Shutting down opposing thought an ignorant trend
The decade of the 1960s was a time of intense upheaval in the U.S. as the Vietnam War, school segregation and race riots sparked violent and even deadly confrontations in places like Birmingham, Watts and Kent State.
Tom Smothers, one of the great comedians of the baby boomer generation, once shared his more serious, reflective side when talking about free speech.
“Freedom of expression and freedom of speech aren’t really important unless they’re heard,” said. “The freedom of hearing is as important as the freedom of speaking.”
Sadly, it’s some of our once-esteemed colleges that have been silencing free thought. Just last week, The University of Pennsylvania canceled a panel discussion on immigrant detention and deportation because it included Tom Homan, retired director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
A petition against Homan was signed by over 500 students and alumni from not only Penn but dozens of other universities, including Columbia, Harvard, Brown and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It also called for the university to ban all invitations to current or former ICE or U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials.
“Under Homan, ICE continued to be a violent organization responsible for terrorizing immigrant communities … inviting Homan as a guest speaker contradicts Penn’s claim of being a sanctuary campus,” it stated.
In an interview, Homan responded that the petition was ignorant and that the ones who want to shout down a meaningful discussion will remain ignorant.
In a separate case, The Harvard Crimson, the university’s daily newspaper, came under attack from other student groups for an article it published on a campus rally protesting ICE for deportation raids under the Trump administration.
Activists were angered by one sentence: “ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday night.”
The campus group Act on a Dream immediately started an online petition demanding that The Crimson vow to never contact ICE again and to apologize for the “harm it has inflicted.”
“We are extremely disappointed in the cultural insensitivity displayed by The Crimson’s policy to reach out to ICE, a government agency with a long history of surveilling and retaliating against those who speak out against them,” the petition stated. “In this political climate, a request for comment is virtually the same as tipping them off, regardless of how they are contacted.”
Seeing Harvard students launch into a tirade because journalists from their own campus newspaper tried to obtain an opposing reaction for a story is a sad reflection on this age which has seen more of our once-prestigious institutions turn into bastions of liberalism.
In recent years there have been a number of Republicans or conservatives have also been banned from giving commencement addresses at colleges. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education said it’s a worrisome trend to “disinvite” speakers from campus appearances since it undermines open discourse.
Even Barack Obama spoke about the dangers of limiting free speech. During a commencement speech at Rutgers, Obama chided students for their role in forcing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to drop out as a commencement speaker in 2014 because of her involvement in the Iraq War under the Bush 43 presidency.
“The notion that this community or the country would be better served by not hearing from a former Secretary of State, or shutting out what she had to say — I believe that’s misguided,” Obama said. “I don’t think that’s how democracy works best, when we’re not even willing to listen to each other.”
Some British luminaries are also disturbed by the trend to silence speech on campuses. Jo Johnson, a British Conservative Party politician who has served as Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, stated that in our modern world, universities should be places that open minds, not close them, and where ideas can be freely challenged.
Paraphrasing Voltaire, British writer Evelyn Beatrice Hall offered this relevant quote: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
By Jim Zbick | email@example.com