Earlier this month a group of a few dozen University of Oregon students shouted down the University’s President, Michael Schill, as he attempted to deliver his state-of-the-university speech. Today the NY Times published a piece in which Schill suggests students shouting down speech are adopting some fascist language and tactics even as they claim to be protesting fascism.
Armed with a megaphone and raised fists, the protesters shouted about the university’s rising tuition, a perceived corporatization of public higher education and my support for free speech on campus — a stance they said perpetuated “fascism and white supremacy.”…
It is…ironic that they would associate fascism with the university during a protest in which they limit discourse. One of the students who stormed the stage during my talk told the news media to “expect resistance to anyone who opposes us.” That is awfully close to the language and practices of those the students say they vehemently oppose.
Fundamentally, fascism is about the smothering of dissent. Every university in the country has history classes that dig into fascist political movements and examine them along very clear-eyed lines. Fascist regimes rose to power by attacking free speech, threatening violence against those who opposed them, and using fear and the threat of retaliation to intimidate dissenters.
In other words, the behavior of the students has something in common with actual fascists. Schill goes on to say that he personally finds their claims (that UofO perpetuates fascism) offensive because members of his extended family were murdered by fascists during the Holocaust. But he is quick to add that he would never attempt to silence their speech even though he finds it offensive. Schill’s problem is with students who don’t extend the same respect to his speech or that of others.
Within the past couple months, similar protests have taken place at Virginia Tech, Columbia, Reed College, and the University of Michigan. There’s really no doubt this is an ongoing problem but one thing not mentioned in Schill’s piece is what he plans to do about it. Other universities have disciplined students who attempted to silence speech. Claremont McKenna disciplined 7 students for their protest of an event by Heather Mac Donald. At Middlebury, 67 students were disciplined for shutting down a speech by Charles Murray. Will the University of Oregon follow their lead?
These students weren’t masked. There is a video of the protest which could be used to identify them. If President Schill really believes the students have crossed a line, he should follow up with some actual discipline for their behavior. Otherwise, his defense of free speech will ring hollow.