Universities Cater to Intolerance, Cancel Controversial Speakers at Alarming Rate


Harvard University
Wikimedia Commons

In the wake of the successful campaigns to prevent the commencement addresses of three high-profile speakers—Condoleezza Rice at Rutgers University, Ayaan Hirsi-Ali at Brandeis University and Christine Lagarde at Smith College—many censorship-weary spectators of higher education fretted that "disinvitation season" seemed worse than ever this year.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) now has data to back up those fears. Since 2000, an increasing number of campus speakers faced both informal and formal muzzling at the hands of students, faculty and administrators eager to disrupt the presentation of viewpoints they don't like, according to FIRE's latest report.

"Disinvitation efforts are not new, but our research indicates that they are dramatically increasing," the report found.

FIRE noted that some prospective campus speakers voluntarily canceled their speeches after students and faculty protested their inclusion. Others were formally disinvited by university administrators. In some instances, speakers attempted to deliver their remarks but were silenced by hecklers. While this third kind of intolerance—the abject kind—was rarest, it occurred more frequently over the last few years.

While a speaker's conservative views on gay marriage, abortion and the War on Terror were most likely to yield a disinvitation, left-of-center speakers such as former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and activist Bill Ayers have also endured repeated silencing.

A key finding: Public and private universities disinvited speakers at nearly equal rates. As the report explains:

Disinvitation incidents occurred in remarkably even numbers among public colleges and universities (68), private secular institutions (59), and private religious institutions (65). The split between the types of institutions is surprisingly close, revealing a systemic problem—some students and faculty at colleges and universities of all types appear increasingly unwilling to allow those with whom they disagree to speak and advocate for their position on campus.

Private universities are well within their rights to cater to political correctness and rescind speaking invitations, of course. And students at private and public institutions have the right to protest speakers with whom they disagree.

Even so, colleges that cultivate an aura of knee-jerk hostility toward different ways of thinking are depriving students of one of the cardinal benefits of campus life: the opportunity to interact with unfamiliar perspectives and engage new ideas. They are also subtly teaching students to fear controversy and abhor dissent.

Given such an unfriendly environment for free expression, it's not surprising that some students now believe the syllabi for their English classes should come with warning labels that the works of Shakespeare and Homer may cause emotional distress.

NEXT: A State Actually Eliminates Regulations? I May Faint.

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  1. How many of the “disinvitees” were from the political left vs. the political right?

    1. In the top ten, just Ayers apparently.

      1. In his case, I think it’d be more proper to protest to put on pressure to fire whoever thought it was a good idea to invite him to speak in the first place.

        1. Something tells me that whoever thought it up was most likely caught completely off gaurd by the whole thing. He or she probably had no clue that a single person might have a problem with the selection.

  2. Even so, colleges that cultivate an aura of knee-jerk hostility toward different ways of thinking are depriving students of one of the cardinal benefits of campus life: the opportunity to interact with unfamiliar perspectives and engage new ideas. They are also subtly teaching students to fear controversy and abhor dissent.

    Feature, not bug. From my personal experience in a California public university, racial sensitivity and the importance of not offending or ‘microaggressing’ against minority groups have become an object of paramount importance.

    Opinions that run afoul of those viewpoints are treated with extreme hostility and prejudice.

  3. Tolerance means not tolerating intolerance.

    1. Or anyone who you disagree with at all, apparently.

      1. That’s what intolerance means.

  4. Something needs to replace/compete with universities, and give people another option for higher education. One that isn’t absurdly politicized, bloatedly government subsidized, and mostly useless anyway.

    1. You can earn more money as a welder than with most college degrees, and you won’t owe some group of politically-correct idiots tens of thousands for your “education”.

      1. yes

      2. Yeah, but what if you don’t want to be a welder? You can definitely do trade stuff now if you want, but it would be nice if people could go get a biology degree (if that’s what they want), or chemistry degree, or whatever, somewhere that isn’t insane. Even the more technical schools still tend to have a few insane departments.

        1. Check out Hillsdale College for your Liberal Arts (accepts no gummint money – none). If you’re a techie, Lawrence Tech or Kettering Univ (nee General Motors Institute) are pretty apolitical, scientific joints. We still hire engineers from both places every year…

          1. Oh, and hat tip to Northwood University, unabashedly, openly capitalist since…however long they’ve been around. My son in law just graduated from there – I was very, very impressed with the place. Hyper capitalist. Love it!

            1. Well, that’s something at least. It’s the government subsidy through student loans that are propping up all the crap, though.

          2. You are not holding Hillsdale up as apolitical are you?

        2. There must be some private universities that aren’t so steeped in progressive nuttery.

          1. Lots of conservative Christian private colleges.

          2. Hopkins was pretty clear of it when I was there, but that was some time ago, and I think even there has gotten pretty bad.

