The Volokh Conspiracy

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Campus Free Speech

Organized Heckling at CUNY School of Law of Prof. Josh Blackman Talk on Free Speech

Josh Blackman is one of the leading young libertarian/conservative law professors in the country.


Blackman has video and photographs at his blog, though I also include the video below. The protest, I think, shows a narrow-mindedness on the students' part, and an unwillingness to listen to substantive argument. But the heckling, which seems like an organized attempt to keep Blackman from speaking, is something much worse—something that universities ought to punish, and that I would think many universities would indeed punish, at least in other situations. (The protesters' standing on the same stage as the speaker, I think, would also not be tolerated for other events; leaving the podium to the speaker and other invited panel members is, I think, the standard content-neutral practice in such cases.)

Say that anti-abortion students decided to try to shout down university talks by academics who support abortion rights. Or say that other students decided to try to shout down university talks by academics who support Black Lives Matters. How would, and how should, universities respond to that? I would think that the same answer should apply here.

I e-mailed CUNY (that's the City University of New York) law school, asking,

I'm blogging an item … about Prof. Josh Blackman's talk at CUNY and the student interruptions of the talk, see, and I want to make sure I include the law school's side of the story. Do you have any statement that you can pass along about this? What is CUNY's policy about such heckling?

I got the following response:

CUNY School of Law fully supports the rights to free speech and open discourse as well as the right to protest.

I then tried to get something beyond this unhelpful generality, asking:

Got it, thanks—but what about people protesting in a way that interrupts someone else's speech?

That seems to be what happened here, but I take it that it could happen in other situations, too—pro-life students shouting down a speaker who they see as pro-abortion, anti-Black-Lives-Matter students shouting down a Black Lives Matter speaker, and so on. I was hoping I could include something from [the law school] that speaks more specifically to these particular situations.

I haven't yet gotten a response to that, but I will of course post it if I do get it. [UPDATE:CUNY got back to me Thursday to say they didn't have any further to add; Monday, though, CUNY responded that the temporary blocking of Blackman's speech was permissible, a position criticized by this new David Bernstein post.]