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Texas Southern University president storms into student event, shuts down speech

Astonishing video has emerged from Texas Southern University, showing Texas Southern University President Austin Lane personally shutting down a speech by Texas state Rep. Briscoe Cain.

The TSU Federalist Society chapter had invited Cain to campus to speak about his experience in the Texas legislature when the scene unfolded yesterday: A group of student protesters began chanting at Rep. Cain “No hate anywhere. You don’t get a platform here,” and “When a racist comes to town, shut him down.” Cain was effectively prevented from speaking.

Those students were eventually removed from the room by university police so that Cain could continue. Then President Lane, accompanied by Democratic state Sen. Boris Miles, entered the room. Rep. Cain, a Republican, then exited the room and president Lane invited the protesters back into the room.

In additional video footage posted to facebook (embedded below), Lane claims that the Federalist Society chapter did not follow proper procedures for hosting an event on campus. However, it isn’t entirely clear to which policy he was referring. Upon reaching the podium, Lane addressed the audience:

The university, however, has a right to regulate time, place, and manner. That’s something that universities have the right to always regulate, which is time, place, and manner, and that today has not been done. So that’s why this event will be cancelled until we have the appropriate [drowned out by applause]. So, again, we welcome free speech, but we need the ability to make sure we can handle whatever guest is coming here today. I appreciate — I didn’t know about it, and I just happened to be with another Senator here, Senator Boris Miles, we were out doing some other things early on. We were glad that we were able to meet, and I look forward to going out and talking with, is it Representative Cain? I look forward to talking with him as well to make sure that we all get on the same page. ... We’ll go back to the drawing board to make sure that if in fact we have speakers that come in, and that’s fine, but we need to make sure that we regulate the time, place, and manner, and not the speech. Let me say that again because [something] a lot of people will pick that up. Universities can regulate time, place, and manner, and we have not done that today through our appropriate processes. ... If there is another event that is scheduled to be here in the law school, in this particular room, then we need that to occur. ... It’s my job to make sure that nothing, absolutely nothing, disrupts the academic environment.

Lane’s bewildering comments suggest that he thinks TSU had an obligation to regulate the time, place, and manner of speech on campus in such a way that Rep. Cain’s speech had to be shut down — not that the university merely has the authority to regulate time, place, and manner of speech on campus.

Rep. Cain issued the following statement yesterday, after the event:

Today I attended an event scheduled by the TSU chapter of the Federalist Society a few months ago. I was greeted by campus officials, given a guest parking voucher, and brought into a room in which the administration had specifically requested the talk occur. Then Black Lives Matter came in and bullied the administration into ending the event. It’s a sad day for universities across Texas whenever speech and a variety of views are prevented from being presented due to bullies.

Ironically, the law school at Texas Southern University is named after Thurgood Marshall, a United States Supreme Court justice with a remarkable record of protecting First Amendment rights.

TSU has subsequently also issued a statement:

Texas Southern University welcomes free speech and all viewpoints on campus as part of our collegiate experience. Today’s event, which was scheduled at Thurgood Marshall School of Law, ended early because it was not a registered university student organization event.

Our campus is open and welcoming to all state and elected officials. TSU President Dr. Austin Lane was meeting with a state senator when he received word of the event at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law. Dr. Lane went to the event to see State Rep. Briscoe Cain, students and faculty, and then learned that it was an unauthorized Texas Southern University student organization event. Our vice president of Student Affairs has since met with the student organizer and informed him of university procedures.  Several events have been cancelled in the past on campus because procedures were not followed.  We welcome the return of any guest speaker for deliberative dialogue on our campus in accordance with university procedures.

FIRE has reached out to the TSU Federalist Society students to gather additional information and to determine if we can help the students involved. It seems, however, that even if the event suffered from some administrative defect — one apparently not significant enough to alarm the dean of the law school — then president Lane faced two options: The first was that he could have let the event continue, encourage the demonstrators to continue their demonstration outside, and encourage the Federalist Society organizers to adhere to policy moving forward. The second option, which Lane chose, was to grant the hecklers’ demand to shut down a discussion. President Lane chose poorly, depriving the audience of hearing a scheduled speaker and of the opportunity to express their misgivings — or agreement — with his political views.

We’ll be sure to keep our readers abreast of any further updates on this developing story.

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