Conservative commentator Lucian Wintrich was arrested recently after he grabbed a protester who stole his speech notes during an event at the University of Connecticut. The video however shows Wintrich trying to stop a woman who acted to prevent him from speaking and grabbed his notes. That led to many asking why the woman was not arrested. Now she has been identified and it is worse than thought. Her name is Catherine Gregory and she is associate director of career services and advising at Quinebaug Valley Community College. It is particularly disturbing to see someone associated with an institution of high education acting to silence opposing speakers and actually stealing material. Update: the charges against Wintrich have been dropped and Gregory has turned herself in for charges based on her outrageous conduct.
Gregory’s conduct was reprehensible and showed the same contempt for free speech that we have discussed as part of a rising intolerance on our campuses. We have been discussing how faculty around the country are supporting the abandonment of free speech principles to bar speakers and speech with which they disagree. The most extreme form of this rejection of classical liberal values is the antifa movement. We have seen faculty physically attack speakers or destroy messages that they oppose. We have also seen faculty physically attacked and intimidated. In some of these incidents, other faculty have supported students in shutting down speakers or fellow academics (here and here).
In this case, Gregory is not satisfied with just trying to prevent others from hearing views with which she disagrees but then actually steals material being used by the speaker. She clearly considers herself as justified to stop others from speaking by simply declaring their views to be unacceptable and her views as being correct. Her actions led to a virtual riot at the event and Quinebaug Valley Community College has now, has The Norwich Bulletin reported, increased security because of death threats directed toward teacher.
Here is the video of the encounter:
Wintrich who was speaking on the topic “It’s OK to Be White,” was arrested but not Gregory. He is now calling for her arrest and The Hartford Courant has blasted Gregory in an editorial as unacceptable to hold a position with an educational institution; Carlee Drummer, president of Quinebaug Valley Community College, issued a statement that such conduct would not be addressed by the college because “the employee attended the event as a private citizen.”
The issue of academic freedom and free speech looms large in such controversies. As we have previously discussed (including the recent controversies involving an Oregon professor and a Drexel professor), there remains an uncertain line in what language is protected for teachers in their private lives. The incident also raises what some faculty have complained is a double or at least uncertain standard. We have previously discussed controversies at the University of California and Boston University, where there have been criticism of a double standard, even in the face of criminal conduct. There were also such incident at the University of London involving Bahar Mustafa as well as one involving a University of Pennsylvania professor.
The controversy over Gregory is more difficult because it involves conduct and a possible criminal charge. If she is not charged, the position of the college is well based even though Gregory is acting to silence others at other schools. That can not only undermine the faith of conservatives at her college, but the involvement of a college official in disrupting another school is a serious problem for the institution. We have previously discussed the issue of when it is appropriate to punishment people for conduct outside of the work place. We have followed cases where people have been fired after boorish or insulting conduct once their names and employers are made known. (here and here and here and here).
Gregory’s lawyer, Jon Schoenhorn, told Inside Higher Education his client was justified in her actions because Wintrich’s views constitute “hate speech” and his actions “are beyond the First Amendment” in their insults of black and Latino and other students. That is certainly a convenient approach since it gives your client license to stop anyone that she considers to be a hateful speaker.
Schoenhorn has an equally creative argument to justify Gregory’s theft. He insisted that his client was merely trying in a “mild and measured way” to calm the situation. However, she was the one causing the commotion, not calming the situation. Schoenhorn added “What Ms. Gregory did was the equivalent of unplugging a microphone. It was not to stop a speech.” Hmmm, I think turning of a microphone is a way to stop a speech. Moreover, what was Gregory’s intention in stealing the speech if not to stop it.
Update: Now that Gregory will be criminally charged, the question is whether a conviction would lead to new review of her status, particularly if the crime stemmed from disrupting an academic event.
Unfortunately, college professor and administrators like Gregory has taught students that they do not have to respect the free speech rights of others under the same twisted logic. In a letter to the editor in The Daily Campus, student Emily Steck denounced the university for allowing the speech and supported Gregory’s disgraceful conduct:
“When your students were faced with the words of a man intending to incite anger, deny the reality of oppression and ultimately physically assault someone over A PIECE OF PAPER you were not there. What about this event made your administration believe that freedom of speech should be prioritized over hate speech?”
Steck’s inability to understand why freedom of speech would ever be “prioritized over hate speech” is a chilling example of the new legitimacy given intolerance and speech controls on our campuses. There is not a hint of concern that Gregory’s approach is a slippery slope that leads to the silencing of any voices that the majority deems “hateful.” Steck is part of a new generation of censors who have no understanding of the foundation of our society in core free speech principles.