Campus Free Speech

Administrators at CUNY and Duke Aren't Going to Do Anything About Students Who Disrupted Events

Speakers' free speech rights threatened

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Duke

In the wake of shutdown attempts led by student-activists, administrators at Duke University and the City University of New York have finally made clear what their battle plan is for deterring such behavior in the future: do nothing.

Activists at Duke recently hijacked an alumni event and shouted down their own president, Vincent Price. The students were then shocked and outraged to learn that the administration was considering punishing them—even the mere suggestion of discipline was triggering and would exacerbate their "pre-existing mental health conditions," they claimed.

And so the administration folded. All student conduct investigations have been closed, according to The Daily Tar Heel.

At CUNY, student-protesters crashed a planned speech by South Texas College of Law Professor Josh Blackman. The talked over him for the first ten minutes of the event before leaving, which prevented Blackman from delivering his full remarks and may have intimidated would-be attendees. CUNY Law Dean Mary Lu Bilek essentially said that this was fine—Blackman was able to speak for some the time, so no college policy had been violated. "This non-violent, limited protest was a reasonable exercise of protected free speech, and it did not violate any university policy," she said.

Several CUNY professors—Martin Burke, David Gordon, K.C. Johnson, and David Seidermann—have now written a letter to CUNY Chanellor James Milliken asking him to "reaffirm CUNY's support for the rights of invited speakers to speak and the rights of students in their audience to hear their remarks." According to their letter:

Dean Bilek cited no provision of the student handbook to sustain her claim that "limited" disruptions of an invited speaker's talk do not violate CUNY policy. The handbook, we should note, implies the reverse, holding that "a member of the academic community shall not intentionally obstruct and/or forcibly prevent others from the exercise of their rights. Nor shall she/he interfere with the institution's educational process or facilities, or the rights of those who wish to avail themselves of any of the institution's instructional, personal, administrative, recreational, and community services."

It is noteworthy that, according to Blackman, the disruptors were intimidating enough to discourage some students from entering the room while the protesters were there. He was, he has stated, "not able to give the presentation I wanted—both in terms of duration and content—because of the hecklers. The Dean is simply incorrect when said the protest was only 'limited.'" (Blackman had planned a 45-minute address, to be followed by a question-and-answer session, thereby planning to allow time for CUNY Law students, including his critics, to ask him questions about his arguments.) Photographs of the event show the disruptors not only preventing him from delivering a portion of his planned remarks but also obstructing the audience's view of his PowerPoint presentation.

It's appropriate for university officials to exercise some caution when contemplating disciplinary action against students. But at some point, letting students face absolutely no consequences for such behavior is putting the free speech rights of everyone else at risk.

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  1. …and shouted down their own president, Vincent Price.

    Sounds macabre.

    1. *cackles maniacally*

      1. Vincent Price used to know how to deal with brainless zombies.

        1. Record a voice over while they dance to pop music?

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    3. Maybe they were just screaming for their lives because the Tingler was loose

  2. “”But at some point, letting students face absolutely no consequences for such behavior is putting the free speech rights of everyone else at risk.””

    Maybe, maybe not. But it does reinforce to the students that rules can be broken when they want to. Which can have consequences beyond their graduation.

    1. It’s teaching the students who’s boss. Giving a spoiled brat throwing a temper tantrum what he wants is one of the worst things you can do as far as teaching a child bad behavior. They will be back, and their demands will be worse each time they come back. And the administrators will give them whatever they want, partly because they agree with the students, partly because they’re too afraid for their jobs and careers to stand up to the mob.

      Personally, I’d suggest putting up suitable mural on the admin building to remind the kiddies there are limits to tolerated behavior.

      1. That’s a pretty messed up comment, even by internet standards. Was not expecting to read a comment of that type on reason.com.

        Then again its been a while since I visited the site, perhaps its changed.

        Regardless, in the future please give more thought to what you post before submitting it, for both our sakes.

        1. That’s a pretty messed up comment, even by internet standards.

          Even if he was serious, which is doubtful as Jerry is fond of exaggeration, it is not that messed up by internet standards.

        2. For my sake, be overly sensitive on a different site’s comment section. His point is excellent, and the humor, apparently not to your liking, is no different from much of the ugliness on the web.

