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Campus Free Speech Crisis Continues, and Administrators Do Nothing

April 19, 2018


April 19, 2018

America’s campus free speech crisis is continuing as speakers on college campuses continue to be shouted down, and university administrators stand idly by. This week, America saw two more of these anti-free-speech incidents, as Jonathan Butcher writes on

At the City University of New York (CUNY) law school, students shouted at guest lecturer Josh Blackman for approximately 10 minutes before he could continue his remarks. Remarkably, the CUNY law school dean issued a statement saying there would be no consequences for those that delayed the event and called it a “non-violent, limited protest,” even though video evidence shows protestors prevented Blackman from speaking before filing out of the room.Inside Higher Ed reports that students who wanted to hear Blackman speak were “intimidated” from coming in the room because of the protestors.

Last weekend, Duke University President Vincent Price’s speech before alumni during Alumni Weekend was stopped when “student protestors commandeered the stage,” according to the Raleigh News Observer.The paper reports some 30 protestors used a bullhorn to shout demands and told the university president to leave the stage. Some alumni “walked out of the event.” Though “administrators stood by and conferred about how to handle the situation” when it unfolded, as of this writing, the News Observer and Duke Chronicle do not report that school leadership is considering taking action after the event.

Butcher writes that “[t]hese events are notable considering a recent survey of school presidents that found 15 percent of respondents said that it is sometimes acceptable for students to shout down a speaker … Another 61 percent said that it is always or sometimes acceptable for students to engage in behavior that ‘disrupts operations in campus buildings’ such as sit-ins.”

The question then for policymakers, school leaders, parents, and students, Butcher explains, is “At what point is it too late to intervene when a speaker is being shouted down? Must we wait for violence to break out before they tried to restore order?” That question is critical, as recent incidents show that protests using the “heckler’s veto” can escalate into violence. Meanwhile Butcher writes, “other protests during this period that have proceeded without violence have drawn at least as much attention to the protestors and their demands as the scheduled event, providing examples of how protests can be effective when both sides are heard.”

The Goldwater Institute’s proposal to protect free speech on campus would not let administrators do nothing when campus mobs violate First Amendment rights. The proposals, versions of which have been enacted in North Carolina and adopted by the Wisconsin university system, require public colleges and universities to use their existing authority to suspend or expel students after the second free speech violation by offending students.

Critically, these students would have due process protections so that accusations would result in a hearing and proper legal representation—but the key provision that set Goldwater’s proposal apart is that administrators would not be allowed to risk a shout down turning violent. If students are the offenders, they should face consequences on campus just as they would off campus if they blocked someone else’s ability to express themselves.

Read more about the Goldwater Institute’s proposal at



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