FIRE Vice President Pens Op-Ed for ‘The Boston Globe’: ‘Why no one should be silenced on campus’

By April 9, 2009

Today’s Boston Globe features an op-ed from FIRE Vice President Robert Shibley on the disruption of Don Feder’s speech at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Robert points out that this incident is indicative of a larger problem on college campuses, where students resort to disruption and violence to preempt speech with which they disagree:

America’s campuses are seeing a growing movement by students to shut off debate by organized groups and silence speakers with whom they disagree. Rather than engage in the give-and-take that should be characteristic of the university as a “marketplace of ideas,” these students have decided that opposing views don’t even bear hearing. And all too often they are aided by administrators whose policies reward hecklers rather than students who wish to engage in civil debate and dialogue.

UMass is one of those campuses. After word got out that students were planning to protest Feder’s speech, the UMass-Amherst Police Department pressured Feder’s hosts, the Republican Club, into paying nearly three times as much in security costs for the event as they had planned. Of course, the student hecklers disrupted the event anyway with no interference by the police.

Feder’s hecklers were thereby handed a double victory by the university – not only did they manage to silence Feder, but they also succeeded in forcing their political enemies on campus to pay a huge security bill for little return. This tactic was so successful it’s hard to imagine that the same UMass students won’t do it again, and it’s unlikely that the lesson has been lost on students who sympathize with Feder.

Robert points out that this tactic undermines the educational value of hearing speakers with which one might not agree, writing that the “real casualty of the heckling ‘arms race’ fostered by such policies will be the possibility of getting a truly liberal education.”

Robert’s persuasive op-ed is well worth your time, so be sure to check it out in full.

Schools: Boston College University of Massachusetts – Amherst Cases: University of Massachusetts Amherst: Student Group Charged Unconstitutional Security Fee for Controversial Speaker