Northwestern Student Body Freezes Funds for College Republicans Due to Posters for Conservative Speaker

Northwestern University has long been a school hostile to free speech. My alma mater was ranked 197 out of 203 universities for free speech in a major survey by FIRE. (Fortunately, my other alma mater, the University of Chicago, was ranked number one for free speech). This month showed why Northwestern developed a reputation for speech intolerance and a lack of ideological diversity. Northwestern University’s Associated Student Government suspended the funding for the College Republicans due to objections to posters for an event featuring writer and critical race theory critic James Lindsay. The justification was a poster featuring a skull and crossbones, an objection that seemed more of a pretense than a principle. This move reportedly came after Lindsay’s speech was the subject of protests on campus.According to the Daily Northwestern, one of the posters displayed a skull and crossbones that was superimposed over the LGBT Pride flag. ASG co-president, Molly Whalen, seemed disappointed that the group did not have the power to ban Lindsay but took solace from the fact that they could deny the Republicans any funding:

“We can’t prevent a speaker from coming to campus as student government. That’s done by administration. We focused on the part that we could control, which is student group conduct and student group finances.”

It is doubtful that other groups from the College Democrats to Black Lives Matter to pro-choice groups would be sanctioned for using the common symbol to express their opposition to the MAGA movement or racism or pro-life positions.

I do not like the imagery and I expect that I do not agree with some of Lindsey’s views. However, the action taken by the board was legitimately called out by the writer as an attack on his free speech.

In a statement before the event, Northwestern University spokesman Jon Yates said that although “the speaker’s views do not align with Northwestern’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, they are protected by free speech and free expression.” However, the school needs to do more. Student groups should not be able to engage in content-based censorship or sanctions against such groups. Every university should have failsafe rules allowing for corrective action to prevent such denial of free speech principles.

Northwestern has a history of declaring support for academic freedom and free speech while refusing to take action to protect them.

Students previously succeeded in cancelling a speech by former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Student Zachery Novicoff embodied the rising intolerance to free speech on campus. He is quoted as saying “There’s a limitation to free speech. That ends at overtly racist old white dudes.”

I previously criticized former Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro for his lack of support for free speech on campus. Schapiro denounced what he called “absolute” free speech positions and endorsed speech sanctions, including treating speech as a form of assault.

During his tenure, the university often seemed a mere pedestrian to mob action taken against dissenting voices. For example, we previously discussed a Sociology 201 class by Professor Beth Redbird that examined “inequality in American society with an emphasis on race, class and gender.”  To that end, Redbird invited both an undocumented person and a spokesperson for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  It is the type of balance that is now considered verboten on campuses.

Members of MEChA de Northwestern, Black Lives Matter NU, the Immigrant Justice Project, the Asian Pacific American Coalition, NU Queer Trans Intersex People of Color and Rainbow Alliance organized to stop other students from hearing from the ICE representative.  However, they could not have succeeded without the help of Northwestern administrators (including  Dean of Students Todd Adams).  The protesters were screaming “F**k ICE” outside of the hall.  Adams and the other administrators then said that the protesters screaming profanities would be allowed into the class if they promised not to disrupt the class.  Really?  They were screaming profanities and seeking to stop the class but would just sit nicely as the speaker answered questions?

Of course, that did not happen. As soon as the protesters were allowed into the classroom, they prevented the ICE representative from speaking.  The ICE official eventually left and Redbird canceled the class to discuss the issue with the protesters that just prevented her students from hearing an opposing view.

The comments of the Northwestern students were predictable after being told by people like Schapiro that some offensive speech should be treated as a form of assault.  SESP sophomore April Navarro rejected that faculty should be allowed to invite such speakers to their classrooms for a “good, nice conversation with ICE.” She insisted such speakers needed to be silenced because they “terrorize communities” and profit from detainee labor. Here is the face of the new generation of censors being shaped by speech-intolerant academics like Schapiro:

“We’re not interested in having those types of conversations that would be like, ‘Oh, let’s listen to their side of it’ because that’s making them passive rule-followers rather than active proponents of violence. We’re not engaging in those kinds of things; it legitimizes ICE’s violence, it makes Northwestern complicit in this. There’s an unequal power balance that happens when you deal with state apparatuses.”

Last year, the Northwestern study body banned press from meetings to protect students from the harm of media coverage.

The Northwestern journalism faculty is little better.  Steven Thrasher, the Daniel H. Renberg Chair of social justice in reporting at Northwestern, who trashed a reporter who waited for the facts before reporting on a police shooting.

Of course, it is not just conservative speakers that the students want to ban. In 2021, they called for the removal of the President of the Board of Trustees. Despite being a major donor and supporter of the school, J. Landis Martin was denounced as a Republican who donated money to former President Donald Trump.

I was hoping that Schapiro’s departure would bring a renewed commitment to free speech at Northwestern. I am still hopeful that we will see greater adherence to free speech principles by President Michael Schill than his predecessor. I have been told by friends that Schill has such a personal commitment to free speech. However, the university will have to do more than be a pearl-clutching pedestrian when confronted by such attacks on a free speech.




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