The university is rewarding the mob by barring any speakers with whom they may disagree.
In this case, Couter reportedly agreed to add conditions to “call their bluff.” The cancellation at this public university raises serious free speech issues. Coulter could however find herself threatened with arrest if the campus police deemed her to be a trespasser in a given area. That would itself be highly problematic given that fact that much of the campus is open to the public.
Berkeley was once the symbol of the fight for free speech. It is now increasingly viewed as the symbol of mob rule. Rather than maintain a free and open forum of ideas, Berkeley officials are cancelling any speakers who will not be tolerated by the most violent elements of its community. It teaches a chilling message to a generation that seems increasingly inclined to embrace censorship and speech regulations. Worse yet, it reaffirms the control of Berkeley by the lowest common element of the mob.