I don’t get surprised very often when I read the latest academic news. But today, I was. A university actually took a strong stand against the disruptive tactics of a student group bent on silencing campus speech.
In February of this year, Michael Oren, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, visited the campus of the University of California at Irvine (UCI) to deliver a lecture titled, “U.S.-Israel Relations from a Political and Personal Perspective.” During the lecture, students from the Muslim Student Union interrupted him repeatedly by shouting him down and at times calling him a “killer.” Ultimately, the Ambassador was forced to stop speaking. You can see video from the event here and read UCI’s detailed investigation of the event here.
This is just the latest in a long line of campus incidents in which student organizations have disrupted or even assaulted speakers to silence their message. Interestingly, each incident has been spearheaded by leftist students or student groups in order to shut down speech that does not conform to the prevailing left-leaning political mindset. This has been the undeniable pattern when students rushed the stage at Columbia University to stop Jim Gilchrist, scuttled Tom Tancredo’s immigration speech at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, desecrated the pro-life “Cemetery of the Innocents” display at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and threw pies at David Horowitz, Pat Buchanan, and Ann Coulter at Ball State University, Western Michigan University, and the University of Arizona, respectively.
What has not been characteristic of such disruptions however, is an appropriate university response. Often university officials will overlook their own policies prohibiting disruption and merely descry the student response with a hollow invocation to tolerance and free speech. Such non-responses merely embolden further violence and chill the speech of all but the stoutest of heart. But UCI distinguished itself by actually disciplining the Muslim Student Union for its planned and coordinated disruption of Ambassador Oren’s speech. UCI suspended the group for a year and imposed fifty hours of community service. In doing so, UCI sent a message that it will not tolerate a “heckler’s veto” on free speech. The Muslim Student Union has-as do all student groups- the right to counter speech it abhors at an appropriate time, place and manner. But that right does not include the ability to disrupt and intimidate others into silence.
Universities have a special responsibility to ensure that speech is “robust and uninhibited” on campus. As such, they have a constitutional duty to protect speakers from those who would drown them out. Hats off to UCI for taking this duty seriously.
This post originally appeared here.