Campus shout-downs and disruptions of public events seem to have taken a recess lately. The Wall Street Journal even asked "Have Campus Protesters Given Up on Charles Murray?" That headline was prompted by the just-going-through-the-motions demonstration at Stanford University last week when Mr. Murray and Francis Fukuyama squared off for a debate on "Inequality and Populism." The protesters stayed outside to chant their ritual obscenities, while in the auditorium, according to Tunku Varadarajanm "almost eerie civility prevailed."
Apparently the memo to leftist hoodlums didn't reach the University of Virginia chapter in time. The same evening (Thursday, February 22) that the Stanford protesters contented themselves with "F_ Steve Bannon, f____ the Western canon," their counterparts at UVA burst into an event titled "Building Bridges" hosted by the Brody Jewish Center. The protesters, using a bullhorn, shouted down the speakers. They chanted pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel slogans and ignored the offer from the rabbi presiding at the event to ask questions and engage in discussion. One person was assaulted before the campus police arrived, but the protesters then left and the event resumed.
University officials condemned the disruption but appear to be baffled by who perpetrated it.
We at the National Association of Scholars take the UVA incident as one more example of why we need to stiffen state laws protecting free expression of ideas at pubic colleges and universities, and why we need to amend the federal Higher Education Act to hold universities that receive federal funding accountable for their failures to safeguard academic freedom. The university in this case restored public order--but only after failing to maintain it in the first place. We don't know whether this was willful blindness or negligence, but the University of Virginia has a recent history of not maintaining adequate public order in the face of determined provocateurs.
It would be nice if the example of the Stanford protesters became the new norm. They had their say, but didn't prevent others from also having their say. The University of Virginia protesters, however, represent the all-too-common alternative of commandeering the stage in an angry performance aimed at silencing others. American higher education is seriously threatened by those who act this way--and by the university officials who do not do enough to anticipate and stop them.
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