Protip from Dartmouth Student to UCSB and Stanford: Run Over Free Speech with Your Car — Greg Lukianoff


Being offended is what happens when you have your deepest beliefs challenged. And if you make it through four years of college without having your deepest beliefs challenged, you should demand your money back.

I have been saying that in speeches on campus for more than a decade. Even though the line often gets a laugh, the idea that students have a “right not to be offended” seems more entrenched on campus than ever.

Take the most recent high-profile example: At the University of California-Santa Barbara (UCSB), a professor not only seized a graphic anti-abortion sign from protesters, she got into a physical altercation with them and then proceeded to go back to her office to destroy the sign. Now that the video of the incident has emerged and the police report has been published, things are really looking bad for professor Mireille Miller-Young: she now faces vandalism, battery, and robbery charges.

I just wish I found the incident the slightest bit surprising. While my organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), proudly defends anyone who gets in trouble for his or her speech on college campuses all across the political spectrum —and in many cases it has nothing to do with politics — I make no secret of the fact that students are more likely to get in trouble for socially conservative speech. A case in point is currently taking place at my alma mater, Stanford, where a group that opposes gay marriage has been told that a conference it was planning to have is “hate speech,” and that it needs to pay $5,600 for “security” if it wishes to have the event.

And when it comes to the trend of students and faculty members taking it upon themselves to engage in vigilante censorship, the target is often socially conservative speech, especially speech against abortion.

The UCSB incident is eerily similar to a 2006 incident at Northern Kentucky University involving professor Sally Jacobsen, who urged her class to “to express their freedom-of-speech rights to destroy [a pro-life] display if they wished to.” She then proceeded to lead her class to destroy the display. (I’ve included pictures of the incident in the new paperback edition of my book.)

Another incident that was caught on video was that of University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point student government member Roderick King tearing up an anti-abortion display on his campus. King seemed even more confused on the concept of free speech than Jacobsen, declaring: “Since [abortion] is a right, you don’t have the right to challenge it.” And then there was this incident out of Missouri State University, in which a student proudly defends her trampling of crosses in yet another pro-life display, saying, “I feel like I have the right to walk across campus without seeing that.” These last three pro-life displays, by the way, were little more than collections of little white crosses.

Adding to this list of shame, FIRE just released a video featuring the story of student Robert Smith at Dartmouth College. In 2012, one of his fellow students hated his campus pro-life display so much that he actually ran over it with his car right in front of the student organizers. (This display was American flags, not crosses.) Not only was this move crazy and dangerous, it came with an ironic twist: the car had a “Coexist” bumper sticker on the back.

Incidents like this are part of the reason that the title of my book (just released in paperback) is Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate. By “unlearning liberty,” we at FIRE generally mean that colleges and the environments they have established are teaching students all the wrong lessons about what it means to live in a free society. For instance, this March, we are once again seeing the opening of what FIRE has dubbed “disinvitation season”: a now-yearly ritual in which students and faculty members band together to try to deny a place at their colleges to commencement speakers whose opinions they dislike.

Americans should be alarmed that students and even faculty members (who should know better) are turning away from critical thinking and reasoned debate, and instead learning to think like censors. It’s bad enough that 59% of campuses maintain unconstitutional speech codes; it’s also unacceptable that so many students meekly accept when they are told they need to limit their protests to the tiny free speech zone on campus. But it’s far, far worse when students come to believe that censorship is what good and noble people just do.

Censorship has always been the easy way out, the way of imposing one’s view against the challenge of pluralism — but if a generation of students comes to see the well—intentioned censor as a romantic hero, it will have terrible consequences for us all.

There are 39 comments.

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  1. Hodge Inactive

    Hear, hear. FIRE is a godsend and (at least part of) a grateful nation thanks you.

    • #1
  2. Pony Convertible Member
    Pony Convertible

    It is really sad that our educational institutes have become schools of indoctrination instead of school of serious thought and debate.   One can no longer offer opposing views, without being labeled as hateful, racist, or some other name.  
    As far as people being offended, recognize that they choose to be offended.  You cannot say anything that offends me unless I choose to be offended by what you say.   I don’t feel obligated to change my behavior, when I don’t intend offense, but you choose to take offense.  If you choose to be offended, you have to deal with it, not me.  

