New York University prides itself on being a “private university in the public service,” but talk is cheap—that is, when it isn’t silenced altogether. Despite the lofty aspirations of the school’s motto, in late March NYU decided that certain types of speech on campus just aren’t entitled to the core First Amendment protections relied upon by every American with something to say.
On March 30, a panel discussion entitled “Free Speech and the Danish Cartoons,” hosted by NYU’s Objectivist Club, was censored by NYU officials, who refused to allow the event to proceed as planned (and be open to the public) if the editorial cartoons were shown. NYU’s miserable failure to protect intellectual inquiry was widely noticed by the press, drawing criticism from sources including USA Today and The New York Post.
Discussions similar to the one censored by NYU took places at four other schools around the country—at Johns Hopkins University, the University of Chicago, UCLA, and USC. No violence or censorship occurred at any of these events; just meaningful, informed discussion. At the other schools, university administrators realized their duty as educators to promote opportunities for intellectual dialogue. At NYU, students were instead taught a shameful lesson about the power of threats and fear to censor.
In a letter sent on April 17 from FIRE President Greg Lukianoff, NYU was asked to account for their actions and to explain the discrepancies between their stated policy on university events and the censorship that occurred that night in March. To date, FIRE has received no reply. NYU’s silence speaks volumes about the university’s commitment—or lack thereof—to free speech and intellectual debate.