A Temple University student group was notified this morning that it was on probation because of me. Apparently Temple just decided I am either so dangerous or so important that I need security for a lecture on campus tonight (I promise I am neither), but since the group sponsoring me did not request security, it is on probation effective immediately.
Never mind that I’ve given perhaps hundreds of lectures and never needed security except once—when I was on a panel at NYU about the Danish Mohammed cartoons (and frankly, it was the other panelists who needed protection). Never mind that my speech is pretty much just a longer version of the argument I made that I introduced on The Huffington Post, inciting no real controversy. Never mind that I’ve given a very similar lecture on "unlearning liberty" at Stanford and Berkeley to very receptive, calm, and engaged crowds. Given that the speech itself is about how students learn bad lessons about free speech from the bad examples of bureaucrats who over-regulate and too often punish speech they dislike, the irony here passes over into the realm of the surreal.
The administration is arguing that because Temple University Purpose (TUP) checked a box on a form stating that I’m a "VIP," but did not also make arrangements for security, this is some kind of serious policy violation that deserves probation. And Temple only noticed this today, despite the fact it knew about this event since at least February 15th. Another such infraction and the group could lose privileges to host future events, including tomorrow’s event, when Amir Abbas Fakhravar, president of the Confederation of Iranian Students, and Saghar Kasraie, lecture on the Iranian Green Movement.
The TUP leadership has had a lot of trouble finding the actual policy that it supposedly violated. So have we. Since I don’t need security, there was no reason to request it, and the whole matter could have been resolved in an e-mail or phone call rather than the jump to probation (without a hearing or charges, I might add).
What this is really about is not me, but Temple’s unhappiness with TUP bringing other controversial people to campus, particularly Dutch politician Geert Wilders. Temple has continued its arbitrary handling of such events, as we have pointed out as recently as Monday:
Temple unconstitutionally charged the group for extra security after the [Wilders] event, but after FIRE intervened, Temple claimed that it could have charged the group thousands of dollars more. Temple arbitrarily offered to withdraw the extra fee, then unilaterally withdrew it. In its latest letter, Temple merely states that the matter is closed and makes no promise to ensure that controversial but protected speech is not silenced on campus. These actions chill speech at Temple because groups will not want to risk being charged thousands of dollars in fees for similar events.
At any rate, TUP has asked that this crazy probation be lifted. TUP wrote to the administrators in charge today noting that after TUP notified Student Activities about tomorrow’s event with the Confederation of Iranian Students, "there was no notification from anyone in student activities informing me that there needed to be a planning meeting. What would have happened had I not taken the initiative to request [one]?" It seems that the most irresponsible and inconsistent people in this mess are Temple administrators.
And now, with Temple’s treatment of my event, Jason Levy, Temple’s Director of Student Center Operations, has chilled expression even further. I am willing to bet that no other group has been subject to such a strict interpretation of speaker requirements (assuming that these requirements even exist) and has been treated as poorly as TUP, but what student group would want to speak up and risk such pitifully bad treatment?
Or maybe it is me? FIRE put together a broad coalition including the the ACLU of Pennsylvania, Christian Legal Society, Feminists for Free Expression, Student Press Law Center, and David Horowitz’s Students for Academic Freedom to help defeat Temple’s speech code back in 2008. Maybe that is why they think I am bigger deal than I am. Maybe they just don’t like me. Either way, a huge loss in an appeals court on free speech issues should have been a warning to stop these kinds of shenanigans. Temple administrators, please drop the probation against TUP now, and feel free to come to my speech tonight, too, if you like. You might learn something.