Protesters shouted down University of Oregon president Michael H. Schill earlier this month, preventing him from delivering his state-of-the-university speech.
Like alt-right twentysomethings addicted to Pepe the Frog memes, tiki-torch parades, and hatin’ on Jews, campus lefties have morphed into their own pernicious platoon, recognizable from its liberal use of clenched fists, bullhorns, and the occasional riot to shut down the speakers they denounce.
Granted, many of the objects of these students’ ire are undeniably revolting, but even the loathsome have a First Amendment right to speak at public universities, which is why neo-Nazis like Richard Spencer keep winning in court when these institutions attempt to bar him.
Less odious figures than Spencer have been getting the heckler’s veto, too, sometimes with a generous dollop of violence or threats of same — such as right-wing troll Milo Yiannopoulos and seriously twisted political scientist Charles Murray.
And then there are the decidedly non-odious speakers, like Claire Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia. Gastañaga was about to discuss the First Amendment at her alma mater, William & Mary, in late September, when a contingent of Black Lives Matter demonstrators shouted her down, chanting, “The revolution will not uphold the constitution,” and “ACLU, you protect Hitler, too.”
More recently, Michael H. Schill, president of the University of Oregon, was inducted into the league of the shouted-down when about 45 students rushed the stage and prevented Schill from delivering his October 6 state-of-the-university speech. A spokesman for the group told the campus daily that the demonstrators were taking a stand against the “fascism” and “systems of oppression” that exist at the school.
In a recent New York Times op-ed, Schill took issue with the increasingly popular “tactic of silencing,” arguing that “students who squelch speech alienate those who are most likely to be sympathetic to their message.”
It is also ironic that they would associate fascism with the university during a protest in which they limit discourse. One of the students who stormed the stage during my talk told the news media to “expect resistance to anyone who opposes us.” That is awfully close to the language and practices of those the students say they vehemently oppose.
Fundamentally, fascism is about the smothering of dissent. Every university in the country has history classes that dig into fascist political movements and examine them along very clear-eyed lines. Fascist regimes rose to power by attacking free speech, threatening violence against those who opposed them, and using fear and the threat of retaliation to intimidate dissenters.
By contrast, American academia is dedicated to rational discourse, shared governance and the protection of dissent. Historically, fascists sought to silence, imprison and even kill university professors and other intellectuals who resisted authoritarian rule. So the accusation that American universities somehow shelter or promote fascism is odd and severely misguided.
Undoubtedly, the term “fascism” has an effective anti-authoritarian ring to it, so perhaps that is why it is thrown around so much these days. But from what I can tell, much of what students are protesting, both at the University of Oregon and elsewhere, is the expression of viewpoints or ideologies that offend them and make them feel marginalized. They are fed up with what they see as a blanket protection of free speech that, at its extreme, permits the expression of views by neo-Nazis and white supremacists. I am opposed to all these groups stand for, but offensive speech can never be the sole criterion for shutting down a speaker.
Click the link below to read Schill’s New York Times op-ed in its entirety: