American University cancels panel on free speech, Title IX

Reason’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown has a piece today titled “My Alma Mater Cancelled My ‘Hate Speech’ Panel.” The event in question was intended to be a discussion of free speech and Title IX cases on campus. It featured a representative from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a former president of the ACLU and members of a British libertarian magazine called Spiked. The event was labeled “hate speech” by the American Association of University Women (AAUW).

Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) was the student group hosting the event, and was in charge of making arrangements with the campus. An auditorium had been secured since summer, but a few days before the event AU administrators told YAL that the space was no longer available and then that the panel had to be canceled altogether.

Annamarie Rienzi, D.C. chair of YAL and one of the student organizers of last night’s event, told me that the school claimed it came down to YAL classifying the panel as a “meeting” rather than an “event.” But this is standard practice for YAL and other student groups, she says, when a talk or panel does not involve bringing paid speakers to campus or providing refreshments…

It was especially disappointing to learn today that this may have been provoked by a women’s student group severely misrepresenting the event and then urging students to be angry about it. Here’s how the American Association of University Women (AAUW) of AU described the spiked panel:

The Unsafe Space Tour is coming to AU. What do they want to talk about? Completely revising and undoing decades of work by activists around campuses across the country to make campuses safer for victims of sexual violence.

The AAUW celebrated when it was announced the event would was canceled. As for American University, a spokesman told Inside Higher Ed the school asked to speak to the organizers and never heard back from them:

Mark Story, an American spokesman, said that the student group — the local chapter of Young Americans for Liberty — had requested space Sept. 19, but it was told it needed to meet with the student activities’ office since it wanted to bring speakers.

Nothing was ever officially reserved, though the free speech tour was still advertised to be held in the university’s Katzen Arts Center. Story said that the student activities office did “outreach” to the group.

“But it is too late for this to happen in the appropriate time frame to obtain other space on campus,” Story wrote in an email.

Something doesn’t add up here. It sounds as if the message, that space would not be reserved unless organizers held a meeting with the student activities office, was never received. What kind of “outreach” did the University do to explain to the group what was expected?

Maybe this was all a misunderstanding or maybe AU is resorting to a game of Calvinball designed to give them a bureaucratic excuse to shut down an events they really would rather not host. In any case, the event was moved at the last minute to the DC offices of Reason. If you’re interested in watching a very civil, non-hate speech discussion on Title IX cases, the video is available on Reason’s site.