UCLA has departed from a disturbing trend toward speech censorship on campuses and refused to yield to demands to shutdown a pro-Palestinian conference, including demands from Congressman Brad Sherman and the Los Angeles City Council. In demanding the action, both Sherman and the city council have shown again a rising anti-free speech trend coming from the left — similar to the devastating rollback in Europe.
There is also a claim that the flyer used for the conference is threatening, including the use of a kite (which has been used by some to carry incendiary devices into Israel). Others objected to “UCLA” being featured so prominently, but that was the location of the conference.
Nearly 36,000 people signed a petition to cancel the event or “be held accountable.” Sherman himself wrote a letter that demanded the closure of the event because of the views of those attending the conference and the “anti-Semitic rhetoric on social media.” The university was less tolerant of SJP’s advertising for the event, however.
The university did issue an Oct. 31 cease-and-desist letter to to demand the removal of UCLA’s name without authorization and to stop using the bear, which is the mascot of the university. The letter is highly dubious on a legal basis to demand such changes. However, the organizers did agree to remove “UCLA” from the poster and other changes.
The Los Angeles City Council resolution and intervention of Sherman (right) raises the very dangers that has resulted in the decimation of free speech in Europe, where liberal politicians and activists have led the effort to criminalize an ever-expanding range of speech.
Colleges and universities are supposed to be places where divergent ideas are debated, including views that may disturb or discomfort students. That intellectual diversity is the life’s blood of academia. I previously praised the position of my alma mater, The University of Chicago, in refusing to limit free speech with the creation of safe spaces and speech codes. Indeed, the courageous position of UChicago stood in sharp contrast to the troubling position of my other alma mater, Northwestern University (which has only grown more hostile to both free speech and academic freedom).
This is an important moment for UCLA and it was the right, even if difficult, decision for the university to make. If the United States will remain the bulwark of free speech, we need to be vigilant in challenging those who would erode protections, including politicians who see such limits as a popular cause.