Using "security" as a reason to shut down free speech on campus

Here’s a short but interesting essay from Catherine Rampell at the Washington Post. She takes on a subject near and dear to my heart, specifically the lack of ideological diversity on our nation’s college campuses and the suppression of free speech. In it, Rampell highlights instances where colleges have cancelled or completely rejected appearances by invited conservative speakers. She focuses on a couple of them, including Ben Shapiro’s scheduled lectures at two schools. In both cases, “security concerns” were cited as the reason Ben was told not to bother showing up.

That’s a very convenient excuse for a couple of reasons. If you simply say that your special snowflakes can’t handle hearing Ben’s views so you’re locking the doors, then the dishonest nature of liberal run institutions is too clearly exposed. It’s much better to pretend that you’d love to have him come give his speech, but you can’t be held responsible if your peaceful protesting students tear him limb from limb.

Around the country, colleges have found a new excuse for shutting down free speech: safety.

Just as “national security” has periodically served as a pretext for robbing Americans of civil liberties, so too has “campus security” newly become a convenient rationale for discarding commitments to free speech. Unwilling to either defend controversial speech or cop to censoring it, college administrators are instead increasingly invoking public “safety” when they cancel events.

Ben Shapiro, a young conservative firebrand who has criticized Black Lives Matter, has recently been disinvited from two college campuses due to “security” concerns. In February, his scheduled talk at California State University at Los Angeles was canceled — or rather, indefinitely delayed — so that administrators could “arrange for him to appear as part of a group of speakers with differing viewpoints on diversity.”

Isn’t that nice and thoughtful of them? The school is so worried about Ben’s safety and security that they cancelled (I’m sorry… indefinitely postponed) his appearance. But shouldn’t this raise a larger question for school administrators to tackle? Let’s start with the assumption that they truly believe disagreeable speech is “dangerous” for students to encounter without safe spaces and trigger warnings galore. We wouldn’t want anyone to be suddenly surprised.

Fair enough. That indicates that you really want to protect people and are taking steps to tamp down any potential threats. Good for you. But if things are so bad on your campus that you believe the students will physically try to attack a guest speaker, isn’t that a considerably larger danger? What’s wrong with your students which makes them so dangerously violent that they can’t be trusted to attend a lecture or even peacefully protest it? Will you completely eliminate anything which students don’t approve of out of fear for your own safety?

At that point we’re no longer talking about the sanctity of free speech or protecting your charges from differing opinions. You’ve given in to the criminal class and are being terrorized by your own student body. You don’t need to be calling a meeting of the student council. You need to be calling the cops because that’s not a protest… it’s a violent riot, and you need to be weeding the dangerous criminals out of your student body, not the conservatives.


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