University of Oregon President Michael Schill probably thought that he would be the least likely university president to find himself silenced by the raising anti-speech protests by students. After all, Schill himself has been denounced as part of the anti-free speech trend after he supported the university’s punishment of a law professor for wearing an allegedly offensive Halloween costume at her own party off campus. However, Schill was unable to give his annual state of the university speech after students took over the event and denounced him a “CEO” of a “business firm.”
We previously discussed the case of law professor Nancy Shurtz who was found to have committed “discriminatory harassment” against students by wearing a custom of a black scientist in her own home at a party attending voluntarily by some students.
Much like the recent incident at Berkeley where a professor struggled to tell students taking over his class that he was himself a protester, Schill clearly did not believe that he would ever be considered one of “them” by protesters. Schill recently said that he would bar the Immigration and Customs Enforcement from campus without a warrant but the students still demanded that he “denounce” the INS and immigration policies. Students called for everyone “to take a stand against the fascism at University of Oregon” and denounced “the entire systems of oppression which exist within the halls of our school.”
The group also accused Schill of having an “ignorantly happy-go-lucky attitude” while attempting to “suppress [UO] students and to create a wage/class gap between the haves and havenots.”
The Daily Emerald broke the story of the protest against “fascism and neo-Nazis.” Schill was hoping to highlight a $50 million gift that he hoped to use, among other things, to fund a new Black Cultural Center.
Charlie Landeros led the protest against “CEO Schill” with a bullhorn and insisted that , “Over the summer there has been a huge proliferation of neo-Nazi propaganda plastered all over campus. We’re here to stand against that.” In other words, stand against the right of opposing views (which are now collectively treated as Nazi propaganda) to be heard on campus by silencing even the university president from speaking without their permission. Landeros, a fourth-year planning public policy and management student, also railed against oppression generally, indigenous rights, and tuition increases.
He added: “Our demands will be heard, we will be heard, we are the students, we will not be ignored. Expect resistance to anyone who opposes us.”
One would have hoped that all students and faculty would join together in denouncing the denial of free speech by these students. However the vice president of the Faculty Senate, Bill Harbaugh, blamed not the protesters by Schill and said that the president should not have left and should have “let them say their peace and waited them out.” He added that “instead of promoting free speech, the administration hurt free speech.” Really? The students had taken over the event and refused to yield or listen. How long are faculty and students expected to sit as protesters chant insulting and repetitive slogans? More importantly, why should the school reward students in blocking events or speeches by turning over the program to them. The resolution is obvious but not easy. Students must be told that disrupting classes or speakers will result in their suspension and repeated violations will result in their expulsion. Protests are a valuable part of the dialogue and exchanges of campus. However, those protests cannot take the form of silencing others at a place of higher education.
Notably, in his prerecorded speech, Schill lamented that “in other instances and at other universities, students seek to disinvite or shout-down speakers they don’t agree with. Faculty who ask probing questions are sometimes vilified as sexist or racist, creating a chilling effect on campus speech.” He can now include his own university.