        3. Lighten up. By internet standards that was a zero. If the site has changed so much that a little snarly comment has caused you great distress then I propose you not visit most of the Internet.

        4. I’m curious exactly what you thought was “messed up” about that comment. The first paragraph was civil, articulate and exactly on-point. The second paragraph (with the embedded link) was a bit hyperbolic and insensitive but also so clearly counter-productive that it was obviously intended as a joke.

  3. Alumni contributors, take note.

  4. This is why college should be free.

    1. Because when something is pretty much worthless it’s usually free?

      1. In the City College of New York’s heyday, when it was the greatest undergraduate college in America (circa 1915-1965), it was free.

    2. Appears pretty free of sanity to me.

  5. You get more of the behavior you reward. Or excuse. Or enable.

    Makes me wonder how incentives work.

  6. Stop all speeches and presentations at colleges so as not to upset anyone. It’s the only way.

    1. Stop colleges.

  7. There’s some amusement value in the Duke students saying that they shouldn’t be punished because they’re all insane.

    1. “Do we *look* sane to you, you cis imperialist shitlord?”

  8. When the CUNY story hit, I said that the dean would have been less tolerant of students disrupting an alumni fundraiser.

    But given what happened at Duke, perhaps I spoke too soon.

    I had assumed that, while it may be one thing to disrupt some event held by conservative students, acting up in the presence of alumni whose wallets the university is trying to access would be crossing a line, as far as your average college administrator is concerned.

    Also, although I’m not aware of any right-wing intimidation squads on campus, I’m just hypothetically wondering whether if such squads *did* exist, whether they’d be allowed to get away with this sort of thing?

    Disrupting “only” ten minutes of a speech by a guy who supports the DREAM Act?

    Interrupting the President’s speech to alumni with cries of “shut up, com-symp!”

    1. Also, although I’m not aware of any right-wing intimidation squads on campus,

      At conservative-controlled schools, they are called “the administration” and the “student body.”

      It’s the reason right-wing schools are backwater goober farms.

      1. Give us your list again of conservative schools that are the powerhouses you fear. I need a good laugh.

      2. I almost fell into the trap of trying to respond.

    2. “I’m not aware of any right-wing intimidation squads on campus, I’m just hypothetically wondering whether if such squads *did* exist, whether they’d be allowed to get away with this sort of thing?”

      We know that right-wing intimidation squads are simply unpossible.

      You wouldn’t be right-wing if you actually fought back.

      “Muh principles!”

      If they’re feeling really bold, they will let out a stern “Tsk, tsk, tsk” and look at you in disappointment.

      1. Conservatism is a suicide pact.

  9. Go whole hog and open a department of disruptive studies.

    1. What, another one?

      -jcr

  10. even the mere suggestion of discipline was triggering and would exacerbate their “pre-existing mental health conditions,” they claimed.

    On the bright side, at least they’re willing to admit they’re crazy. That’s the first step.

    1. Sanity is just a state of mind.

      1. “It’s what we call the sanity clause.”

        “You can’t fool me, there ain’t no sanity clause.”

    2. “Sanity is a social construct of the white supremacist cisheteropatriarchy used to oppress marginalized peoples”

  11. Ugh. There is no such thing as “listeners’ rights”. Or to put it differently, they have the same free speech rights as everyone else. The fact is, these events eventually concluded and everyone made their point. You are trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist and you will only create martyrs by attacking them. Let it go, let it go, there there.

    1. “The fact is, these events eventually concluded and everyone made their point.”

      Untrue.

      Josh Blackman wasn’t able to give the speech he originally intended, because the protestors cut his time short.

    2. There are “listeners’ rights” to the extent that there are limited-invitation events, including classes, presentations and meetings. Do the members of a club have a right to meet without disruption? How about people who are attending a class? Do those people have to put up with intruders shouting down the teacher?

      If “listeners’ rights” isn’t the proper term, I’d suggest there’s definitely SOMETHING in any sane, civil society that does NOT permit just anyone to march into any gathering and “express themselves” at will. Unless that is what you are seriously advocating?

    3. Just like incarcerating criminals and terrorists just creates martyrs.

  12. Open question. If the protesters get the crap beat out of them by the audience, does that make the protester’s words, by definition, “fighting words”? Just wondering for myself, no friends involved.