    Fortunately, I was raised in a time when bullying was allowed and frequent.   I learned at a young age not to let what others say bother me.  I learned to make the right choice about whether to be offended, or not, by what others say.  It is a lesson that makes my life much easier and more enjoyable.

    • #2
  3. Deacon Blues Inactive
    Deacon Blues

    The phone with video is a godsend. Too many low-info people buy into the concept that those who support liberal causes are the reasonable ones. These pocket videos so often prove otherwise. Keep those phones handy.

    • #3
  4. user_278007 Inactive

    The left is taking the libertarian principle that no one has the right to initiate physical force on another and twisting it into a justification for using force to deny others their right to free speech.  Their argument is that if what you say causes me mental anguish then you have initiated “psychic force” and must be stopped and, if necessary, forcibly stopped.  Whatever the intellectual appeal of such an argument, in practice it rests on naked force.  Whoever is in power can specify which thoughts cause mental anguish and must therefore banned, and can thereby dictate what people are allowed to believe. 

    • #4
  5. Suzanne Temple Inactive
    Suzanne Temple

    Whoa. A professor tells her students to use their free speech to destroy an expression of pro-life free speech. Irony is lost on some people.

    • #5
  6. user_278007 Inactive

    Suzanne Temple:
    Whoa. A professor tells her students to use their free speech to destroy an expression of pro-life free speech. Irony is lost on some people.
     The “Intolerance will not be tolerated” slogan is attractive to students and is hard to refute with another slogan.  Any suggestions?

    • #6
  7. A Beleaguered Conservative Member
    A Beleaguered Conservative

    The professor, rather than apologize for allowing the heat of the moment to cloud her judgment, has defended herself by stating that the protestors were engaged in “hate speech.”  When our universities produce professors who employ their intellectual training (such as it is) to stifle dissent, we are in trouble.  The impulse to dominate, to repress opposition, to outlaw views that you favor, is natural.  To be tolerant of other views is a stance that must be learned and constantly nurtured.  We are unlearning liberty as a result of professors like Miller-Young.

    • #7
  8. user_554634 Moderator

    I remember reading this poem, I think in the Conservative Mind, but I’ve had to search for it. Finally found it. Seems relevant

    The Angry Man

    The other day I chanced to meet

    An angry man upon the street —

    A man of wrath, a man of war,

    A man who truculently bore

    Over his shoulder, like a lance,

    A banner labeled “Tolerance.”

    And when I asked him why he strode

    Thus scowling down the human road,

    Scowling, he answered, “I am he

    Who champions total liberty —

    Intolerance being, ma’am, a state

    No tolerant man can tolerate.

    “When I meet rogues,” he cried, “who choose

    To cherish oppositional views,

    Lady, like this, and in this manner,

    I lay about me with my banner

    Till they cry mercy, ma’am.” His blows

    Rained proudly on prospective foes.

    Fearful, I turned and left him there

    Still muttering, as he thrashed the air,

    “Let the Intolerant beware!” 

    Phyllis McGinley

    • #8
  9. Suzanne Temple Inactive
    Suzanne Temple

    Richard Fulmer: The “Intolerance will not be tolerated” slogan is attractive to students and is hard to refute with another slogan.  Any suggestions?

     Tell them their intolerance of fracking will not be tolerated. Or pick anything else they might want banned, restricted or made illegal. 

    • #9
  10. Joe Inactive

    What bothered me most about the UCSB incident is the use of the word “triggered” by the professor; the pro-life protesters “triggered” her with their speech. “Triggered” implies that she acted according to the uncontrollable fire of emotion, and that the protesters are to blame for lighting the fuse.

    • #10
  11. Lavaux Inactive

    Universities are an expensive waste of time. Imagine wasting four years of your life and going $120K into debt only to discover that you’re clueless and uninteresting to employers? What good is your tolerance then?

    Word to the wise: Universities are on the way out. Employers, look for kids who worked hard enough in high school to write a coherent sentence, then train ’em up.

    • #11
  12. Herbert Woodbery Inactive
    Herbert Woodbery

    would FIRE defend  ‘art’ like chocolate smearing and piss Christ exhibits?

    • #12
  13. Nathaniel Wright Member
    Nathaniel Wright

    Such sentiments are not new. Here is a line from Aristophanes “The Archarnians.”

    “Therefore I have come to the assembly fully prepared to bawl, interrupt and abuse the speakers, if they talk of anything but peace.”

    • #13

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