What can be done?
Although universities and colleges are supposed to be places where ideas are exchanged and challenged, they are easily the most reactionary institutions in modern American society. Confronting the established wisdom there is a career-ender. Free speech exists in theory but only within the narrowest of prescribed limits. Speakers who violate the politically correct canon are shouted down, demonized, and assaulted. Truly new ideas are anathema in the academy, at least in the humanities and social sciences.
Question identity politics, the cult of multiculturalism, or the evil inherent in white people and America, and your life in academia will be over before it begins.
“The cultural Marxism ideology that created identity politics in the first place now permeates the university far beyond the classroom,” opines Bruce Thornton, “and enables an intolerance for competing ideas, not to mention shutting down the ‘free play of the mind on all subjects’ that [English cultural critic] Matthew Arnold identified as the core mission of liberal education.”
And so the dominant illiberal ideology in higher education snuffs out its competition, marginalizing original thinking and combating intellectual diversity – and this weaponized intolerance spills over into the culture at large along the way. Free speech is a threat to the authoritarian glue that holds these taxpayer-supported warehouses of student indoctrination and conformity together, so it must be regulated. There is almost no life of the mind nowadays; there is the dictatorship of thought commissars. And woe to those who fail to toe the line.
“The thuggishness and violence of the Sixties demonstrations at their height exceeded what we see today,” Stanley Kurtz reflects. “Yet today’s chronic, pervasive, and steadily growing vise-grip of campus orthodoxy, punctuated and enforced by occasional shout-downs and meeting takeovers, is in its way more dangerous.”
There are plenty of indications that campus free speech is more besieged nowadays than it’s been in decades. Trigger warnings, safe spaces, and microaggressions signal a cultural sea-change. Anti-Israel shout-downs and disruptions have multiplied dramatically. These are no longer occasional embarrassing episodes but the fruit of a deliberate strategy devised by influential sectors of the campus left.Courage is rarely found in the academy nowadays, laments Adam Goldstein, a Justice Robert H. Jackson Legal Fellow at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
It is astonishing to see how few schools are willing to stand up and actually say, I’m going to follow that constitutional line and say that disruption is where I’m going to step in. Because a lot of schools want to take the position that if protest is speech then disruptive protest is also speech and that just isn’t the way the Constitution works.Even at schools that put forward at least a good-faith effort to protect free speech, there are student-staffed Thought Police battalions pressing for official censorship of ideas they don’t like.
Take the case of independent scholar Heather Mac Donald and her increasingly frequent run-ins on campus with the George Soros-funded storm-troopers of Black Lives Matter.
Mac Donald’s April 5 speech at UCLA was taken over by obnoxious Black Lives Matter demonstrators. College Republicans had invited her to give a “Blue Lives Matter” presentation, blue in this case being shorthand for the police. Mac Donald is Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor at City Journal. She is the author of books such as The War on Cops (2016) and Are Cops Racist? (2012).
She began to deliver a speech April 7 at Claremont McKenna College near Los Angeles after Black Lives Matter frightened most of her audience away. BLM had promised to “shut down” the event, baselessly assailing the speaker as an “anti-black fascist.” Mac Donald began webcasting the event but campus police whisked her away to safety after raucous disrupters began banging on windows. Mac Donald blamed an “exercise of brute totalitarian force” for the shut-down of her event.
Mac Donald is a fierce critic of BLM. After the event she blamed the movement and student demonstrators for inner-city violence. "What's happening, thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement, is that cops are backing off of proactive policing, leaving those law-abiding residents without any public order," she said.
Alluding to the Ferguson effect, Mac Donald said police are afraid to do their jobs because they’re verbally attacked and harassed when they pull cars over. "This is thanks to the false ideology that we're living through an epidemic of racially biased police shootings." Universities are "spewing out an ideology of racial victimhood."
This war on police comes from former President Obama and his agitation outfit Organizing for Action, former Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, Al Sharpton, DNC Chairman Tom Perez and his deputy, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), and the rest of the activist Left.
Nowadays police all over the country are increasingly reluctant, or in some cases outright unwilling, to perform their duties as law enforcement personnel. They know that government officials, eager to pander to loud, angry lynch mobs in the street, don't have their back. So cops are taking unnecessary chances, ignoring police safety protocols and giving dangerous suspects the benefit of the doubt.
In this unusual case, the school’s administration was angered that Mac Donald was silenced. College president Hiram E. Chodosh has promised to punish the disruptive students. Peter Uvin, vice president for academic affairs, denounced the angry mob.
What we face here is not an attempt to demonstrate, or to ask tough questions of our speaker, all of which are both protected and cherished on this campus, but rather to make it impossible for her to speak, for you to listen, and for all of us to debate.Activists even refused to allow student journalists to cover the speaking event.
“Protesters tried to prevent me from conducting interviews by pushing me, grabbing me, and blocking my camera. Several protesters followed me around for almost an hour and formed a wall around me,” a student reporter was quoted saying.
Three students at Claremont McKenna’s sister school, Pomona College, wrote an open letter to that college’s president, David Oxtoby, demanding he withdraw his stated commitment to free speech because, they said, it “has become a tool appropriated by hegemonic institutions.” They add that “truth” and “objectivity” are white-supremacist myths.
