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College Administrators Grapple With Free Speech Issues

Throughout the country, colleges have been swamped with incidents involving students and others vocally opposing the appearance of various speakers. This has usually taken the form of right-leaning speakers having their platform denied by hecklers or other aggressive activism on the part of student groups. However, in some cases it has been avowedly liberal administrators and staff themselves who have become the targets of anti-free speech activism.

 

This has befuddled a number of administrators, many of whom recall no precedent for the current level of tension and angst surrounding the right of speakers with challenging or unpopular views to be given space to address college campuses.

 

At Middlebury College, one such incident unfolded when Charles Murray, a liberal-leaning libertarian social scientist, attempted to give a speech in the college’s auditorium. The speech was emceed by Allison Stanger, one of the colleges most progressive and liberal professors with a long record of fighting for social justice causes. Still, the speech was shut down when a group of students declared that Mr. Murray was a racist, based on a small subsection of a book which he and a fellow social scientist had published over 25 years before.

 

Mr. Murray repeatedly tried to give his speech to the assembled audience but was heckled and shouted down with such vigor that Mrs. Stanger opted to move the speaker into a closed room, from which he broadcast the speech over a closed circuit television system.

 

But things came to a head when, upon leaving through a back door, a mob descended on Murray and Stanger, who was accompanying him to his car. In the ensuing melee, Mrs. Stanger was struck so violently that she required hospitalization and is currently in neck brace. Mr. Murray was unharmed.

 

Such is the level of hysteria that even liberal speakers are causing on today’s campuses.

A Report Card for Trump’s Education Plan

United States President Donald Trump has taken considerable flack from just about every direction during his first 100 days in office, but not much has been mentioned with regard to public education.

 

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos did not start off on the right foot as she brought on more political opposition than any other cabinet member appointed by Trump. Since then, critics have mentioned that DeVos is set to “destroy” American public education. This, of course, can be easily considered hyperbole; nonetheless, national news broadcaster Univision recently published a sort of report card on what the Secretary really has planned for her term.

 

Although DeVos is one of the most powerful advocates of vouchers to allow students to enroll in private schools at a cost to taxpayers, there is not much she can do to advance this intention.

 

DeVos has said she will not impose voucher programs because she cannot technically do so; however, she keeps talking about the value of religious education, and this is something that makes some people nervous.

 

A broader impact could come from policies pushed by a lobby group associated with DeVos: a tax credit program for families to contribute towards private school scholarships for their children. This approach is already practiced in 17 states, and DeVos could push towards greater adoption at the cost of making political enemies not just for herself but also for Trump.

 

The White House does not seem to worry about education or about DeVos, and there really should not be many reasons to worry anyway; after all, prior policies from the Obama administration gave more power to individual states than to the Department of Education.

 

By the standards of the Bush administration, Trump would get an F in education, but times and policy have changed. The less the White House gets involved in education, the easier it would be for states to determine what should be done. In the end, Trump gets a C.

 

Campus Skirmishes Raise Questions About Colleges’ Role in Ensuring Speech

Over the last two years, various incidents have taken place at American universities that have brought to the forefront a number of serious questions about the scope and limitation of freedom of speech on the nation’s campuses. From Berkeley to the University of Missouri, students, faculty and outside speakers have tangled, at times violently, over who should be permitted a public venue and what they should be allowed to say.

 

While this may seem little more than fodder for amusing op-eds to the great mass of Americans, it has far-reaching consequences. Few things have been more important to the creation of modern society than freedom of academic inquiry. In fact, it is often precisely the suppression of ideas that is pointed to as the chief reason that the Dark Ages persisted for so long. Figures like Galileo and even Leonardo Da Vinci once faced the possibility of burning at the stake for countervening the teachings of the Church. Some fear that our modern society has gotten to the point where political correctness is taking on some of the worst characteristics of the Catholic Church of old.

 

But on a more practical level, the administrators grappling with these issues face immediate and stark consequences. The University of Missouri is an example of campus unrest causing real damage. In 2016, Melissa Click, a professor there, was fired over controversial speech. The following semester, applications dropped by nearly 30 percent.

 

In Berkeley, Nicholas Dirks, the chancellor, had attempted to give controversial speaker Ann Coulter a venue in which to address the campus. His plan called for up to 100 extra police officers, a number that would have cost the university tens of thousands of dollars for a speech lasting just a few hours. Ms. Coulter ultimately rejected the offer and the university is currently being sued by a student group.

 

 

Universities Struggle to Strike Perfect Balance on Free Speech

In a recent op-ed, Nicholas Dirks, Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, reveals the extreme difficulty he and his peers in the American University system face when dealing when problems surrounding the freedom of controversial speakers to address their campuses.

 

The most recent event to embattle Berkeley, often credited as the birthplace of the so-called Free Speech Movement of the 1960s, was the planned speech by right wing author Ann Coulter. Ms. Coulter was invited at the behest of the Berkeley student group Berkeley College Republicans, but her planned speech almost immediately ran into trouble.

