Universities Fuel Growing Clash Between Fascism and Free Speech

by | May 4, 2017 | Culture, Education, Peak Absurdity, Politics, Shawn | 0 comments

 
An unlikely player is eroding one of America’s crowning contributions to human freedom. In a perverse role reversal, American universities are laying the ground work to alter the meaning of the First Amendment and the protections it has afforded free speech and inquiry for generations. The irony that the institutions thought to symbolize human learning and exploration should be leading the movement to control and restrict those pursuits seems lost on the activists and academics pushing that direction.
 

Recent violent and threatening incidents that prevented conservative or anti-leftist or simply provocatively intellectual figures from speaking at Middlebury University, Berkeley, UCLA and elsewhere have highlighted growing opposition to speech Leftist don’t want to hear. It’s not a new phenomenon. Researcher Stanley Kurtz reminds that protests to silence conservative speakers reach back to disrupting figures from the Reagan administration in the 80s, and have continued intermittently for speakers identified with Israel or the second Bush administration.

 

What’s changed is that the frequency and variety of incidents of mob censorship seem to be accelerating, students and activists are becoming more brazen and unyielding in their demands, they are taking their mission from the campus out to the streets, and university faculties and administrators are increasingly siding with the students and providing intellectual cover for the suppression of unwelcome ideas.
 
Now, we have unruly mobs not only blocking events on campus, but violently disrupting rallies supporting Trump on public streets. Berkeley’s paper, the Daily Californian publishes an essay by unidentified members of antifa–anti-fascist as they style themselves–asserting that to protect free speech and community safety, they will don masks and “militantly” disrupt speech they oppose.
 
We have the student government of Middlebury College–where hooligans recently chased off campus the eminent sociologist and author Charles Murray and injured the neck of the liberal professor who dared to accompany him—adopt an extraordinary resolution rejecting punishment for the disruptors. The audacious document declares that protest is a legitimate avenue not only to be heard, but to “compel decisive actions” by institutions. (Nice of them to let us know who is in charge). It also rejects resort to law enforcement because “arrest and criminal charges are associated with police violence and the carceral [sic] state,” smack of “the new Jim Crow,” stigmatize the protesters, and chill their future opportunities.
 
If this strikes you as lunacy, don’t look for backup from the “adults” running the university. Ulrich Baer, a professor and dean at New York University recently penned an essay in the New York Times “What the Snowflakes Get Right About Free Speech” siding with the students: True “free speech” should be understood to protect marginalized and victimized segments of society from dehumanizing and oppressive ideas of more powerful segments.
 
This creeping unofficial amending of the First Amendment is not going unchallenged. Legal Rights organizations like the Foundation For Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) have represented students and won many important cases against abusive campus actions. But, the victories can be Pyrrhic as universities are some of the wealthiest institutions in society. Litigation can drag on for years, recoveries are usually modest in amount, and school coffers barely feel a sting. Universities are either more fearful of, or likely more ideologically aligned with the leftist militants on campus than they are about an occasional legal setback.
 
Recognizing this dynamic, some commentators propose congressional action to reclaim liberty on campus. Legislation could change universities’ cost benefit analysis either by withholding federal funds from institutions that fail to protect free speech on campus, and allow mob veto to disrupt the rights of others, or awarding much higher levels of damages to students and faculty whose rights are trampled.
 
The debate is heating up. It’s not as if Congress has proposed a Constitutional Convention or study committee to reconsider the meaning of the First Amendment. But, leading harbingers of culture and education certainly have. The Convention is underway and the future of freedom is at stake.