We have gotten used to nasty protests by undergraduates who think they’re doing something virtuous by refusing to listen to (and often preventing others from listening to) speakers whom they call “racist” or “fascist.” (Consider, for example, the treatment given to history professor Paul Gottfried when he spoke at Hamilton College.) But in case you’re inclined to think, “They grow out of that phase,” I have bad news – their felt need to demonize people they see as enemies remains after they’ve graduated, as a recent incident at CUNY School of Law attests.
Josh Blackman is a law professor at South Texas College of Law in Houston. He is a prolific writer who opposes most if not all “progressive” trends and beliefs. His latest book is Unraveled: Obamacare, Religious Liberty, and Executive Power. Blackman likes Originalist approaches to the Constitution and dislikes governmental overreach. Sadly, anyone who holds such views is apt to elicit childish protests from students, even those in law school.
The Federalist Society chapter at CUNY Law School invited Blackman to speak and they settled on this topic: The Importance of Free Speech on Campus. At such events, it’s customary to have another professor participate by way of introduction or comment, but no faculty member was willing to do that, probably fearing reprisals of a “guilt by association” kind.
Nevertheless, the event went on. In this article, Blackman describes the reception he received from a group of students. It includes many photos and videos that ought to shame them in the future.
Protesting students greeted Blackman with signs accusing him of racism and favoring white supremacy. Nothing he has ever said or done warrants such attacks, which really mean that Social Justice Warrior types think he is a bad person for disagreeing with their belief system. When the talk was about to start, a group of students, instead of taking seats, insisted in standing behind him. When politely asked to sit, they refused. (To “progressives,” society’s norms must never get in their way.)
When Blackman began to speak, he was met with chants and interruptions. These students of the law were unwilling to allow him to state his case and then offer their disagreements, our norm for civilized discussion. Now, CUNY has rules for proper conduct at events and the students had violated it, so an administrator had to admonish them. That led one of them to complain, “We’re not children. You can’t speak to us like that.” He failed to see the irony – if they had not been acting like petulant children, nothing would have had to be said.
Blackman decided to cast aside his prepared remarks about free speech and just engage directly with the issues the students were interested in, particularly the DREAM Act. The students assumed that Blackman must be against immigrants because he once wrote that Obama’s implementation of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) was illegal. But he said that he thought the DREAM Act was good legislation that he would support. Apparently upset that Blackman was in part agreeing with their position, one student stormed out declaring, “I don’t want to hear this.”
Trying to further explain his views, Blackman talked about the law, to which a student shouted “F___ the law!” As Blackman writes, “This comment stunned me. ‘F___ the law? That’s a very odd thing. You are all in law school. It’s a bizarre thing to say f___ the law when you are in law school.’”
The heckling and interruptions continued, leading one black student to say that he wanted to hear what Blackman had to say – and for that, the student himself was heckled.
After most of the protesters had left, Blackman was able to have a reasonable discussion with the remaining students.
What sort of lawyers will the student zealots make if they get angry at hearing arguments they dislike? Even public interest lawyers (and CUNY bills itself as America’s “premier public interest law school”) need to respond rationally to opposing arguments. What legal education those students have so far received seems to have missed the crucial element of the need to make proper responses to opposing counsel.
Worse, though, the event shows how our culture and education system is creating a new kind of tribalism. For many on the Left (and I’m sure, also some on the Right), the automatic reaction to people who are perceived as political opponents is to brand them as evil and try to silence them. Because Josh Blackman was known to be a non-progressive, these law students thought he must be vilified. They thought that nothing he might say could have any value.
Adverting back to the title of Blackman’s book, Obamacare is not the only thing that has unraveled. The fabric of respect and civil discourse in America has also unraveled. This event shows that clearly.