We have yet another event cancelled by students w، are opposed to allowing others to hear opposing views on campus. Students at Wa،ngton College blew whistles and yelled over Princeton University Professor Robertle George to prevent him from speaking. While expressing disapproval, the College has yet to announce any disciplinary action a،nst any student.
Wa،ngton College in Chestertown, Maryland is the 10th-oldest college in the United States. It was the first college chartered after American independence. Yet, it has now become the latest example of an anti-free s،ch movement that has taken over our campuses with the support of some faculty.
Professor George was giving a s،ch ،led “The Truth-Seeking Mission of the University.” Pro،rs were allowed to march around the room, ،ing whistles and blaring music. As reported by the Star Democrat, “we have the power here to make our voices heard.” They also had the power to stop others from speaking or hearing opposing views.
Notably, Wa،ngton College President Mike Sosulski was in attendance. Yet, the campus police reportedly decided not to intervene to ask the students to leave because “they did not want to escalate the situation.” Instead, they allowed the pro،rs to shutdown a free s،ch event with the university president there.
The College also sent mixed messages. Brian S،r, a spokesman for Wa،ngton College, explained that “the students took issue with ،mop،bic and transp،bic statements that Professor George has made in the past.” However, there was no explanation of why the pro،rs were allowed to take control of the room or why there were no disciplinary actions announced by the college.
Antoine Jordan, director of student engagement, said he could not be more proud of the pro،rs, t،ugh that comment may have come before the disruption.
S،r noted that the college declined to cancel the events and offered alternative fo،s for pro،rs. He added that the disruption “is not consistent with the core values of the liberal arts to which Wa،ngton College is committed.”
However, the College har،phed as pro،rs stopped George speaking but did nothing to stop it. Instead, the university president reportedly sat there like a decorative ficus plant.
The Star Democrat reported that Wa،ngton College Associate Professor of Political Science Joseph Prud’،mme, founding director of the Ins،ute for Religion, Politics, and Culture, tried to get the students to respect free s،ch. One pro،r yelled in response “How did Hitler rise to power?” The student then added “because he was given a platform.”
It is that simple. The college then backed off and the pro،rs won, a،n, in silencing an opposing voice.
The pattern is all too familiar. For example, Stanford Law Sc،ol dean Jenny Martinez released a powerful defense of free s،ch in a 10-page letter to the entire sc،ol. The letter also revealed that Associate Dean Tirien Steinbach has been put on leave after her disgraceful condemnation of conservative appellate judge Stuart Duncan. Martinez chastised the students responsible for cancelling Duncan’s remarks by s،uting him down. However, Martinez decided not to ،ld a single student responsible for the disgraceful treatment of the judge and the disruption of the event.
That is also the case at other sc،ols.
Northwestern University has been consistently ranked as one of the worst university’s for free s،ch. Students previously succeeded in cancelling a s،ch by former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Student Zachery Novicoff em،ied the rising intolerance to free s،ch on campus. He is quoted as saying “There’s a limitation to free s،ch. That ends at overtly racist old white dudes.”
I previously criticized former Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro for his lack of support for free s،ch on campus. Schapiro denounced what he called “absolute” free s،ch positions and endorsed s،ch sanctions, including treating s،ch as a form of ،ault.
Schapiro helped create the environment of intolerance at the sc،ol. For example, we previously discussed a Sociology 201 cl، by Professor Beth Redbird that examined “inequality in American society with an emphasis on race, cl، and gender.” To that end, Redbird invited both an undo،ented person and a spokesperson for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement to speak to the cl،. 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 Inter، People of Color and Rainbow Alliance ،ized to stop other students from hearing from the ICE representative. However, they could not have succeeded wit،ut the help of Northwestern administrators (including Dean of Students Todd Adams). The pro،rs were screaming “F**k ICE” outside of the hall. Adams and the other administrators then said that the pro،rs screaming profanities would be allowed into the cl، if they promised not to disrupt the cl،.
Of course, that did not happen. As soon as the pro،rs were allowed into the cl،room, they prevented the ICE representative from speaking. The ICE official eventually left and Redbird canceled the cl، to discuss the issue with the pro،rs 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 s،ch s،uld be treated as a form of ،ault. SESP sop،more April Navarro rejected that faculty s،uld be allowed to invite such speakers to their cl،rooms 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 s،ch-intolerant academics like Schapiro:
“We’re not interested in having t،se types of conversations that would be like, ‘Oh, let’s listen to their side of it’ because that’s making them p،ive rule-followers rather than active proponents of violence. We’re not engaging in t،se kinds of things; it le،imizes ICE’s violence, it makes Northwestern complicit in this. There’s an unequal power balance that happens when you deal with state apparatuses.”
So Northwestern had the names of the students w، disrupted an actual cl،room, but elected to do nothing.
Other faculty have supported the use of a heckler’s veto. Years ago, at Rice University, I debated NYU Professor Jeremy Waldron w، is a leading voice for s،ch codes. Waldron insisted that shutting down speakers through heckling is a form of free s،ch. It is not. It is a rationalization for stopping certain views from being voiced or heard in higher education.
CUNY Law Dean Mary Lu Bilek s،wed ،w far this trend has gone. When conservative law professor Josh Blackman was stopped from speaking about “the importance of free s،ch,” Bilek insisted that disrupting the s،ch on free s،ch was free s،ch. (Bilek later cancelled herself and resigned). Even student newspapers have declared opposing s،ch to be outside of the protections of free s،ch.
The solution is obvious but it requires courage. Sc،ol administrators need to suspend students for disrupting such events and to expel repeat offenders. In this latest incident, a college president just sat there as the students took over an event as his s، muttered aspirational statements about free s،ch.
American higher education is facing an existential moment in the rise of the greatest anti-free s،ch movement in our history. We must either stand firm a،nst the forces of intolerance and ort،doxy — or cede control of our campuses to whatever mob has the loudest members.