CCSU Professor on University’s Investigation of Gun-Related Speech

By March 18, 2009

Jay Bergman, a history professor at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU), has written on a controversy engulfing CCSU, in which undergraduate student John Wahlberg was reported to university authorities by his professor and then subjected to a police interrogation following his classroom presentation in support of the right to carry concealed firearms on campus. In his column for The Hartford Courant, Bergman highlights the CCSU controversy as indicative of the feverish political correctness and culture of fear in the academy regarding gun-related speech.

While noting that Wahlberg considers the matter closed and crediting the professor for not hurting the student’s grade (he was, after all, merely following the guidelines of the professor’s assignment), Bergman pointedly asks CCSU:

How many students and faculty, knowing that Wahlberg had to prove to the police he posed no threat to the Central community, will dare to express agreement with his opinion on gun control or express any other opinion sufficiently controversial to trigger a similar sequence of events anywhere on the campus again? To the extent that this number is zero, or uncomfortably close to it, the incident will have had a chilling effect on freedom of speech at Central.

Bergman adds that thus far no one within the CCSU administration has issued any sort of statement denouncing the investigation or reassuring the CCSU community of its constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech.

He also compares Wahlberg’s case to another well-known example from the New England area: that of the appalling treatment of Professor Donald Hindley at Brandeis University, whose fifty-plus years of service to the university remain clouded by a punishment leveled against him for his entirely protected classroom speech. Bergman writes, "Flagrant violations of free expression have become so common in academia that one wonders how many more will have to occur before university administrators understand that being offended or made to feel uncomfortable by opinions one disagrees with is an inevitable part of life." We couldn’t agree moreand have spent the last ten years saying as much.

And as Will so comprehensively noted last week, university administrations seem to be having particular trouble with gun-related speech (even, in the case of the Young Conservatives of Texas at Lone Star College, satirical gun-related speech). FIRE has seen far too many universities co-opt the raw emotion of the shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University to squelch First Amendment rights, and the notion that adult students cannot be trusted to discuss guns on campus is as preposterous as it is condescending.

Kudos to Jay Bergman for his column. Hopefully the leaders at CCSU will give it a read.

Schools: Brandeis University Central Connecticut State University Colorado College