Commentator John Carlson has some advice for the University of Washington administration and the College Republicans club.
Twice in one year’s time the College Republicans at the University of Washington have held public events on the UW campus. The first, a speech by British right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, dissolved into violence, including a shooting, outside Kane Hall. The second, a free speech rally last Saturday on the Red Square plaza featuring Joey Gibson’s Patriot Prayer group, ended with pushing, shoving and a handful of “counterprotesters” arrested, with more pepper-sprayed.
The UW administration charged the young Republicans $7,000 in security costs for the Yiannopoulos speech and tried to charge them more than twice that for Saturday’s event. But a federal judge issued an injunction preventing the school from forcing a student club to write a check for security for an on-campus rally.
More than 35 years ago, I headed the UW’s college Republican club, and we held speeches and rallies, too. One was in the closing weeks of the heated 1980 campaign between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, and featured famous anti-Vietnam War Democrat Eugene McCarthy, who shocked the country when he announced his endorsement of Ronald Reagan. Another speech later that year featured Eldridge Cleaver, the incendiary Black Panther who authored “Soul on Ice” but had done a political 180 after living in Cuba. Both men were seminal figures during the political and culture battles of the ’60s and shared their transformations on campus a dozen years later.
We weren’t charged a “security fee” for either event. There were plenty of curious, skeptical lefties at the speeches, but no attempts to “shut it down.”
So what changed from then to now? Well among other things, tolerance has changed, or rather the lack of it
When I was at the UW, the standard was the “Skokie case,” where a largely Jewish town in Illinois, including residents who survived the Holocaust, tried to stop American Nazis from marching in their city. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Nazis, holding that the First Amendment wasn’t written to support popular speech, but the exact opposite, to protect unpopular speech. The popular adage on campuses then was, “I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend your right to say it.”
The political left today doesn’t believe that. It equates conservative and right-wing speech with violence that threatens the safety of marginalized, oppressed peoples who deserve a “safe space.” So using force to shut down anti-progressive speech is, in their view, morally justifiable.
Thus has come a wave of attacks on campus free speech from coast to coast, not just on right-wing firebrands, but respected conservative scholars like the Manhattan Institute’s Heather MacDonald. It reached its frenzied low point last spring at The Evergreen State College, when a popular, progressive Bernie Sanders-supporting biology professor, Bret Weinstein, was literally hounded off the campus he had taught at for a decade and a half. His transgression? Daring to publicly oppose a proposed day when white students, faculty and staff were asked to stay off campus. The aftermath has been dreadful for Evergreen, which has lost students, faculty, staff, money and stature.
So what should happen now at the UW? Two suggestions:
First, for the College Republicans. Hey guys, I fully understand the temptation to poke a finger in the eye of the liberal establishment, but colleges are first and foremost about stimulating the mind. So how about less Milo and Joey and instead have authors like Steven Pinker and Jordan Peterson? Both have best-selling books that challenge politically correct orthodoxy but do so through intellectual persuasion, not emotional provocation. After all, challenging the way things are through rigorous thinking and powerful persuasion is what universities are all about.
Second, for the university administration. Intended or not, a double standard for free speech is created when liberal and left-wing groups can host an event knowing that conservatives won’t organize to “shut it down,” which would drive up security costs, while conservative groups are assessed multi-thousand dollar security fees because leftists organize for precisely that reason.
Accordingly, the president’s office should announce that no group will be charged a security fee for holding a public event; that students or staff who attempt to prevent such events from being held will be ordered out of the venue; that if they refuse to leave they will be arrested and suspended for the balance of the year; and that if they violently resist arrest they will be expelled, or if they are staff members, fired.
Students and staff will respect the First Amendment rights of others. Period. Outsiders will be arrested and sued by the UW for the costs of security to hold the event and maintain peace and order.
If President Ana Mari Cauce does that — and follows through — things will get better in a hurry. It also sets an example for other campuses in the country. Like Evergreen.