The letter writers – Dray Denson, Avery Jonas and Shanaya Stephenson – also demanded that student journalists at the Claremont Independent newspaper be thrown in the stockade for doing their jobs. The paper’s staff should be punished for their “continual perpetuation of hate speech, anti-Blackness, and intimidation toward students of marginalized backgrounds.”
Then there was the case of political scientist Charles Murray.
Violent disrupters shut down his talk March 2 at Middlebury College in Vermont. At the event, Allison Stanger, a 56-year-old Harvard-educated political scientist at Middlebury, was attacked and injured by an angry mob as she was exfiltrated with Murray from the hostile environment. “I didn’t see it happen, but someone grabbed Allison’s hair just as someone else shoved her from another direction, damaging muscles, tendons, and fascia in her neck,” according to Murray, the W.H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Stanger said she “feared for her life.”
Thuggish demonstrators who have never read his most famous book, The Bell Curve, and who likely lack the intellectual capacity to understand it, mindlessly denounced the opus – and him – as racist and said he shouldn’t be allowed to speak at the campus.
Murray is protested at more or less every student venue where he speaks. Later the same month Murray’s speech at Notre Dame on March 28 was protested. Left-wing graduate students signed an open letter filled with all the usual smears, denouncing Murray as a racist ignoramus. “Not only is his research shoddy and jejune, his arguments are profoundly racist and discriminatory,” they wrote.
Then there is the University of California at Berkeley, which is in a speech-suppressing league of its own. Violence against conservatives is nothing new at Berkeley. It is tolerated, and in some cases, even encouraged by local authorities. The local government is very slow to order police into action while conservatives are being beaten or otherwise having their civil rights violated. City and campus police often sit on the sidelines when Republicans get roughed up.
Left-wingers violently attacked Trump supporters at a UC Berkeley rally this past weekend. On April 15 Trump backers were hit by so-called “antifa,” or self-styled anti-fascists who use fascist methods.
Sticks, fireworks, smoke bombs, pepper spray, and rocks were thrown around during the melee. There were 21 arrests, including for suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, and 11 people were injured. Police, for the most part, did nothing.
The unrest came days after Berkeley College Republicans withdrew an April 12 speaking invitation for David Horowitz, because the college administration sabotaged it by placing burdensome, Kafkaesque restrictions on it. The university changed the time of the event to make it difficult for students to attend and insisted it be held at a venue half a mile off-campus. And at the last minute it informed hosts that they would have to cough up close to $6,000 for “security,” along with $2,000 to rent the room that was half a mile from campus.
While UC Berkeley and “universities like it discourage conservatives, they open their arms to racist organizations like Black Lives Matter and terrorist support groups like Students for Justice in Palestine, [along with] a range of radical organizations,” Horowitz wrote.
Left-wingers attacked Trump supporters at a pro-Trump rally in Berkeley on March 4. Ten arrests were reported.
There was the bloody riot Feb. 1 that prevented Milo Yiannopoulos from delivering a David Horowitz Freedom Center-sponsored speech demanding the end of “sanctuary campuses” that harbor illegal aliens. Milo’s address, which was canceled amid violent mob attacks, fire-setting, and wanton property destruction, had been scheduled to mark the launch of the Freedom Center’s #nosanctuarycampusforcriminals campaign.
“One thing we do know for sure: the Left is absolutely terrified of free speech and will do literally anything to shut it down,” Yiannopoulos said after being safely evacuated from the campus.
But at this late stage in the leftist transmogrification of American campus culture, can anything be done?
Bruce Thornton remains stubbornly optimistic. The “problem of leftists shutting down conservative speakers in order to reinforce their intolerance of opposing points of view,” could be fixed with a federal policy change.
[A] Department of Education ‘dear colleague’ letter [could be issued] informing college administrators that they will be held accountable if they do not use campus police to remove disruptive protestors and protect the audience and speaker’s Constitutional right to free speech, the heart and soul of a genuine college education.Thornton continues:
And if such behavior continues––or if the university imposes astronomical fees on the organizers, as UC Berkeley did to cancel the appearance of Freedom Center founder David Horowitz––the offending campus could be hit with an investigation by the DOE’s Division of Civil Rights, and the reduction or elimination of federal funds. That’s how Obama’s DOE back in 2011 set off the current plague of campus star-chambers persecuting alleged sexual offenders with unconstitutional investigations and hearings.In addition, Congress should approve legislation “revising sexual harassment law and tightening its overly vague language like ‘hostile’ and ‘intimidating.’” Title IX, which he calls “an open-ended invitation for any subjective, neurotic, or even psychopathic perception to turn disliked behavior into legally sanctioned ‘discrimination’ requiring investigation and prosecution,” also needs amending, he writes.
“These bad laws, and the politicized interpretations of them by politicized federal agencies, are the source of the ‘microaggression’ and ‘safe space’ nonsense now metastasizing throughout college campuses.”
Fed-up Americans could also stop donating to offending colleges and universities.
It’s worth a try at least.