            1. It’s gotten pretty horrible actually.

              1. If it’s happened at Hopkins, I would imagine it’s happened mostly everywhere. That place was utterly unpolitical when I was there, at least in the circles I ran in. Do you remember it the same way?

                1. That place was utterly unpolitical when I was there, at least in the circles I ran in. Do you remember it the same way?

                  For the most part, yes. But I distinctly remember the local political scene that bled onto campus.

                  The engineering school was pretty isolated from most of it, but the School of Public Health has always been a source of nannies along with the typical humanities department commies. I also remember the Black Student Union was militant as hell (roommate belonged to it). They even branded each other to “celebrate” their brotherhood (unified by their slave ancestry).

                  1. Yeah, I remember the black students tended to self-segregate a ton. It seemed to be because they knew they had had points added to their SAT scores and other advantages to get in, and they knew other students were resentful…because you know how insanely competitive Hopkins is.

                    1. black students tended to self-segregate a ton

                      They arranged for Farrakhan to come speak one year. That was fun. The Jewish Student Association showed up and asked some very pointed questions until he just quit answering.

                      And it wasn’t just them. The Koreans hated the Chinese who hated the Japanese who hated the Vietnamese who hated the Taiwanese. The Asian student groups were a bizarre morass of ethnic hatred I had never encountered before then.

                    2. Gosh, one might get to thinking that universities are deliberately stirring up racial animosity or something. Nah.

                    3. Is this sarcasm? Hopkins is competitive in some sense.

                    4. Is this sarcasm? Hopkins is competitive in some sense.

                      Not really. Academic competitiveness is one thing. I had textbooks stolen before exams and cheating was rampant among the pre-meds. A couple of students who couldn’t hack not being in the top ten percent anymore killed themselves. But the ethnic infighting was weird. I kept waiting for an Asian Jets vs Sharks scenario.

            2. To be honest, I think it started before us. Stanley Fish was a professor there for several years before he moved on to Duke. Progressive claptrap and political correctness seem to follow that asshole everywhere.

              Nevermind that Hopkins receives monstrous amounts of federal dollars and Bloomberg has a lot of sway there as well.

              1. I was talking more about among the student population. There will always be crank professors. But the question is how politicized is the student body?

                1. how politicized is the student body?

                  Check the newsletter

                  1. I only read the Black and Blue Jay, dude.

                    1. I only read the Black and Blue Jay, dude.

                      I still remember the “Eat Your Parsley” campaign.

                    2. I remember laughing out loud when then did some “what other colors should there be in the crayon box” and one of the colors was “Bongwater”. Of course, I was stoned at the time so that makes sense.

                    3. They appear to still have some of the funny left.


                      New anti-hazing policy just went into effect. Now all pledges must sign consent forms with their own blood.

                      Breaking News: The new iPhone will have an app to help you understand your Calc III TA

        3. Perhaps the solution is to break STEM courses off from the social sciences. The social sciences, outside of economics, seems to be a den of victimhood oneupsmanship.

    2. Yeah. I hope online courses or something like that manages to take off and be considered legitimate. Because normal 4 year college is getting ridiculous (and as I note below has been ridiculous for some time). A lot of people go to college with the intention of being activists. Which really is pathetic. What is more impotent than a bunch of privileged young people staging protests that no one cares about or pays attention to in a completely safe environment where hardly anyone disagrees with you?


      And operations like his. His is the superior. . .education.

      1. “I’ve never even met Chancellor Kirk.”

        1. It’s a damned shame that Montalb?n isn’t around to do a commercial for the Khan Academy. It would’ve been totally epic. Preferably also featuring William Shatner. I can hear the “Star Trek Fightin’ Song” just thinking about it.

          1. “I know my own needs. And what I need from a private academy I get from Khan. I could ask for nothing beyond the quality of Khan’s tutorship. I request nothing beyond the thickly cushioned luxury of desks available even in soft Corinthian leather.”


        2. You lie! At Berkeley there was a decent comp sci program! A fair chance…

          1. Episiarch, although your abilities intrigue me, you are quite honestly inferior. Mentally, physically. Which is why you should attend Khan Academy.

            1. Khan… Khan, you’ve got the Academy, but you don’t have me. You were going to fail me, Khan. You’re going to have to come down here to Wesleyan. You’re going to have to come down here!

              1. At Khan Academy, nothing ever changes, except education. Your technical accomplishments? Improve a mechanical device and you may double productivity, but improve education and you gain a thousandfold. Khan is such an academy.

                1. This is Chancellor Kirk. We tried it once your way, Khan, are you game for a rematch? Khan, I’m laughing at the “superior education.”

