Free speech’s survival is at stake at UC Irvine. Its fate is in the hands of UCI Chancellor Michael Drake.
On Monday night there was an assault on this most treasured principle of Americans. Michael Oren, a respected academic and Israel’s ambassador to the United States, attempted to make a presentation to about 500 students, faculty and community members about U.S.-Israeli relations. A raucous group of protesters time and again interrupted his effort to create a bridge of understanding over the contentious issue of the Middle East. The protesters screamed and shouted attempting to drown out the ambassador. One of one, they were removed by security officials who stood on the perimeter of the UCI Student Center.
[Editor’s note: UCI officials said Tuesday that of 12 people arrested, nine were UCI students, and three were students at UC Riverside. UCI police initially refused to release the names of the arrestees, who were cited for disrupting a public event.]
After repeated interruptions, Oren stepped out. In a side room, officials from the university, the Jewish community and the Israeli Consulate were questioning if the ambassador should continue. The real question was would the university be a place for an exchange of ideas or one where totalitarianism and verbal violence would hold sway.
The ambassador told Chancellor Drake, “It’s not about me speaking, it’s about the right of academic freedom on campus.” I told Drake that it was time for him to consider suspending or expelling students who believe they can use violence and intimidation to impose their views on others.
Eventually, Drake returned the hall, lamented the acts of the protesters and made a plea for civility.
In my view, his words were weak, lacking the determination needed. It was the chair of the Political Science department, who made a stronger statement, saying that “there would procedures taken against those who had attempted to destroy the evening.”
Finally, Ambassador Oren returned. A short while later, several people marched out, with the ambassador stating, “I wished they would have stayed, then we could have had a dialogue.”
This is not the first time that UCI has been the focus of violent acts by radical Arabs. The university administration last fall sent information to the FBI, alleging that members of the university’s Muslim Student Union collected money at a campus event, which then was given to an organization that provided funds to Hamas, which could be a violation of federal law, according to JewishJournal.com. Many Jewish students fear attending UCI since they know they will be victims of hostility and hate.
The real question is: What will the university administration do? Will it continue to sit on the sidelines, immobilized, fearing to act? Will administrators allow UCI to become a place of mob rule? Or will they take decisive action against those who attempt to impose their will.
It’s time that UCI consider suspension, and even expulsion, of those students who do not respect the basic tenets of free speech and academic freedom. The protesters attempted to terrorize the ambassador into silence. They almost succeeded. Such people are a threat to all in a civil society. If the university administration refuses to act, it becomes an accomplice to their acts of verbal violence and intimidation.
The shame is that Monday night could have become a remarkable opportunity for exchange and understanding. If the protesters would have challenged Ambassador Oren’s ideas, maybe small window of peace could have been opened. Instead, they chose to impose their views with violence and stifle any opportunity to talk. It is they who are destroying peace and the chance for a better life for all in the Middle East.