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To Restore Free Speech, Discipline is Necessary

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Some students at Kennesaw State University outside Atlanta have filed a lawsuit against the university, and for a very good reason. They are members of the Young Americans for Freedom, and they allege they’re the victims of discriminatory treatment by the administration.

The facts aren’t complicated. The group invited Katie Pavlich to visit the campus and speak, a reasonable choice given her editorship of TownHall, the right-leaning news site. But Pavlich’s profile promised to spark controversy and, hence, the need for more security. So the administration added an extra $320 in costs for the event and billed the students. YAF was also denied the chance to tap student activity funding to help cover the bill.

It’s a common scenario. A conservative speaker is invited; rumors and threats of protests and shutdowns circulate; schools beef up security; and the sponsoring group is asked to pay. In other words, the students who invited the speaker bear the burden of handling in advance the disruptions that may ensue. If a leftist group pledges to show up and shout out, the student-hosts, who followed all the rules, must pay for the containment of the rule-breakers.

It is hard to tell if the university administration pursues this course because they share the ideology of the disruptors or because they are bureaucrats who just want to make problems go away. The easiest thing for the university bureaucrat would be for the event to be canceled. Either way, though, free speech is lost.

This is why the efforts to pass campus free speech laws in various states are an important development. One version of those bills the work of Stanley Kurtz and the Goldwater Institute. They’ve collaborated with principled legislators such as Georgia State Senator William Ligon to bring those proposals to a vote. (You can read about the Georgia efforts and frustrations here.)

The Goldwater bill aims to:

  • Abolish restrictive campus speech codes and so-called “free speech zones”;
  • Discourage disinvitations of speakers;
  • Allow protests and demonstrations as long as they do not “infringe on the rights of others to engage in or listen to expressive activity”;
  • Discourage schools from taking official institutional positions on public policy controversies;
  • Require that students who break these rules be punished (any student who “has been twice found responsible for infringing upon the expressive rights of others shall be suspended for a minimum of one year or expelled”).

We need a law that guarantees free speech on campus because too many students don’t respect it. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), barely one-third of college students think that the First Amendment should cover hate speech. Less than half of them (46 percent) even know that there is no constitutionally recognized category of “hate speech.”

Given the fuzziness of the meaning of “hate,” those are troubling numbers. To some people, opposition to same-sex marriage is a form of hate. So are objections to transgender bathrooms and pro-life campaigns. Former FBI Director James Comey was shouted down recently by students who viewed his defense of police actions as “hate speech.”

Young people who disrupt and shut down campus events believe if they find a teacher or visiting speaker offensive, they shouldn’t have to listen to him. He shouldn’t even be allowed on campus. Usually, their objections stem from sensitivities over matters of race, sex, gender, religion, politics, and nation. But an open society demands that grown-ups have a thick skin. You have to allow people wide latitude of opinion. So long as they do not incite violence or threaten others, campus speakers have the right to speak.

That’s not an easy lesson to learn. Our basic impulse when we hear an offensive remark is to counterattack, not to debate. Anthropologists sometimes speak of the rise of liberal mores—a marketplace of ideas, religious pluralism, scientific method—as a miracle. We’re more disposed to be tribal than liberal. The company of like-minded persons is more comforting than exchanges with ideological foes.

Higher education plays a crucial role in this preparation. Schools must demonstrate to 19-year-olds how adversaries properly engage. As anyone with kids understands, the learning doesn’t stick unless it is backed by discipline. Adolescents won’t adopt liberal conduct if illiberal conduct lacks consequences.

This brings us to the part of the Goldwater model bill that gives some observers reservations: the requirement that students be disciplined for repeated disruptions and mobbing. Why should the government get involved in university discipline?

Because university administrators have a hard time exercising it. The way in which schools respond to potential shutdowns proves it. They don’t tell the perpetrators, “You shall be punished.” They tell the victims, “You shall pay up.” The core of the problem, I suspect, is that college leaders are uncomfortable in the role of disciplinarian. They want to present a pleasing “brand” in the marketplace; they want outsiders to believe that students at their schools are happy and healthy; they want to avoid litigation and bad publicity.

But in withholding discipline, the administrators only make the problems worse. When they fail to enforce proper limits for students in a whole variety of areas, they aggravate the tensions.

We should help the administrators. If legislatures step in to provide limits to the amount of disruption that schools will tolerate, administrators will likely, though silently, feel relieved. A law requiring punishment will get them off the hook. More importantly, it would educate the more raucous and thin-skinned youths in our midst in the responsibilities of citizenship in a free society.