                  1. Surely I have made my meaning plain. I mean to avenge myself upon you, Chancellor. I’ve deprived your university of purpose and when I swing round I mean to deprive it of its life.

                    1. Scotty, I need competitive tuition in three minutes or we’re all finished!

                    2. Are you out of your Vulcan mind? No university can tolerate the politics loose in there!


  5. It has been a while since I’ve been at college, but I went to a school which prided itself for student activism and saw some stuff like this. One that stuck out was protests when Madelene Albright came to speak and people protested her and accused her of genocide because of Clinton’s ongoing bombing of Iraq.

    I think that a lot of college students see activism as a good in its own right, which is stupid, but explains why shit like this keeps happening. When you don’t have a real clear target like the Vietnam war, or South African Apartheid or George W Bush, you have to protest something. The obvious question is why not the current administration, but we know some of the answers to that.

    1. My school had Albright as a commencement speaker in 2001 and there were a number of people who did the stand up and turn their back silent protest. One of them was right next to me and I had a hard time not giggling at the absurdity of it all, because of course the people who protest Albright were just another type of authoritarian themselves. And I think a few of them got hired into the State Department sometime down the road. TOP. MEN.

  6. They are also subtly teaching students to fear controversy and abhor dissent.


  7. When it invites/disinvites commencement speakers, the *college* is exercising its free speech. This isn’t the Student Political Union asking to use Bates Hall for a speech by Lou Dobbs.


      2. For the college to invite/disinvite someone as a commencement speaker is not censorship.

        The college is putting its imprimatur on the speaker and his/her life, and to an extent on his/her ideas. It’s holding up the speaker as an exemplar.

        When the Student Communist Club asks to book Angela Davis and the administration agrees, then if it gets criticized it says, “look, we’re just letting these students invite whom they please, based on academic freedom. We’re not *endorsing* Mr. Dobbs.”

        This presupposes that the college has a “first-come-first” served, viewpoint-neutral method of scheduling speakers during the year.

        But if they invite Davis to give the commencement address, how can it avoid the suggestion that it’s endorsing Davis’ career?

        1. “We’re not endorsing Ms. *Davis.*

          1. Now, I think there’s a lot to be said for WF Buckley’s claim that academic freedom is a superstition. But if secular colleges include academic-principles in their policies, they should abide by those policies.

            1. State colleges of course are govt agencies bound by the 1st Amendment.

        2. That’s a reasonable distinction to make. But I think it is still not a good sign. It’s pretty close to a heckler’s veto sort of thing.

          As I’ve hinted at above, I think one of the biggest problems is that a lot of students seem to think that the point of college is to protest stuff.

          1. Sure, the commencement speakers are being disinvited for the wrong reasons.

            And many commencement speakers – like Angela Davis IIRC – were *invited* for the wrong reasons.

            But let’s put the principle this way: if you could vote on having Angela Davis or Tom Woods as a commencement speaker, wouldn’t you go for Woods? Would you feel all censor-y for choosing one speaker over another?

            1. Yes. Perhaps consulting the senior class about who they would like to be speaker would have been smart.

  8. This really is too bad. My small, private college was good enough to set in front of me, at various times, for my consumption, Russell Kirk, Gloria Steinham, Joseph Sobran, Madeline Albright….lots of others, you get the idea.

    Not so much any more. Been mostly a train of progressively more-“progressive” derptards, with few I’d describe as “right wing”. “Libertarian”? Perish the thought.

    More’s the pity. I despised many of these people (not Kirk – he was an absolute GEM), but in all cases came away with a better understanding of them as actual people – and not cartoons – for having heard them speak in person.


    1. We had a huge variety of speakers at Florida. It was one of the perks at being at a larger university. Bet that variety has narrowed since I was in school in the 1980s.

      1. I actually agree with Eddie, there’s a difference between commencement speakers or people who are going get an honorary degree and speakers that are brought in by various campus groups. Were the variety of speakers you remember from the first or second category?

        1. Second. I’ve said elsewhere that I don’t particularly understand why controversial speakers are being invited to commencements. Not sure the kids or the families are really there for that.

  9. I have to wonder where they got their ‘data’ from. Was it from ‘accounts’ of disinvites? Because that would be like saying there are more meth sales going on now because we can count more stories in the news about meth sales.

    1. You should read the article, especially the part where your question is answered.

      It’s the “Methodology” section and it’s clearly labeled.

      1. I see, and it seems to confirm my concerns (if anything it’s worse that it includes submissions to the organization and news accounts).

        “FIRE researched disinvitation efforts at public and private American institutions from the year 2000 to the present by collecting data from a number of sources, including news accounts and case submissions to FIRE and other organizations.”

        1. Where the fuck else are they going to get the intel from bo? It’s not like the census bureau is keeping track…

  10. Email me a PDF of my diploma, thanks.

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