We can’t afford to retreat on college campuses

Matthew Hurtt Contributor
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As a staunch advocate for free speech and a former College Republican, I was disheartened and disappointed that the Fordham University CRs rescinded their invitation for Ann Coulter to speak on campus at the end of November in the wake of growing criticism from students and administrators.

According to a report here at The Daily Caller, leftist students organized to oppose Coulter’s invitation, using the petition site Change.org to gather more than 2,000 signatures. The petition’s creator “concedes that free speech is a right, but argues that Coulter has made a career out of insulting various minority groups,” according to the report.

Fordham University President Joseph McShane expressed his disappointment with the College Republicans in a letter:

“To say that I am disappointed with the judgment and maturity of the College Republicans, however, would be a tremendous understatement. There are many people who can speak to the conservative point of view with integrity and conviction, but Ms. Coulter is not among them. Her rhetoric is often hateful and needlessly provocative — more heat than light — and her message is aimed squarely at the darker side of our nature.”

Despite his personal objections, McShane did say the university would allow Coulter to speak. To that end, President McShane has been accommodating.

The issue isn’t necessarily that the Fordham College Republicans rescinded their invitation, although it’s an unfortunate example of the ferocity of the speech police on university campuses. Those responsible for rescinding the invitation should be ashamed of themselves for ceding ground on campus, where conservative and right-of-center viewpoints are castigated, heckled, marginalized, and silenced.

What’s at stake here is the right of free speech on campus, which is threatened by the left’s efforts to brand opposing views as “hate speech.”

University administrators love to describe college as the “marketplace of ideas,” but that’s a blatant lie in most instances. University campuses are oftentimes the marketplace of ideas with which only the overwhelmingly liberal faculty and administration agree. Universities spend countless thousands of dollars a year bringing left-wing speakers to campus but criticize every penny that goes toward conservative speakers, sometimes even withholding funding altogether.

High-minded academics seek to define dissenting speech as “hate speech” and consider it outside the protections of the First Amendment. Don’t agree with Ann Coulter? It’s because she spews hate speech. Meanwhile, liberal speakers come to campus and administrators ask students to be more “open-minded” and “tolerant” of diverse views. It’s total hypocrisy, and those on the right should combat it on every front.

The left wants to re-define the language to reflect their belief system, and the Fordham CRs are accomplices in the left’s quest on their campus. Their capitulation is an admission on their behalf that Ann Coulter says objectionable things — so-called “hate speech” — and that they don’t support her right to say them.

“Tolerant” liberals cannot stand views different from their own. A quotation attributed to the late conservative thinker William F. Buckley, Jr. adequately summarized their opposition to diversity of thought: “Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views.“

Luckily, organizations exist to equip students (and in some instances, faculty and administrators) with the tools to combat the free speech police on campus.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) routinely criticizes university speech codes and provides legal assistance for those whose rights have been violated on campus. The Leadership Institute’s CampusReform.org gives a voice to conservative students whose views are marginalized or silenced on campus. The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) fights for religious liberty on campus.

These organizations can’t stop the speech police on campus by themselves. It takes a willing student who will stand up and fight back. It isn’t easy. It takes the courage of your convictions to weather public criticism. It takes guts to push back.

The Fordham CRs showed they lacked the courage of their convictions and the guts to stand up to the “tolerant” left on campus. It may seem like an insignificant story, but it’s a significant victory for speech police on campus. I hope future leaders of their organization have the intestinal fortitude to stand up to the intolerance of the “tolerant” left at Fordham.

Matthew Hurtt is a libertarian activist and former Campus Services Coordinator for the Leadership Institute’s CampusReform.org. Follow him on Twitter @matthewhurtt