The New York Daily News was nice enough to publish my brief piece on the Columbia Minuteman Mob. The essential thrust of the op-ed is simple: We’re seeing a bit of a resurgence in the kind of mob censorship that dominated much of the Sixties. From crowds blocking access to military recruiters, to the occasional assault on conservative speakers, to threats against students who fight for free speech on campus, we’re seeing hints of the bad old days of campus takeovers and student violence. Gallaudet, in fact, is this week living through its own private version of 1968.
While the violence is troubling on its own terms, it is in a strange way a mark of progress. After the Sixties’ radicals gained tenure, they achieved through bureaucracy and administrative process what they had to resort to sit-ins and vandalism to achieve during the Vietnam War. Why take over an administration building when you’re sitting behind the desk? Why skip classes to protest the war when you can teach against it in your own classroom? For a long time, the tenured campus left worked hand-in-hand with student radicals to institutionalize censorship. There was no need for a mob when there was a speech code. There was no need to storm the stage when a conservative couldn’t gain access to the stage in the first place.
The recent increase in radical student violence is perhaps a sign that administrations may be changing. Regardless of where their ideological sympathies lie, perhaps campus officials are now getting the message that free speech should be protected and different ideas can and must be heard. For those radical students who were used to silencing opposition merely by raising the specter of their own offense and filing an administrative complaint, that is disturbing indeed. Disturbing enough to take matters into their own hands.