 

First, the University couldn’t grant her access to the usual venues that are used to accommodate speakers on the campus. Mr. Dirks cited security threats as the primary reason for denying Ms. Coulter the ability to speak in one of the normal venues. Next, the University extended her an invitation to speak in the venue of her choice but at a time when fewer students would be around. This offer was rejected by Ms. Coulter, saying that scheduling her at times when students will not be present was an unacceptable abridgment of her first amendment rights.

 

Ms. Coulter went against the wishes of Mr. Dirks and the rest of the Berkeley administration, vowing to give the speech at the time and place of her choosing. This enraged many campus activists groups, prompting threats of violence, should the planned speech go forward. These threats finally caused the group that had invited her to withdraw their invitation. A group is now suing the university concerning the violation of the rights of students to hear Ms. Coulter speak.

 

All the while, Mr. Dirks insists that even his plan to provide Ms. Coulter with a suitable venue at an alternative, less crowded time would have set the university back tens of thousands of dollars.

High Stakes at Play In Campus Free Speech Fiascos

The country’s universities have been embroiled in controversy like at no time since the 1960s. The central theme to the diversity of disruptions that have plagued college campuses from East to West is the role that freedom of speech should play in the academy. It seems, more than anything, to be a battle between the politically correct and the unorthodox.

Some of these incidents have seemed trivial, even funny. Hate hoaxes, football players missing their own games at Division III schools that no one cares about, all of these things provide amusing fodder for bloggers and tabloid news sites. But for the administrators at the colleges where the brouhahas have unfolded, the stakes could not be higher.

In the case of the University of Missouri, the dean eventually lost his job. It all started when a teacher made comments that some deemed offensive, but which many regarded as constitutionally protected speech. Things escalated, with massive student protests, unrest on campus and the football season nearly being cancelled. The fired teacher has filed a lawsuit, seeking millions in damages against the university. Some observers think she has an iron-clad case.

However, the real devastation came the following semester. By early 2016, the University of Missouri’s applications had declined by a full 30 percent. Experts say that if the school can’t recover to its historically normal application numbers, it could face bankruptcy within just a few years.

Similar incidents have occurred at the University of California, Berkeley. There, a long series of riots have broken out on campus as a result of speakers showing up to give talks, some of whom were denied a platform to speak. That university is also facing a string of lawsuits and has been directly threatened by President Trump with losing all of its federal funding if it doesn’t get its act together.

Berkeley Administrators Put in Difficult Spot Amid Free Speech Concerns

The campus at the University of California, Berkeley has been embroiled in more unrest and general agitation that at any time since the 1960s. It was then that the fledgling Free Speech Movement was born out of radical student activists seeking to redress grievances, including the criminal war being waged in Vietnam.

Yet recently, it seems that the spirit of student activism has taken a completely 180 degree turn. While the student activists of today may look, at least in form, as their counterparts of the ’60s, they certainly do not resemble them in function. The new student activists seem to be, more than anything, against free speech. This is richly ironic, coming from the very birthplace of the movement bearing free speech in its name.

Nevertheless, one of the unrecognized victims of this upheaval is the administration of the college itself. In a recent op-ed, Nicholas Dirks, chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, describes the difficult balancing act that he and his fellow administrators across the nation must skillfully execute. The case of the most recent planned speech of Ann Coulter is exemplary.

Ms. Coulter was scheduled to speak. The university could not guarantee the safety of all participants in the usual venues afforded to speakers, so she was offered a secure off-campus location in which to give her talk. She declined, saying the university was deliberately discriminating against her because of her viewpoint. She would have been forced to use a distant venue at a time when most students were not present.

The university attempted to negotiate with her but ultimately, she cancelled her speech. She then threatened to show up and give the talk anyway. This panicked the administration, which would have had to provide up to 100 police, costing tens of thousands. Ultimately, even that speech was cancelled. The university is currently being sued by a student group as a result of the final cancellation of the talk.

Berkeley Free Speech Woes Are Microcosm of U.S. Universities

The University of California, Berkeley has had a tumultuous year. Multiple episodes of speakers being denied a platform on campus have led to an outcry from student groups and free speech activists across the nation. Masked rioters have spurred on counter rioters, who have shown up to some events on campus and in the town of Berkeley itself willing to do battle on behalf of freedom of speech. At times, these demonstrations have devolved into street brawls.

This atmosphere, almost revolutionary in character, has loomed over the recently planned speech that was to have been given by right-leaning author Ann Coulter. At first, the University declined to allow Ms. Coulter to speak in the usual venues and at the usual times that other speakers use due to concerns over unmanageable disruptions and potential violence. Ms. Coulter declined the university’s offer to speak at an off-campus location at a time when most students were not attending classes, claiming that the university was intentionally attempting to stifle her ability to reach a new audience.

