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The Campus Left: Opposing Free Speech by Force By: Asaf Romirowsky and Jonathan Calt Harris
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, January 28, 2004


The university exists for the free exchange of ideas, right? Then why is it that representatives of one half the argument – the conservative half – need bodyguards and metal detectors when they speak on North American campuses, and their leftist counterparts almost never do?

Consider three suggestive parallels of how the Right needs security and the Left is welcomed.

Government officials. In September 2002, Benjamin Netanyahu, a former Likud (conservative) prime minister of Israel was to speak at Concordia University in Montreal, but he never made it. Nearly a thousand anti-Israel protestors rioted prior to the event,[1] smashing windows and hurling furniture at police, kicking and spitting on people going to the event. “By lunchtime,” notes the Globe & Mail daily, “the vestibule of Concordia’s main downtown building was littered with paper, upturned chairs, broken furniture and the choking aftereffects of pepper spray.”[2]

In contrast, Hanan Ashrawi, a well-known Palestinian politician and activist, never faces such opposition. As she makes the rounds of American universities (such as the University of Colorado, Beloit, and Yeshiva), she speaks without interference, and what protests take place are completely non-violent. At Colorado College, students held small signs and a rebuttal was offered after the speech.[3] At the University of Pennsylvania, protesting students were so respectful, Tarek Jallad, president of the Penn Arab Student Society which sponsored her visit, commented: “I was very happy with the way the crowd showed her a lot of respect.”[4] 

1960s activists. David Horowitz, a founder of the New Left movement in the 1960s and now a high-profile conservative, speaks often at campuses and often faces problems. Protestors at the University of Chicago shouted at him and disrupted his talk before he uttered a word.[5] At the University of Michigan, “the university administration assigned 12 armed guards and a German Shepherd to protect the safety” of those who came to hear him speak. [6]

By comparison, Angela Davis, a former Black Panther and still today a far-leftist, enjoys the highest of esteem when visiting campuses. As she tours American colleges, she meets no protests, requires no excessive security, and is dutifully acclaimed by campus newspapers for her “wise presence.”[7] 

Middle East specialists. Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, a Harvard University Ph.D., author of twelve books, and a recent Bush appointee to U.S. Institute for Peace, needs security precautions at more than half his campus appearances.  At York University in Toronto, for example, security provisions included “a 24-hour lockdown on the building beforehand, metal detectors for the audience, identification checks.”[8] Multiple bodyguards escorted Pipes through a back entrance and kept him in a holding room until just before his talk. More than a hundred police, including ten mounted on horses, stood by to ensure the speaker’s safety and the event not being disrupted.[9]

In contrast, John Esposito, head of Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, a Temple University Ph.D., the author of more than twenty books,[10] and key advisor to the Clinton State Department,[11] enjoys honor and praise at the campuses. He recently served as keynote speaker for the inauguration of Stanford University’s new Islamic Studies program,[12] for example, with no hint of special security. 

A clear pattern emerges. Speakers on the left are welcomed, conservatives require strict security measures.

This contravenes a post-9/11 statement by the American Association of University Professors that “specific attention should be given to the freedom to invite and hear controversial speakers.”[13] Some “controversial” positions – vilifying the United States and its president – are just fine on the campus, whereas those who support the president, the war on terror, Israel, the free market, or personal freedom must summon (and sometimes pay for) a small army.

The incipient threat of violence on the university makes it unique in North American life. Minority views can be espoused without intimidation in the media, in political forums and even in corporations. Far from being the institution where ideas are freely exchanged, intolerance that would never be permitted elsewhere has become the norm on campuses.

The message is clear; if visiting conservatives require police protection to speak for an hour or two, local conservatives and others who support causes unpopular on the campus must tread even more carefully. And that message is indeed received. One visiting conservative reports hearing from a Harvard student “that her open identification could cost her, damaging her grades and her academic future. That her professors, who control her final grades, were likely to view such activism unkindly, and that the risk was too great.”[14]

This environment – so one-sided that students censor themselves for fear of harassment or retribution – is exactly what parents, donors, and taxpayers do not expect to receive for their education dollars. They need to do something about the crisis that afflicts North American universities.

ENDNOTES:
[1] Peritz, Ingrid and Ha, Tu Thanh, “Concordia: A campus in conflict,” Toronto Globe and Mail, Saturday, September 14, 2002. Pg. A1.

[2]  Peritz, Ingrid. “Israel’s Netanyahu greeted with violence in Montréal,” Toronto Globe and Mail, Tuesday, September 10, 2002. Page A1

[3] Pipes, Daniel, The War on Campus, New York Post, September 17, 2002.

[5] Horowitz, David. Little Totalitarians,” FrontPage Magazine, May 14, 2001

[6] Horowitz, David. “Ad Censored By Emory Left,” FrontPage Magazine, October 22, 2002.

[7] Stevens, Jeff, “Schools Not Jails,” Ruckus, March, 2001.

[8] Brean, Joseph. “Pro-Israel scholar wins bid to speak,” National Post, January 29, 2003.

[9] Pipes, Daniel. “The Rot in Our [Canadian] Universities,” National Post, January 30, 2003.

[10] Trei, Lisa. “A hard look at the future of Islam: Overflow crowd attends inaugural lecture,” Stanford Report, November 19, 2003.

[11]  King, Ruth. “Reflections on Recent Events,” January, 2002.

[14] Sharansky, Natan. “Tour of U.S. Schools Reveals Why Zionism Is Flunking on Campus,” Forward, October 24, 2003.


Asaf Romirowsky is a research associate for the Middle East Forum. Jonathan Calt Harris is managing editor of www.Campus-Watch.org, a project of the Middle East Forum to review and improve Middle East studies in North America.


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