As college classes wind down for the year, attacks on free speech on campus are not. Since the end of March, at least two more shout-downs took place:
- At the City University of New York (CUNY) law school, students shouted at guest lecturer Josh Blackman for approximately 10 minutes before he could continue his remarks. Remarkably, the CUNY law school dean issued a statement saying there would be no consequences for those that delayed the event and called it a “non-violent, limited protest,” even though video evidence shows protestors prevented Blackman from speaking before filing out of the room.Inside Higher Ed reports that students who wanted to hear Blackman speak were “intimidated” from coming in the room because of the protestors.
- Last weekend, Duke University President Vincent Price’s speech before alumni during Alumni Weekend was stopped when “student protestors commandeered the stage,” according to the Raleigh News Observer.The paper reports some 30 protestors used a bullhorn to shout demands and told the university president to leave the stage. Some alumni “walked out of the event.” Though “administrators stood by and conferred about how to handle the situation” when it unfolded, as of this writing, the News Observer and Duke Chronicle do not report that school leadership is considering taking action after the event.
These events are notable considering a recent survey of school presidents that found 15 percent of respondents said that it is sometimes acceptable for students to shout down a speaker, as covered on this blog last week. Another 61 percent said that it is always or sometimes acceptable for students to engage in behavior that “disrupts operations in campus buildings” such as sit-ins.
Policymakers, school leaders, parents, and students should ask: At what point is it too late to intervene when a speaker is being shouted down? Must we wait for violence to break out before they tried to restore order?
Free speech-related incidents on campuses around the country in just the last two years where violence has occurred should be enough warning that the heckler’s veto can escalate into something more. Furthermore, other protests during this period that have proceeded without violence have drawn at least as much attention to the protestors and their demands as the scheduled event, providing examples of how protests can be effective when both sides are heard.
While both the CUNY and Duke events eventually continued, reports about the incidents indicate that fewer people heard the events because of the protests—limiting the speaker’s ability to express themselves. State lawmakers should continue considering proposals to protect free speech on campus. Just because schools are nearing the end of the academic year does not mean free speech is safer.