I have previously written about the curtailment of free speech and the refusal of both faculty and students to allow opposing views to be heard on campuses, including the recent move by students to keep both students and faculty from hearing remarks (and have a dialogue with) former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The latest such denial of free speech occurred at the State University of New York at Binghamton where protesters stopped others from listening to Arthur Laffer. Laffer is sometimes called the “father of supply-side economics” and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in June. The videotape shows how the “heckler’s veto” has taken over our campuses — the same week that a new poll shows most Republican students are uncomfortable in expressing their views on campuses.
The video shows screaming protesters who would not let others hear from Laffer despite the incredible opportunity to hear and dialogue with one of the most notable economists in the country.
One protester is shown screaming “we are tired of being oppressed and we are tired of getting murdered by this administration.” That is treated as a license to silence those with opposing views. The question is whether SUNY will take disciplinary actions against those who stopped this event.
Such 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. Likewise, the Homeland Security Secretary was prevented from speaking at Georgetown. 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.
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.
SUNY is just the latest example of how some views are no longer tolerated on our campuses. The result is a loss of the intellectual vitality and diversity that is so important to our academic mission.