Last week, overseers of Michigan State University’s Wilson Hall announced that they had cancelled my lecture and ordered the event’s organizers and myself to leave the meeting hall reserved for the talk. We refused, offering the campus community a lesson in how to deal with anti-free-speech bullies: stand up to them.
Upon arriving in Lansing on February 25, signs of trouble were evident. My student hosts advised me that, curiously, a fire-drill had been scheduled during my lecture, requiring me to cut the talk short. Later, rumors began circulating that a left-wing activist was attempting to prevent the talk from ever taking place.
These rumors were confirmed true shortly after my arrival in MSU’s Wilson Hall. Erin Belinger, a graduate student and the assistant director of Wilson Hall, announced that she was calling off the event and ordered us to leave. The microphone already had been taken away.
Sponsored by the Leadership Institute’s Campus Leadership Program and hosted by MSU’s College Republicans, the lecture was, admittedly, provocative—especially in a left-wing environment like Michigan State. The use of the title of my book—Why the Left Hates America—in fliers promoting the event had infuriated campus leftists like Belinger, who claimed that the College Republicans had misled her by claiming the speech was about patriotism and the irrationality of anti-Americanism, when it was really about something else. When confronted with the notes of my speech that confirmed that the talk was indeed about the very thing she bizarrely claimed it wasn’t about, Belinger refused to look at them. This refusal to examine the evidence on the accusation raised by Belinger herself—which even if true, certainly wouldn’t merit cancellation—proved that the controversy generated by the angry official was simply a ruse for censorship.
I told Belinger that I wouldn’t check-in my right to speak freely at the door to any university, especially one supported by tax-funding. No, I wouldn’t be leaving; nor would my hosts assent to censorship. The audience, too, refused to head for the exits.
Aghast at having her authority challenged, Belinger threatened to have security remove me. The College Republicans were threatened with having their group’s charter pulled. Again, we balked. Her bluff was called, and my speech on anti-Americanism, patriotism, and other themes culled from my book went on as scheduled—with the fire alarm prematurely concluding the question and answer session.
Unfortunately, my experiences at Michigan State were not terribly abnormal. David Horowitz, Ward Connerly, and Ann Coulter are just a few of the speakers whose mere words have provoked the campus thought police into action. What’s more, my campus lectures during February show that the intolerance shown at MSU is hardly an aberration.
* Students at Furman University caught three professors tearing down fliers advertising my February 6 lecture at the South Carolina school.
* A day prior to my February 4 lecture at the University of Oklahoma, school officials arbitrarily moved the lecture to a site off the main campus. Similarly, University of Florida officials initially refused to grant the sponsoring group meeting space, only relenting a few days prior to the lecture—hardly enough time to properly advertise an event.
* A group of professors at Florida International University attempted to shout down my February 13 lecture at the Miami commuter school. The yelling persisted through the duration of the event, and included attendees attempting to give their own lectures during the talk, constant heckling, and cheering when I recounted how I was the subject of a book burning at Berkeley.
A few conclusions can be drawn from these examples of campus intolerance.
First, almost all of those attempting to silence speech are not students, but administrators, faculty, and others holding positions of responsibility within the university. If campus censorship was solely the domain of confused undergraduates, one might be able to chalk up the phenomenon to the inexperience of youth. Since campus intolerance is practiced most vigorously by graying activists on the payrolls of colleges and universities, clearly the problem is institutional.
Second, rather than muzzling the voice of the speaker, would-be campus censors usually succeed in giving him a megaphone. Despite the efforts of the campus leftists, 250 attended my FIU lecture and more than 300 packed the auditorium at Furman. The Michigan State debacle sparked outraged letters to the editor and an editorial in the student newspaper that condemned the attempt to censor. The best way to generate interest in an idea, as campus censors inevitably find out, is to attempt to shield others from it.
Finally, the main lesson to be drawn is to stand up to bullies, like Ms. Belinger, who are usually just cowards hiding behind institutional power. In other words, when schools try to silence politically incorrect voices, just say no. Let them attempt to justify arresting someone for the crime of speech rather than you ceding the floor.
Institutions of higher learning should be the places where expression is the freest. Ironically, they are the places where speech is most restricted. As MSU’s State News understands, "Attempts at censorship are not the way to solve disputes, especially at an institution of higher learning."