Anecdotal evidence suggests that campus brownshirts are creating an increasingly hostile environment for free speech. We are seeing more and more stories about veteran campus speakers who say they’re being subjected to abuse that they’ve never previously experienced. One recent story comes from the Claremont schools.
After students heavily protested her lecture at Harvey Mudd College last night, Dr. Chrissy Lawrence of Monsanto Company, an agricultural biotechnology corporation, canceled the lecture she was slated to give at the Keck Science Center. “I don’t know how many of you attended last night’s talk from a Monsanto scientist, but some of the students behaved unprofessionally,” noted a Harvey Mudd College professor in an email obtained by the Claremont Independent. “The Monsanto speaker said that in all her years of presenting to students in colleges/universities that last night’s student audience was by far the worst student audience she had ever encountered.”
Harvey Mudd is a science and engineering school, and at first we were surprised that students at such a school would mistreat a guest speaker. Later the article notes, however, that “much of the backlash” came from students of nearby Pitzer College. Wikipedia describes Pitzer as having “a particular emphasis upon social justice.” Ah. So the fake students with fake majors waltzed over to disrupt the talk intended for the real students with real majors. As the old saying goes, ‘always bet on form.’
And thanks to the actions of these social justice warriors, the speaker canceled her subsequent appearance. Will a society with less speech really be more just?
Another recent anecdote comes from the other side of the pond.
Antony Glees, an expert in counter-terrorism who teaches at the University of Buckingham, said that left-wing staff and students have become more militant over the past 10 years, with chilling effects on free speech.
Professor Glees said he was heckled at recent panel discussion on the government’s “Prevent” anti-terror strategy after he spoke up in favour of the scheme. He said there was a “feeling of menace” after was “cynically jeered at” and branded a racist by students and even other lecturers.
He also said he was “mindlessly heckled” and branded a “white, male, colonialist, Zionist and racist” by one student after he criticised protesters who stopped the Israeli ambassador speaking at universities.
“I was glad to get out of there alive,” he said. “I was taken aback by the atmosphere… these were closed minds.
“I don’t expect people to share my point of view but I expect people to be open-minded, to engage in debate. Not to be attacked.”
Does that sound like an environment conducive to learning?
On the bright side, not all young people are hostile to free speech. The Oxford Union recently held a debate on the motion: “This House Believes the Right to Free Speech Always Includes the Right to Offend.” In support of the motion, Brendan O’Neill makes the best 8-minute defense of free speech we have ever heard. A choice excerpt:
The right to offend is not some pesky little part of freedom of speech that we have to put up with. It is the heart and soul and lungs of freedom of speech. It is the coursing lifeblood of human progress. It is the instigator of liberty and modernity and science and understanding.
What a laughing stock today’s student leaders are that they can so casually dismiss the right to be offensive without realizing that their lovely enlightened lives are the gift of individuals who gave offense. The gift of scientists, thinkers, agitators, who bravely showed their asses to the dominant ideas of their era.
In this choking climate, we have got to move beyond talking about a right to offend–we have to talk about a duty to offend. Anyone who cares, anyone who cares for freedom, anyone who believes humanity only progresses through being daring and disrespectful now has a duty to rile and stir and outrage, a duty to break out of the new grey conformism, a duty to ridicule the new guardians of decency, a duty to tell them fuck your orthodoxies.
The motion carried by a vote of 319-70. Bravo!