I’ve argued lately that the campus free-speech crisis is escalating. The failure to punish shout-downs of visiting conservative speakers is now licensing disruptive attacks on administrators, professors in the classroom, and fellow students.
Now Campus Reform reports on a shout-down, not of a visiting speaker but of a peaceful meeting of College Republicans at the University of California at Santa Cruz. The organizer of the shout-down called on Facebook for students to “reject the ‘right of assembly’ or ‘right of free speech’ for white supremacists and fascists” (i.e. College Republicans). Demonstrators then shut down a Republican meeting in progress by forcing the doors and chanting at the group, calling them racists, fascists, and white supremacists. The College Republicans offered a dialogue, but the disruptors refused and continued to chant, demanding the campus Republicans break up their meeting and leave.
The disruptors even demanded that staff eject the College Republicans from the library where the meeting was being held. (You can see a brief video featuring a library staffer in the Campus Reform piece). Eventually, just to end the disturbance, library staff asked the Campus Republicans to leave. But the group rightly refused to go, and kept sitting quietly instead. According to the report, after two hours library staffers finally called the police, who promptly arrested three of the protesters.
This incident is another warning that shout-downs are threatening to morph into generalized warfare. I mean that only partly metaphorically. How long before student groups, nose-to-nose in confrontation, resort to violence? We saw some violence at Middlebury. But if nothing is done to stop these shout-downs, Allison Stanger’s concussion and neck-brace will have been only the beginning.
The Santa Cruz Republican-club shout-down bears some resemblance to the notorious UC Riverside MAGA hat-thief incident. Like the hat-thief, the Santa Cruz disruptors turned to campus officials expecting them to punish or silence peaceful Republicans. What does it tell you about the job colleges are doing when students expect administrators to punish freedom of expression?
Part of what we’re seeing at UC Riverside and Santa Cruz is the fruit of the new system of “bias reporting.” Both UC Santa Cruz and UC Riverside have “bias response teams.” This new “bias response team” phenomenon poses a tremendous potential danger to freedom of speech. As FIRE puts it, bias response teams are “literal speech police.” The College Fix just reported on a case in which a bias response team actually banned criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Bias response teams call on students to “report hate” to administrators, who promise to snuff it out. The Riverside hat-thief and the Santa Cruz meeting disruptors reported what they saw as hate (i.e. Republicans) to administrators, fully expecting campus officials to punish and silence those Republicans. And both the hat-thief and the UC Santa Cruz disruptors openly scorned free speech. This is what the new campus regime of “bias response teams” has created. Much of what student disruptors demand nowadays is an extension of this ideological policing to every facet of university life.
There’s plenty more to say about this incident, and I hope to follow up. But for now we can see that the campus free-speech crisis is escalating; that the targets of shout-downs are expanding; that the potential for violence is growing; and that the deadly anti-free speech culture purveyed by faculty and administrators alike is metastasizing.