We have been following the regular disruption of events on college campuses by students and groups. The latest occurred at Tufts University where pro-abortion groups organized to interrupt a panel that was planned to discuss the moral issues surrounding abortion. These groups and students did not hide their role. The question is whether Tufts will take action to discipline those responsible for blocking the exercise of free speech.
According to The Tufts Daily, pro-abortion protesters organized by the Tufts University chapter of Planned Parenthood Generation Action were involved in stopping the panel from being heard in an event titled “Is Abortion Morally Justified in America?” The panel featured Boston College philosophy professor Gregory Fried and Harvard Law’s Stephen Sachs.
It was a familiar scene as the students took the front row and began to make noise to prevent others from hearing the speakers. One of the protesters used a noisemaker which “played continuous sounds of cars honking, dogs barking, doorbells ringing, wolves howling and crowds booing.”
The newspaper reported “The noise machine was turned off by the front-row protester at 5:54 p.m., but disruption continued. The officer’s requests to stop disruptions were ignored by shouts in the audience until a second officer arrived at 6:13 p.m. TUPD did not leave the venue until the end of the event.”
While the panel continued, the event was successfully interrupted and disrupted.
Protester and college sophomore Sanya Desai objected to the panel being held on racial grounds, saying white men should have no say in decisions relating to her “reproductive rights.” She added that “abortion rights are not something that are up for debate, or not something that should be talked about in a devil’s advocate type [of] way.”
In other words, students like Desai were insisting that everyone on campus must support abortion or remain silent in the latest embrace of enforced orthodoxy.
That is not news. What would be new is if Tufts did anything about it.
The University was given a dismal rating on free speech this year at 183 among universities and colleges.
Nevertheless, it has a full-throated defense of free speech:
“Freedom of expression and inquiry are fundamental to the academic enterprise. Without freedom of expression, community members cannot fully share their knowledge or test ideas on the anvil of open debate and criticism. Without freedom of inquiry, community members cannot search for new knowledge or challenge conventional wisdom.”
Those rules specifically include a statement barring any effort “to engage in specified forms of harassment, to threaten or obstruct a speaker who advances unwelcome ideas.”
Despite these rules, students have been told that stopping others from speaking is a form of free speech.
Faculty members have followed this sense of license to silence others. Former CUNY law dean Mary Lu Bilek even insisted that disrupting a speech on free speech was free speech.
After the infamous Rodríguez attack at Hunter College, Sociology professor Renee Overdyke shut down a pro-life display at the State University of New York at Albany and then allegedly resisted arrest.
A survey by Princetonians for Free Speech shows that roughly three-fourths of students believe that it is acceptable to shout down a speaker.
Those views did not spontaneously appear in the minds of these students. At one time, tolerance for free speech was the very touchstone of higher education and a common article of faith for students. These students are the product of years of being told that free speech is dangerous and harmful if left unregulated. From elementary school to college, they were taught that they did not have to be “triggered” by the speech of others.
In this instance, police had to be called to allow the panel to continue. The question is whether the university will act to show that the barring of the exercise of free speech will not be tolerated regardless of the underlying political viewpoints. There is a difference between protesting outside of an event and entering the event to prevent others from hearing opposing views.
In the past, I have taken the same position in favor of pro-abortion speakers. It is all about free speech and the ability of universities and colleges to offer forums for civil and free debate.
Universities must suspend students (or expel repeat offenders) if these free speech policies are anything but aspirational. Higher education rests on a foundation of free thought and free expression. The rapid decline of free speech on our campuses is due to a failure of administrators and faculty members to protect the diversity of viewpoints on our campuses.