Columbia professors want the university to drop investigations of student protesters

Earlier this month, Columbia University students attempted to shout down and even shut off a planned speech by English anti-Islam speaker Tommy Robinson. As you can see in the video below, the event did go on but Inside Higher Ed reported at the time that protesters may have, ” run afoul of the student code of conduct, which has provisions against ‘disruption of university events.'” In fact, Columbia is now investigating 16 students who were involved in the protest. From Inside Higher Ed:

The investigations represent one of the first examples this academic year of a university seriously considering disciplining students for disrupting a speaker, though high-profile protests at Middlebury College and Claremont McKenna College were followed by punishments last year.

The university’s actions are not being universally applauded, however. In response to the investigation, more than 100 professors signed a letter to President Lee Bollinger saying that the university is applying its rules on free speech in a “discriminatory and arbitrary” way. The letter noted that a majority of the students being investigated are students of color and questioned the university’s motives and approach. It did not dispute that the students disrupted the speech, though it argued that no rules were broken…

While students did engage in a question-and-answer session with Robinson, the narratives laid out by the university and the campus newspaper involve 30 protesters, some of whom chanted and shouted through some of Robinson’s answers and interrupted other students’ questions. Other protesters banged on the doors to the auditorium where the event was held.

There is a legitimate question here about what constitutes legitimate protest and what constitutes shouting down an opponent. Are the people standing on stage under the video screen with “Black Lives Matter” signs disrupting the event? Well, somewhat, but they do not prevent Robinson from speaking or being seen. On the other hand, people shouting and interrupting and banging on doors seem like a pretty clear attempt to silence. And Insider Higher Ed reports there were also instances of “students attempting to unplug the video and audio equipment.” That’s clearly an attempt to silence the speaker.

But the group of 100 Columbia professors see any investigation or attempt to discipline those students as a “manipulation of crude liberal values.” Indeed, they suggest this is all part of a broader plot by the right:

The overreaction of the university to student protest through the aggressive and discriminatory and arbitrary enforcement of the Rules of University Conduct signals the institution’s capitulation to a concerted strategy by the opponents of the very idea of the university. Their game plan is to flood educational institutions with inflammatory speakers, and lure the university into issuing statements defending their right to speak, despite—or especially because—of their offensive ideas. It will then be left to students to protest the ideology of these speakers, at which point the university will prosecute the students for violating the university’s rules of conduct.

First of all, I thought free speech was a fundamental part of what a university was about, not an idea in opposition to it. Basically, this complaint boils down to ‘How dare the university defend free speech which some students find offensive!’ A better system (apparently) would be for the university to reject offensive speech on the students’ behalf. If only Columbia would enforce the progressive bubble of the far-left on campus, far-left students wouldn’t feel obligated to try to enforce it themselves and thereby risk being disciplined.

A statement like this would be bad enough coming from undergrads. The fact that it is coming from professors at Columbia is both telling and worrisome. However, it’s not a surprise. The students across the country who have attempted to shut down speech they disagree with did not come up with this on their own. They are absorbing it from their badly informed professors.

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