Like many people with opinions on Adrian Raine’s speech tonight at the College of Charleston, I am angry. But I am not angry at the College for inviting an expert on the biological links to crime to speak, or for defending academic freedom by refusing to cancel a speech. I’m angry that pandering politicians are threatening the funding of a public college and attacking freedom of speech. According to the local newspaper, “state Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Daniel Island, said he and some other legislators will look less favorably at the college if it doesn’t cancel Raine’s talk.”
I can perhaps sympathize with the family of a murder victim making irrational demands for vengeance against those who played no part in their daughter’s death, but state legislators have no such excuse. Indeed, the politicians condemning this speech are responsible for the deaths of far more Virginians than the speaker they denounce. They have cut the budgets for law enforcement and health and safety regulation; they have raised speed limits, allowed dangerous levels of pollution, or defended the criminalization of marijuana. All of these things have caused the deaths of far more people than Raine, whose expert testimony is keeping a murderer behind bars for life. Yet I would never support banning politicians from speaking at a public college because of the consequences of their professional work, even if I’m skeptical of that particular science of sociobiology.
Just last year, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz was an honored speaker at the College of Charleston. Dershowitz is most famous for helping a murderer named O.J. Simpson escape justice. I cannot find any of these politicians demanding taxpayer cuts in retaliation for Dershowitz’s speech, because it would be wrong for anyone to do so.
Last year, I also spoke at the College of Charleston for the campus AAUP chapter, about the importance of shared governance and academic freedom. In a free society, it’s essential that we encourage professors and students to invite provocative speakers without censorship by administrators or threats of retaliation by legislators.