We have previously discussed the trend of students and faculty preventing speakers from being heard on campus without any disciplinary action taken by universities. The latest example occur at Georgetown University Law School where students and faculty opposed an invitation of Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan to speak on campus. It was a wonderful opportunity for an exchange of views but both students and faculty wanted opposing views to be silenced. When the school went forward with the event, protesters immediately stopped the event. CREDO Action – the advocacy arm of the progressive nonprofit group CREDO — has admitted that Georgetown students participated in the action and videotapes clearly show those responsible. However, Georgetown would not commit to taking disciplinary action despite repeated inquiries.
These students claim the right to prevent other students from participating in classes or events — a similar complaint raised against the recent protests against James Comey at Howard University as well as schools like William & Mary. For years, I have written about the loss of free speech protections and why universities must take action in such disruptions of classrooms like a recent incident at Northwestern University. This violates a core defining value of our academic institutions and such students should be suspended for such conduct. There is a difference between voicing your views and preventing others from speaking, particularly inside of a classroom. When you claim the right to prevent others from hearing opposing views or speakers, you are at odds with the academic mission of these universities.
This danger was evident when McAleenan was interrupted almost immediately after he rose to speak. Others in the room objected that they wanted to hear from him, but the protesters would not allow anyone to hear views that they disagreed with. McAleenan was eventually forced to leave. The department, which published the secretary’s prepared remarks, expressed regret that the students prevented a meaningful exchange.
I do not buy the convenient argument that silencing others is a form of free speech. I have previously discussed how Antifa and other college protesters are increasingly denouncing free speech and the foundations for liberal democracies. Some protesters reject classic liberalism and the belief in free speech as part of the oppression on campus. The movement threatens both academic freedom and free speech — a threat that is growing due to the failure of administrators and faculty to remain true to core academic principles. Dartmouth Professor Mark Bray, the author of a book entitled “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook” is one of the chief enablers of these protesters. Bray speaks positively of the effort to supplant traditional views of free speech: “At the heart of the anti-fascist outlook is a rejection of the classical liberal phrase that says I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” He defines anti-fascists as “illiberal” who reject the notion that far right views deserve to “coexist” with opposing views.
The law school was fully aware of the planned protests. Indeed, some of its own faculty sought to prevent the opposing views to be heard by their colleagues and students. Georgetown tells students that free speech will be protected and that students “may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe.” Well, these students ignored that principle and fragrantly violated free speech. What will the university now do about it?