Robert in ‘Phi Beta Cons’ on Controversies Surrounding Visiting Speakers

April 15, 2014

FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley was recently invited to become a regular blogger for “Phi Beta Cons” at National Review Online, and, true to form, he’s already covered some important points about recent controversies surrounding speakers visiting college and university campuses.

Yesterday, Robert warned of a policy passed in February by the University of Tennessee’s (UT’s) board of trustees that would require visiting speakers to be sponsored by university faculty or a student group. While colleges and universities may place restrictions on outside speakers that would not be constitutional as applied to their own students and faculty, the UT community should take this development as a sign that the Board of Trustees is willing to craft new rules in order to effectively keep out viewpoints it doesn’t like. Regarding the campus street preachers whose presence on campus prompted the policy, Robert asks:

Why do colleges persist in infantilizing students by taking steps to shield them from these people? Do they really believe there will be no anti-gay (or anti-whatever) sentiment once these preachers are banned from campus? Do they think they are doing students a favor by leaving them unprepared to deal with dissent?

Earlier this month, Robert commented on a particularly ridiculous result of what FIRE has been calling “disinvitation season”—students and faculty pressuring schools to exclude potentially wise advice from experts about their fields because they have expressed a politically incorrect viewpoint on a wholly separate topic. For example, multimillionaire engineers and entrepreneurs Greg and Susan Gianforte were invited to speak at Montana Tech’s commencement ceremony, but faculty and students made plans to boycott the speeches because of the couple’s views on creationism and homosexuality. Robert wrote of Mr. Gianforte:

He’s there to talk about his experience in business and technology, a subject that he obviously knows plenty about. More importantly, though, a college or university is supposed to expose people to views they might not have heard before or with which they might not be comfortable.

Read the rest of Robert’s columns on the University of Tennessee’s new policy and “disinvitation season” over at National Review Online.

Schools:  Montana Tech of the University of Montana