There was a series of negotiations between Ms. Coulter and the university’s administration. But these ended at an impasse. Eventually, Ms. Coulter vowed to give her speech in the center of campus anyway, despite being warned not to do so by the college administration. But this put the university itself in a tricky position. It would still be responsible for any unrest or injuries that occurred to students, whether or not it had extended permission to Ms. Coulter to speak. But finally, amid increasing threats of violence from far-left radicals, the organization that had originally invited Ms. Coulter, the Berkeley College Republicans, rescinded its invitation to her. The University of California, Berkeley is, as a result, currently being sued in federal court by a student group claiming that its right to hear Ms. Coulter has been infringed.

Tough Questions for University Administors: Pay the Price or Risk Reputation?

The American university system has recently been beset with a series of contentious incidents involving the ability of speakers to present their arguments before the student bodies. From Berkeley to Middlebury, riots have erupted and egos have been bruised where simple college talks, which in times past would have gone off without a hitch, have become battlegrounds for hyper-polarized students and outside agitators.

Damned if they do, damned if they don’t

For administrators like Nicholas Dirks, chancellor of University of California, Berkeley, being notified by a student group that the likes of Milo Yiannopoulos or Ann Coulter have been invited to your campus can put you squarely between a rock and a hard place.

Both of those misfortunes have befallen Mr. Dirks, who once again made headlines recently when the planned speech of Ann Coulter, a right wing author, was cancelled amid threats of violence and unrest. Mr. Dirks contends that he did everything he could. But Ms. Coulter first ended up voluntarily cancelling her speech because she would not have been allowed to address students in any of the usual campus venues normally afforded to speakers. Mr. Dirks responds that the refusal to allow Ms. Coulter to use the usual venues was a result of simply not being able to guarantee the safety and security of anyone in attendance.

Even so, Mr. Dirks offered Ms. Coulter an alternate venue at an alternate time. Even this, had she agreed to accept it, would have cost the university tens of thousands of dollars as a result of being forced to hire an additional 100 policemen to keep the peace. Ultimately, the invitation for Ms. Coulter to speak was rescinded by the group that had originally invited her after it received continued threats of violence.

The university is currently facing a lawsuit from a student group alleging 1st Amendment violations.

University Administrators Walk Fine Line With Student Demonstrations

Universities throughout the United States have been recently besieged by a flurry of student demonstrations against causes ranging from unpopular speakers on campus to perceived unfairness against different identity groups. While such disturbances are nothing new to the U.S. higher education system, a system with a long and storied career of student activism, the tone, intensity and often the message of the new wave of activism is something that is largely unprecedented.

Mizzou looms large in every administrator’s mind

Recently, Nicholas Dirks, chancellor of University of California, Berkeley, wrote an op-ed where he attempted to clear the air and describe the travails he faces as an administrator who, on the one hand, is making every effort to protect the rights of students to speak and hear others speak but who also has a college to run, with a finite budget and real-world business considerations. Perhaps more than any other recent event, these episodes have brought into focus the challenging job that administrators face while running complex publicly funded organizations that nevertheless rely heavily on attracting the brightest students.

One event that has put things into stark relief for administrators facing potential student unrest is the case of the University of Missouri. In 2016, a liberal Mizzou professor was fired for speech that she believed was both protected and appropriate. Still, this was not enough for some Mizzou student activists. They created a huge uproar on campus, nearly leading to the cancellation of the entire football season. The melee drove a deluge of negative publicity about the school.

In addition to facing a million-dollar lawsuit filed by the former teacher, the University’s enrollment dropped by almost 30 percent the following semester. If Mizzou is unable to make up for that shortfall, the entire University could face bankruptcy within a few, short years. It is nightmare scenarios like this that keep college deans up at night.

American Universities Grapple with Limits of Free Speech

Over the last two years, American universities have been besieged by a polarized social and political climate that has brought to the forefront various serious questions about the role that institutions of higher education, especially those receiving public funding dollars, should have in guaranteeing free speech.

Recently, these issues have once again been thrust into the national spotlight with the events surrounding a planned speech by right-wing author Ann Coulter on the Campus of the University of California, Berkely. The author has been unafraid to take controversial positions over her career, a move that has served her well, propelling many of her books to rank on the New York Times bestseller list.

But the current questions are not ones of political viewpoint or soundness of arguments. Ms. Coulter forced to withdraw from her planned speaking engagement when the University was unable to accommodate her in a suitable venue and her original sponsors, the Berkeley College Republicans, simultaneously withdrew their invitation, amid fears of violence. The irony is that Berkeley was the birthplace of the so-called Free Speech Movement, a movement started in the 1960s, partially with the aim of promoting the ability of all speakers, no matter their viewpoints, to be permitted access to America’s university campuses.

This latest cancellation of a speaker at Berkeley comes amid a series of similar incidents. Last year, another speaker, Milo Yiannopoulos, also characterized as conservative, was likewise denied a platform at the college. That time, however, his speech was cut short by rioters who had apparently come from off-campus solely for the purpose of disrupting Mr. Yiannopoulos’ speech.

This has raised questions as to the responsibilities Berkeley itself has to guarantee a platform to all speakers. Conservative activists have pointed to the multiple instances of speakers being denied as evidence that the college administration is biased in favor of more liberal speakers.