POSTED BY MARTIN KICH
On August 3, the Editorial Board of the Chicago Tribune published an editorial titled “DePaul University’s Fear of Words.”
This spring, protesters disrupted a talk by Milo Yiannopoulos, sponsored by the university’s Young Republicans.
In response to that event, which might have escalated to violence, the university’s president “described the gold standard for dealing with expression on campus: ‘Universities welcome speakers, give their ideas a respectful hearing, and then respond with additional speech countering the ideas.’”
Nonetheless, in fairly quick succession, the president of the university apologized first to the student group that had brought the speaker to campus and then to the student groups who found the speaker’s views abhorrent.
Subsequently, the College Republicans and the DePaul Young Americans for Freedom requested permission to sponsor another talk by Yiannopoulos and a talk by conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, and the “university rejected both requests, citing security issues.”
Against this background, the editors offer these observations on the decision to bar the speakers from campus:
“With conservatives and liberals at odds throughout the country, race issues flaring and Trump battling Clinton, you can glean why DePaul wants to call a timeout on bringing professional provocateurs to campus. The school is studying the question of how to balance the need to protect free expression against its obligation to keep order, but seems inclined to chew over the question. And chew over it some more, running out the clock on the 2016 election [and the university president’s final year in office before retirement]. ‘As the nation is struggling with how to have a civil discourse, so are universities, so is DePaul, the university [said] in a statement.
“Our problem with DePaul moving slowly and cautiously—a predilection in academia—is that a basic component of free expression is the timing: Shutting someone up for a day or a month or a year until everyone’s ducks are in a row is a form of censorship. It tampers with the ability of a speaker to be relevant. Political campaigns, social movements, the news flow and the commentators who riff on it—they all operate on a clock that won’t stop while DePaul convenes meetings and studies initiatives and ponders what to do.
“DePaul, as a private Catholic university, can set its own rules on speaker invitations. But if it takes its role seriously as a place of learning and discourse, it should commit to respecting free expression—not with lip service, but with courage that becomes routine.
“That means making plans to bring Yiannopoulos and Shapiro to campus this fall. There are ways to manage appearances by flamethrowers, starting with controlling who attends. Most of those at the Yiannopoulos event were not DePaul students. A DePaulcommunity-only audience would be easier to manage.
“Events such as these will be hard for some students to stomach because the goal of a provocative speaker is to goad. That’s OK. Let the kids in the audience feel some discomfort. Let them retort too. And let them learn an important lesson about democracy: All speech deserves protection, even—or rather, especially—the stuff they find repugnant.”
It’s hard to disagree with the editors’ basic point.
But, the condescension toward the students is self-indulgent—a cheap shot. If most of those who disrupted the talk this past spring “were not DePaul students,” how do the editors know what most of the students are thinking or feeling? And, beyond the stereotyping of DePaul’s students as having sensibilities that are too delicate to confront provocative opinions, putting the blame on “outside agitators” is another time-worn tactic used to minimize the significance of protests, especially from the Left.
The complete editorial is available at: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/editorials/ct-depaul-ben-shapiro-free-speech-edit-20160803-story.html.