Who Will Stand Up for Campus Free Speech?
Troy Scheffler, a graduate student at Hamline University in Minnesota, thinks that the Virginia Tech massacre might have been avoided if students had been allowed to carry concealed weapons. After e-mailing this opinion to the university president, he was suspended and ordered to undergo “mental health evaluation” before being allowed to return to school.
Punishment for expressing an opinion is not unusual on the modern campus. Neither is the lack of protest among faculty and students for the kind of treatment Scheffler got. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which is defending the student, reports that it has failed to find a single Hamline student or faculty member who has spoken out in favor of Scheffler’s right to free speech. So far, no protest from has been reported in the student newspaper or in outside internet outlets such as Myspace.
Scheffler, it should be said, is something of a campus gadfly, with disdain for campus diversity programs and other policies. The university said Scheffler’s e-mails were threatening, but those messages, available on the FIRE web site , contain no semblance of a threat. Free speech was the core issue and still is.
Free speech has a very small constituency on the modern campus, particularly if the speaker under attack is conservative. Lawrence Summers, former president of Harvard, is certainly no conservative, but he had run afoul of the campus left on many issues, not just the heavily publicized one of women in science (suggesting more campus respect for patriotism and the return of ROTC to Harvard, warning the “coastal elites” that they have drifted too far from the American mainstream). So when feminists managed to cancel Summers as a speaker before the University of California board of regents, there was scarcely a peep of protest. The American Association of University Professors spoke out, and so did the Harvard Crimson. But in a couple of hours of searching the internet, I found only one professor nationally who complained about the treatment of Summers.
A similar silence greeted the cancellation of a speech by Minuteman leader Jim Gilchrist at Columbia University. Gilchrist and a colleague were driven off the stage at Columbia last year by angry radicals. Gilchrist was reinvited a month ago, but when the speech was announced, campus Hispanics, who consider him racist for opposing the flood of illegals into the country, pressured the relevant student authorities to ban him. The campus chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union thought about protesting but decided not to. Again, I was able to find only one professor willing to say that silencing Gilchrist was a bad idea. I asked Gilchrist if there were more. He said he knows of no other instructor who spoke out. The campus joke is that Gilchrist should have come out in favor killing gays and nuking Israel. Then he would have been as welcome as Mahoud Amadinejad.
The campus rule of thumb is that if someone on the liberal side is disinvited or punished for speech, the left will howl – and the right will usually howl too. This is what happened when the University of St. Thomas disinvited Archbishop Desmond Tutu for making remarks critical of Israel. After protests from across the political spectrum, he was reinvited. A better example is the hiring and almost immediate firing of liberal Duke law professor Erwin Chemerinsky as dean of a new law school at the University of California, Irvine. A huge number of conservatives protested, including professors and virtually the whole first string of nationally known conservative and libertarian bloggers. Chemerinsky was rehired.
The process doesn’t work in reverse – with liberals protesting the silencing of a conservative. It’s one of the most obvious flaws of the modern PC university.