Photo credit: PM Images/Getty Images

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17 replies
  1. Cybergeezer
    Cybergeezer says:

    Stop the hate speech, you deplorable bastards!
    Too funny:
    MORE laws that will water down the 1st Amendments purpose and intent!
    Oh! But, this will put it in language the terminally inculcated snowflake just might understand?
    Maybe they could possibly conjure up some “law” that holds violent students responsible for their personal injury and property damage? Or would that be considered too radically and Draconian conservative supremacy?
    How about a law that bans any federal funding to juvenile day care facilities that masquerade as “colleges” and “universities”?

  2. curri
    curri says:

    Freedom of speech is close to dead outside the US, and things aren’t looking too good here either.

  3. ADM64
    ADM64 says:

    There is no problem whatsoever with a bill expelling students who disrupt speeches on campus if the school is a state university. The state government has the right to establish rules for it, and they have a constitutional obligation to ensure that all citizens’ views can be safely aired. In other words, it is not a private university. For the latter, however, the Federal (and where applicable state) government should a) withhold all Federal funds for a period of two years to any university that fails to protect its students’ civil rights, b) sue for civil rights violations – especially if violence is involved – for a sum equal to 1/4 the university’s endowment for such violations and c) review whether or not the university had committed fraud if it claims as part of its admissions policy that it is open to and protective of all students’ rights and then fails to do so.

  4. Robert Browning
    Robert Browning says:

    Just withdraw public financing of higher education. Take government money out of the equation and force educational institutions to teach things that will help a person earn a living.

  5. DMH
    DMH says:

    Charging a group for security because of threats from radicals is a University condoned heckler’s veto and only rewards the unwanted behavior. University administrations can’t be so stupid that they don’t understand this. That leaves us with the idea that they are actively enabling the radicals. They should be fired for incompetence and the radicals should be jailed.

    • Steve Gregg
      Steve Gregg says:

      Doesn’t it follow that if colleges foster rape cultures that coeds must pay for their security to attend?

      • Robert Browning
        Robert Browning says:

        You have blacks at colleges that don’t belong there. Remove the public funding, the misallocation of resources and many things normalize.

  6. Steve Gregg
    Steve Gregg says:

    College administrators are certainly comfortable with being disciplinarians against innocent men falsely accused of rape. The problem is that college administrators are cowards who revel in attack when they have the advantage and flee when at the disadvantage. All they have to do is arrest some protesters and put them in prison and the rest will shrink away.

    • ohio granny
      ohio granny says:

      Most college administrators put up with this behavior because for the most part they are leftists. Leftists and cowards.

  7. Monsieur Voltaire✓ᴰᵉᵖˡᵒʳᵃᵇˡᵉ
    Monsieur Voltaire✓ᴰᵉᵖˡᵒʳᵃᵇˡᵉ says:

    I’m kind of ready to see a group of grizzled Marine veterans beat the sh!t out of Antifa types–of both sexes–and I really do mean beat the sh!t out of them good and hard, rip their masks off, break some bones and rearrange their soyfaced features until even their single mommies can’t recognize them. On TV, and YouTube, while the pudgy campus Doughnut Patrol stands there passively as they are wont to do anyway. Do this a half-dozen times, they’ll stay home and play D&D instead of busting the balls of grownups.

    I think we normies have it up to our back teeth to see petulant children call the shots.

    • SaguaroJack49
      SaguaroJack49 says:

      Prollem with the plan is that the rioters aren’t students. They’re paid by Soros to show up and start fights, break things, act abominably and make it impossible for anything constructive to happen. They do need bones broken. Lots of bones broken.

      • Monsieur Voltaire✓ᴰᵉᵖˡᵒʳᵃᵇˡᵉ
        Monsieur Voltaire✓ᴰᵉᵖˡᵒʳᵃᵇˡᵉ says:

        Oh, they don’t need to be students. They need to be beat up. Whoever they are.

  8. ohio granny
    ohio granny says:

    The sad reality is most of the disruptive students have never in their lives been told no or ever had to face discipline for bad behavior. Because they have never had to deal with the real world I’m not sure they even know the difference between a difference of opinion and aggression. They truly are a bunch of snow flakes who are totally unprepared to deal with the real world. The colleges are doing then no favors by allowing them to shut down any opposition without paying any consequences.

  9. sestamibi
    sestamibi says:

    What’s truly sad is that the president of Kennesaw State is Sam Olens, the former REPUBLICAN attorney general of Georgia.

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