Today marks the official paperback release of my book about the reality and consequences of campus censorship: Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate. And almost like clockwork, a major theme of the book—that campuses are teaching students to think like censors—has played out at Rutgers University. As I covered yesterday in The Huffington Post:
Every year around commencement time my organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), gets ready for what we call "disinvitation season." That is the time, usually early in the spring, when students and faculty get together to demand that an invited guest speaker--usually a commencement speaker--be disinvited, because the students or faculty members disagree with something that speaker did, said, or believes.
This year, however, disinvitation season got off to an especially early start with professors at Rutgers University joining together to demand that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice be disinvited as their commencement speaker. In a letter to the university community sent late last week, the Rutgers administration made it clear that they had no intention of dis-inviting Rice. For those of us who believe that students should be exposed to a variety of viewpoints, this was a positive development. However, it would not be unprecedented for a university in Rutgers' position to later on change its mind and decide to disinvite the speaker or just quietly encourage them to withdraw. Even when universities don't capitulate to these demands, students have been known to organize to effectively silence a speaker via the "heckler's veto"--most notoriously at Brown University, where students prevented former NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly from speaking last fall.
It's hard to be sure, but after having watched disinvitation season for so many years now, it certainly seems to me that the push to get speakers disinvited is becoming more common, and the likelihood of those pushes succeeding is increasing. This isn't just a hunch; I have been maintaining a growing list of about 120 speaker controversies over recent years, and it is certainly not exhaustive. It also includes numerous high-profile dis-invitations, or decisions by speakers to withdraw under pressure, such as Ben Carson, Geraldo Rivera, Robert Zoellick, Ann Coulter, Ben Stein, Meg Whitman, and James Franco, just to name a few.
And make no mistake about it; the most typical targets for backlash on campus are conservatives, or people who served in Republican administrations. Pointing out this obvious fact wins me few friends on campus, but to say otherwise would simply be dishonest.
I will be writing more today about the release of the new edition of the book, but please consider buying a copy as all royalties go to support the important work of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.