USC Law Professor: Supporters of Campus Free Speech are 'Preying on Vulnerable Teenagers'

|The Volokh Conspiracy |


USC law professor Michael Simkovic has a blog post up at Leiter Law School Reports which I can charitably deem "remarkable." The basic proposition is that the only problem with free speech on university campuses is that a cabal ["a well-funded, well-organized, and cynical campaign"] of right-wing "provocateurs" are luring immature students into trying to shut them down, to make universities look bad for the benefit of a Koch-inspired war on higher education.

Here's a taste:

Recently, the Federalist Society invited South Texas College of Law Houston's Josh Blackman to lecture at CUNY law school. Professor Blackman's sparsely attended lecture drew protestors because of Blackman's previous criticism of an amnesty program for undocumented immigrants and his use of language the protestors interpreted as racial dog whistling.

A university official asked the students to be respectful, defended Blackman's right to speak, and admonished the students "please don't take the bait." One student noticed Blackman recording himself and asked Blackman, "You chose CUNY didn't you? Because you knew what would happen if you came here." (CUNY, like Vassar, has a reputation for left-wing student activism). Blackman deflected the question. One protestor used an expletive, which Blackman repeated.

According to both Blackman and CUNY, the protestors were non-violent. Security was present to maintain order. Blackman—tall and muscular—towered over the students and appeared calm throughout the exchange.

(1) Josh Blackman is an incredibly mild-mannered, polite, nice guy. The protesters didn't identify any "dog whistle" language; they just called him a racist because that's their default criticism of anyone they don't like. Simkovic should be ashamed of himself for suggesting that the students may be correct in asserting Blackman has actually indulged in racism, which is a kiss of death in academia, and particularly potentially damaging to a young less-established law professor like Blackman. A public apology should be forthcoming.

(2) Josh hasn't criticized the amnesty program per se, which he supports, he's criticized its implementation by executive order, which he believes is unconstitutional. The fact that neither the students nor Simkovic can appreciate the distinction doesn't speak well of either.

(3) Josh is, I believe, the most prolific speaker for the Federalist Society. He speaks at many schools every year. By Federalist Society rules, the students at each chapter have to invite him, he can't invite himself. In short, the idea that he somehow chose CUNY to provoke a reaction is ridiculous, and the notion that presenting an anodyne talk on free speech, which Josh had presented at several other law schools without incident, should provoke any sensible, mature person is ridiculous.

(4) Josh is certainly reasonably tall, but when a security guard comes to you before a talk and asks if you have an "exit strategy" and gives you suggestions about various emergency routes out of the law school, even a six-footer might feel a bit threatened. I wonder how Prof. Simkovic would feel if a security guard came to him before one of his classes, and suggested he needed an "exit strategy" in case the protesters intent on disrupting his class and chanting expletives outside his classroom turn violent?

The whole piece is like this, full of illogic and innuendo, suggesting that the fault with the threats to free speech on campus lies with those who engage in and defend free speech, rather than those bent on suppressing it.

Here's a bit more from the blog post, arguing that journalists should simply ignore it when campus speakers are harrassed, shouted down, and subject to or threatened with violence: "When students are goaded into tactical mistakes, journalists should ask themselves whether mean-spirited provocations by seasoned political operatives preying on vulnerable teenagers and inexperienced young adults genuinely deserve news coverage. The United States faces serious economic challenges which get far less attention than this stage-managed political theater."

And of course, the article has to have the requisite references to the Emmanuel Goldsteins of the modern left, the Koch Brothers, who are mentioned four times for no discernable reason.

Read the whole thing and weep.

(Cross-posted in shorter form at Instapundit)