Freedom Of Speech More Unwelcome Among Liberal Students, Faculty

November 22, 2015

By Kathryn Watson at The Daily Caller

Liberal college students and faculty members are far more likely to disinvite a campus speaker than conservatives, but conservatives succeed slightly more often, according to a Daily Caller News Foundation analysis.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education database, which defends students’ and professors’ First Amendment rights, documented 286 efforts to disinvite scheduled campus speakers between 2000 and 2014.

One hundred and sixty student groups and faculty “from the left” of the speaker tried to disinvite the individual during the period, according to FIRE. Only 96 students and faculty “from the right” of the speaker sought to block a speaker.

Speakers left-wing students sought to block on their campuses included Republican presidential candidates Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Chris Christie and Rick Santorum, and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

College administrators granted a few more requests from conservatives than liberals — 56 versus 49. FIRE counted official dis-invitations from the university, speakers withdrawing from events, and heckling that forced the speaker off stage during a presentation.

The recent surge in dis-invitation requests concerns Ari Cohn, the FIRE lawyer who compiled the database earlier this year.

The annual dis-invitations total has increased steadily since FIRE began tracking them in 2000, from just a handful of incidents in the early 2000s to a high of 29 in 2013. A roughly equal number of those demands originated from students at public, private secular, and private religious institutions.

“It’s not necessarily a matter of left versus right, or a matter of people who go to private religious schools versus public schools,” Cohn told TheDCNF. “The fact is we are bringing up our younger generation to want to be protected from ideas.”

FIRE staffers compiled the database using LexisNexis, local news articles, scheduled commencement speakers and investigating tips from campuses across the country.

“It’s a very free-flowing data collection process that could never be perfect,” Cohn said.

Harvard University had disinvited the most speakers as of 2014, with six, followed by Columbia University, with five. The DCNF previously reported on Ivy League Schools’ anti-free speech policies.

Among the most recent examples of students seeking to deny freedom of speech to invited speakers were these:

  • Ben Carson withdrew from speaking at Johns Hopkins University’s commencement ceremony in 2013, after students protested his opposition to same-sex marriage.
  • Stanford University students tried to keep Carly Fiorina from speaking at their commencement ceremony because “they claimed her business background meant she was not an inclusive choice,” according to FIRE. She spoke anyways.
  • The College of St. Catherine in Minnesota disinvited presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton in 2008, after people on campus claimed she was speaking too near election day. Clinton spoke at the University of Minnesota instead.
  • Students at Seton Hall University School of Law in New Jersey unsuccessfully tried to keep Gov. Chris Christie from speaking at their 2010 commencement ceremonybecause he declined to reappoint a judge to the state supreme court.
  • Students and faculty at Philadelphia’s St. Joseph’s University in 2003 tried to rescind Rick Santorum’s invitation to speak at their commencement ceremony, claiming he made negative comments about homosexuality. Santorum spoke anyways.

Conservative students and faculty were most likely to protest invited speakers with criminal histories and those with contrary views on abortion and Israeli-Palestinian confrontation, while liberals were most likely to protest speakers’ views on sexual orientation, immigration and Islam.

The 286 dis-invitation attempts FIRE has recorded since 2000 represent a small, although not insignificant, percent of the thousands of speeches that social and political figures give each year on America’s 5,000 college campuses.


Schools: Columbia University Harvard University Johns Hopkins University