The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
UPDATE (2:00 p.m. Pacific Thursday): At about 12:45 pm today, Cal. State L.A. put out a statement, which I couldn't post until now because I was teaching:
Author Ben Shapiro was invited to speak this afternoon at Cal State LA by the Young Americans for Freedom, which is a registered student organization. The event, "When Diversity Becomes a Problem," was funded by the Associated Students, Inc., the student government.
Leading up to the event, there were a number of emails and social media posts that caused concern for the campus community. Given threats and expressions of fear, President William A. Covino proposed a rescheduled event that would be civil and inclusive, and in which Mr. Shapiro and speakers with other viewpoints could offer their perspectives in an organized forum.
"My decision was made in the interest of safety and security," Covino said. "I am disappointed that Mr. Shapiro has not accepted my invitation to speak in such a forum. He has indicated that he will come to Cal State LA to speak today at the University-Student Union Theatre, where he was originally scheduled to deliver his talk," Covino told the University community Thursday morning.
Covino added: "I strongly disagree with Mr. Shapiro's views. But if Mr. Shapiro does appear, the University will allow him to speak. We will make every effort to ensure a climate of safety and security."
Original post: The Young America's Foundation student chapter at Cal State L.A. invited conservative writer Ben Shapiro to give a talk Thursday called "When Diversity Becomes a Problem." The event was suitably scheduled, and apparently supported with $560 from the student government, under its general student group policies. But after various people criticized Shapiro's upcoming talk, university president William Covino canceled the event; here's the e-mail forwarded to me by the Foundation (Cal State hasn't responded to my request for any further comment from them):
After careful consideration, I have decided that it will be best for our campus community if we reschedule Ben Shapiro's appearance for a later date, so that we can arrange for him to appear as part of a group of speakers with differing viewpoints on diversity. Such an event will better represent our university's dedication to the free exchange of ideas and the value of considering multiple viewpoints. We will be happy to work with Mr. Shapiro to schedule the more inclusive event that I have in mind. I have informed the university staff involved in facilitating the February 25 event that it will be rescheduled and reconfigured for a later date.
Canceling or postponing student-organized speeches at a public university based on the speakers' viewpoints, though, violates the First Amendment. (See generally Rosenberger v. Rector (1995), which makes clear that the university can't discriminate based on viewpoint even when it's funding student groups.) And I very much doubt that this "only as part of a group of speakers with different views" requirement is a generally applicable rule—I know of no such rule either at Cal State L.A. or at any other campus.
As the Daily Caller (Blake Neff) points out, just yesterday—to give just one example—Cal State L.A. presented a video lecture by former Communist Party presidential candidate Angela Davis and activist Tim Wise; the announcements gave no indication that this was organized to present "differing viewpoints" on their subject. And while that was apparently put on by the school itself, I can't imagine that the school requires ideological balance from presentations by student groups, when it's willing to present ideologically homogeneous presentations by its own invited speakers.
Inside Higher Ed (Josh Logue) has more, as does the Chronicle of Higher Education (Courtney Kueppers). I'm told that Shapiro plans to come and give the talk today in any event, even if the university kicks him out of the room and he has to do it outdoors. Should be interesting to see; and the lawsuit if Shapiro is indeed barred from speaking should be interesting (and successful), too.