    1. If extra security would be required to protect the protesters from beatings which demonstrably happened whenever and wherever they protested, could protest be banned on those grounds?

      A purely hypothetical question, of course.

    2. Probably not. The legal definition of fighting words is “a direct personal insult or an invitation to exchange fisticuffs.” Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989) The protestors were insulting Blackman, not the audience members. You don’t generally get to be offended on someone else’s behalf.

      You might have a better argument for a charge of incitement to riot. Of course, you have a rock-solid case for trespassing and, depending on the exact wording of local laws, probably for violation of some noise ordinance or for breach of the peace.

  13. The students were then shocked and outraged to learn that the administration was considering punishing them?even the mere suggestion of discipline was triggering and would exacerbate their “pre-existing mental health conditions,” they claimed.
    Well, one thing the students and I can agree on: they most certainly have mental health problems.

  14. This policy won’t last beyond the first time Young Republicans prevent a left wing speaker from talking. I’m actually surprised that I have not seen any tit for tat protests of Left wing speakers yet… yet!

    1. Tit for Tat?

      Fighting back is so wrong!

      Muh principles!

  15. This is not a situation of ‘no consequences.’ These students only face no consequences because they chose correctly about whose speech to disrupt.

    Disrupt anyone preferred by CUNY administration and the response will not be the same.

  16. If anyone is in a position to offer pointers to liberal-libertarian universities on freedom of expression, it is not right-wingers who turn the campuses they control into censorship-ridden, loyalty oath-collecting, dogma-enforcing, speech code-imposing, nonsense-teaching, viewpoint discrimination-controlled, science-disdaining, authoritarian goober factories that struggle to maintain a third- or fourth-tier ranking and sketchy accreditation.

    Carry on, clingers. Maybe not so much ankle-biting aimed at your betters, though.

    1. Irony is entirely lost on you. Or maybe just ignored intentionally.

    2. I’d say Pepperdine and George Mason are actually pretty good schools.

  17. Shouldn’t conservative or libertarian students test the new rules? Just start interrupting every regressive event to see how long it takes before action will be taken.

    1. Maybe they’re there for an education, not to see how to get thrown out and interrupt their career path?

      Anyway, the rules exist and maybe the “right-wing goober” students believe in complying with rules. It’s part of the authoritarian personality, after all, you know. (/sarc for that last sentence)

      1. You figure that people who attend a school that teaches Earth is a few thousand years old; that storks deliver babies; that evolution is a Satanic plot designed to obscure the fact that our universe was created in a week; that the moon is made of green cheese; or that a man lived in a fish are “there for an education?”

        How interesting. Dopey, and unworthy of reasoned debate among adults, but fascinating.

        Carry on, clingers.

        1. Yes, you have so precisely summarized what I said that there’s no need for me to make any further comments.

          /sarc

          1. And by the way, the moon is made of *Gruy?re* cheese, which you would know if you subscribed to my newsletter.

        2. You DO understand the difference between hundreds of lockstep-marching major universities and a few bible colleges and seminaries? Or is that too subtle for you?

          The maleducation dispensed by one is orders of magnitude greater in scale, and equal in inanity to the other, yet you seem to be extremely bothered by the one that is less-offending. Moreover, the schools you repeatedly, and boringly, excoriate do not misrepresent themselves as anything other than what they are.

          Your concern seems misplaced at best, and bad trolling at worst. (actually, it’s pretty good, if it’s just trolling. Trolling using an insane persona is not real easy. I know.)

    2. Haven’t you heard? Libertarians are too autistic to organize anything.

      /sarc

      1. My sock drawer is *extremely* well organized.

    3. Oh noes! Never that!

      We must lose nobly forever!

      Muh principles!

  18. “Activists at Duke recently hijacked an alumni event and shouted down their own president, Vincent Price.” -> the guy name is Vincent Price? XD

    1. If he asks you to take a bath in his special pool, don’t do it.

  19. “Dean Bilek cited no provision of the student handbook to sustain her claim that “limited” disruptions of an invited speaker’s talk do not violate CUNY policy. ”

    The student handbook is a living document. The right to limited disruption is part of a vast penumbra of rights which has evolved from it.

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