The Dartmouth Review Editor-in-Chief J.P. Harrington wrote last week to support Dartmouth College’s administration for investigating the protesters who interrupted the student-run Dimensions show for prospective students last month, in addition to responding to threats against the protesters. In his article, Harrington explained that disrupting other students’ speech, rather than responding in turn, detracts from free and open debate and does not properly contribute to it:
The protesters, a very vocal minority within a vocal minority that desires reform at the College, have displayed little to no desire to enter into a dialogue that is truly open and free.
Their causes are just. … But their approach has hurt most of these same causes. The chaos of each subsequent demonstration alienates the student body from the protesters and thus, the battle for reform.
Of course, FIRE has no opinion on whether the protesters’ cause is just. But FIRE has written about the counterproductive nature of the "heckler’s veto" before, reporting on incidents at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; the University of California, Irvine; and Washington State University. We consistently explain that there should certainly be some "breathing room" for minor heckling at speeches and events that might briefly interrupt the program, but there’s a major difference between spur-of-the-moment heckling and attempting to silence your opponents altogether. Former FIRE Vice President of Programs Adam Kissel elaborated on this point in his coverage of the UC Irvine case:
Failing to punish offenders appropriately is likely to threaten the free speech of future speakers by effectively condoning a "heckler’s veto" through disruptive actions. That would make a mockery of the First Amendment.
Read the rest of Harrington’s piece on The Dartmouth Review‘s website.