Camille Paglia is an outspoken critic of modern feminism and some of the far-left trends that have taken hold on many college campuses of late so it’s probably not surprising that she would eventually become the target of student activists caught up in those same trends. A group of students at University of the Arts, where Paglia has been on the faculty since the 1980s, launched a protest aimed at getting her fired or, if that wasn’t possible, de-platforming her. From the Philly Inquirer:
“I had a concern that she would be able to speak, and her fans were allowed onto our campus, into our main classroom building, where there will be trans individuals and sexual-assault survivors,” said Joseph McAndrew, a UArts student who organized the protest. “We’re giving a space for her following to come into our safe space that we pay to be in.”…
McAndrew, a UArts junior who is nonbinary and has been sexually assaulted, organized the protest at Paglia’s lecture Tuesday evening — titled “Ambiguous Images: Sexual Duality and Sexual Multiplicity in Western Art” — after trying for about two weeks to get it moved off campus…
McAndrew and [senior Sheridan] Merrick said about 100 protesters sat in a lobby at Terra Hall, 211 S. Broad St., Tuesday holding signs ahead of the talk. Then, some of those protesting filed in to listen. About 30 minutes into the lecture, McAndrew said, a building fire alarm went off, prompting an evacuation and moving the protest outside, where demonstrators chanted, “Trans lives matter! We believe survivors!”
There’s a video of the protest inside Paglia’s lecture. This clip is cued up to a few seconds before the fire alarm goes off. As you’ll see, that’s also when the protesters began shouting and shut down the lecture.
After the protest, one of the student activists started a petition which demanded that Paglia be fired. “Camille Paglia has been teaching at UArts for many years, and has only become more controversial over time,” the petition states. It continues, “In recent interviews she has blatantly mocked survivors of sexual assault and the #MeToo movement, and in classes and interviews has mocked and degraded transgender individuals.” The petition includes a link to this video clip as proof:
As a result of these and other statements, the petition demands that Paglia be fired and replaced by “a queer person of color.” If that’s found to be impossible because of her tenure, the activists want someone else hired to teach Paglia’s classes so students aren’t exposed to any dangerous opinions. In addition, the petition demands Paglia stop being given platforms to speak and sell books on campus. In short, Paglia must be silenced as much as possible.
In response to these demands, the school’s president, David Yager wrote a letter defending the right to free speech. And I have to say, this is pretty good:
Unfortunately, as a society we are living in a time of sharp divisions—of opinions, perspectives and beliefs—and that has led to decreased civility, increased anger and a “new normal” of offense given and taken. Across our nation it is all too common that opinions expressed that differ from another’s—especially those that are controversial—can spark passion and even outrage, often resulting in calls to suppress that speech.
That simply cannot be allowed to happen. I firmly believe that limiting the range of voices in society erodes our democracy. Universities, moreover, are at the heart of the revolutionary notion of free expression: promoting the free exchange of ideas is part of the core reason for their existence. That open interchange of opinions and beliefs includes all members of the UArts community: faculty, students and staff, in and out of the classroom. We are dedicated to fostering a climate conducive to respectful intellectual debate that empowers and equips our students to meet the challenges they will face in their futures.
I believe this resolve holds even greater importance at an art school. Artists over the centuries have suffered censorship, and even persecution, for the expression of their beliefs through their work. My answer is simple: not now, not at UArts.
The University of the Arts is committed to the exercise of free speech and academic freedom, to addressing difficult or controversial issues and ideas through civil discussion, with respect for those who hold opinions different from our own. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis’ 1927 advice still holds true today: that the remedy for messages we disagree with or dislike is more speech and not enforced silence.
Paglia praised Yager’s response and described the protest as a “publicity stunt.”
In an email, Paglia said Yager’s “eloquent statement affirming academic freedom was a landmark in contemporary education.” She said she hopes “it will be a turning point in how American colleges and universities deal with their rampant problem of compulsory ideological conformity.”
She described the protest and petition as “a publicity stunt without academic merit or import” and wrote that “the people involved evidently do not read books (I’ve written eight) but get their information from garbled social media.”
So add this to the list of attempts by far-left students to silence professors who threaten their safe space by speaking. Fortunately, this one has a relatively happy ending. It really makes a difference to have someone in charge who understands the concept of free speech and academic freedom. Imagine how differently things might have gone at Evergreen State College if President George Bridges had issued a statement like the one above instead of acceding to all of the students’ demands.