Phi Beta Cons

Brown U. Students Can’t Handle Free Speech

On Tuesday, student protesters at Brown University shouted down a lecture from New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

Kelly spent thirty minutes trying to give his speech; during that time students disrupted the event with “loud shouting, persistent interruption, and coordinated chants [which] made it impossible for the lecture to take place,” according to the university. Finally, university officials canceled the talk.

The Kelly lecture is the latest in what looks like a growing free-speech challenge on campus: university leaders that profess to value free speech but then allow student protesters to disrupt controversial speakers.

That’s what happened here. Brown’s president said all the right things:

“The actions that led to the closing of this afternoon’s lecture prevented any exchange of ideas and deprived the campus and the Providence community of an opportunity to hear and discuss important social issues,” said Christina H. Paxson, Brown’s president, in the statement. “The conduct of disruptive members of the audience is indefensible and an affront both to civil democratic society and to the university’s core values of dialogue and the free exchange of views.”

But mourning isn’t enough. University officials need to take swift action when a protest disrupts a campus speaker, or they risk granting a “heckler’s veto” to any large and angry student group.

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