I am a recent convert to the importance of the campus watchdog group, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). I like the new president, Greg Lukianoff, and believe he truly cares about all free speech violations, not just aggrieved conservatives. Today, he just alerted me to this story at NYU:
First let me make some preliminary disclaimers (of course). I am no fan of Ayn Rand devotees. I also think the "danish cartoons" trade on racist, bigoted images. However, I do believe in Free Speech and I have very little trust in most Dean of Student type administrators. I get twitchy when I know such folks are making these type of fascist decisions to shut down free speech. College campuses should be exactly the places that most fervently protect free speech.
I am also quite familiar with what Lukianoff calls the "heckler's veto." We had our own experience of that here on my small campus two years ago. We were bringing in John Sims doing an exhibit on the history of lynching ("The Recoloration Proclomation"). Now, my campus is right in the middle of a civil war battlefield. And, Sims was going to make an installation piece specifically for this exhibit that would "lynch" the confederate flag. The usual suspects (Sons of the Confederate Veterans) protested this exhibit, claiming it was tasteless, racist, disrespectful, undignified. Some college administrators opted to keep the exhibit but asked the artist if he would move the gallows inside for safety measures (to protect the students from potentially violent protestors). Understandably, this pissed of the artist, who decided to protest the college's decision by not appearing at the opening.
This issue was a disappointment to the faculty who nearly unanimously defended the artists' right to exhibit his installation piece. The day of the opening a handful of the "sons of the confederates" showed up in their pick up trucks, circled around town because they couldn't find a parking spot, and ended up drinking at a local pub (that they had earlier threaten to boycott). The college had blocked off the street in front of the gallery to allow for them to march. Apparently, they had no desire to march but wanted to drive their pick ups through town and wave the confederate flag around. Unable to park, they missed the whole opening. So much for the hecklers.
The most disappointing aspect of that exhibit was how little the students (on the whole) cared about the free speech issues at stake in this debacle. The students who did get exercised were largely angry that the college would allow such a tasteless exhibit on campus. I guess defending free speech is only worthwhile when the speaker is saying what you want to hear. I wish we had had FIRE here during that issue.