University President Reads First Amendment Backwards



James Madison. Credit: Wikimedia

On October 22nd, the Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece titled, “How White Supremacists Exploit Public Higher Education.” The theme was that alleged white supremacists like Richard Spencer cost universities an enormous amount of money for security, when they speak at the colleges. Spencer’s speech at the University of Florida on October 19th cost the school $600,000, according to the WSJ piece.

This sum is by no means unique: Berkeley recently paid a similar sum to provide security for a speech by conservative Ben Shapiro, who is not a white supremacist. The authors, one of whom is the president of U of Florida, write that:

Public universities that choose to grant access to speakers who are not invited or affiliated with the institution are legally obligated to accept all such speakers. As a result, they may become hostage to Nazis or other extremists—forced to stand by as these groups capitalize on their university’s visibility and prestige to amplify their vile messages.

This leads them to suggest “a Federal Extremist Speakers Fund to help universities with their exorbitant security costs,” or to “establish a set of neutral criteria upon which fees for speakers could be based.”

These fee-charging ideas fail under the simple test of Who decides if speech is extreme or vile? Certainly not university presidents. Spencer’s philosophy is distasteful, with overtones of racism and antisemitism. But Ben Shapiro is a conservative, who spoke about the pro-life movement at Berekely and took questions, in a thought-provoking discussion and debate with students.

It’s worth noting that the University of Florida received federal research funding in fiscal year 2015–2016 of $724 million. Berkeley received $370 million in funding. Frederick Hess and Grant Addison, writing in the WSJ opinion page, said:

Washington disburses billions of dollars to colleges and universities for research—nearly $38 billion in fiscal 2015 alone.
Because universities build in usurious rates of overhead on this money—in some instances, upward of 50% goes to underwrite salaries and facilities.
Of the 30 higher-education institutions that collected the most federal research funds in fiscal 2015, 26 maintain formal policies restricting constitutionally protected speech. Six of them—Johns Hopkins, the University of Michigan, Harvard, Penn State, the University of Texas at Austin, and New York University—maintain policies [the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education] categorizes as “substantially restricting freedom of speech.” These 26 colleges and universities took more than $14 billion in federal research funding in fiscal 2015, or nearly 40% of the total disbursed.

The authors suggest that research funding should be tied to protecting the right to free speech.

More to the point, the authors have gone through the looking glass on James Madison’s intent, when he wrote the First Amendment: to protect speakers from those who disagree with them, and who would silence them by force or other pressure. It is not the fault of the speakers that security costs are so high—it’s the fault of the organized protesters who seek to shout them down or commit violence on them. There’s a variety of such groups, all working together. Oathkeepers, whose members infiltrate these groups, gives a good overview of who they really are:

  1. The liberal socialists are primarily coming out of our higher education system. They are comprised of professors, students and under-employed graduates.
  2. Anti-white racist groups (Black Lives Matter, La Raza, Islamic Fundamentalists.  including professors and current and former students who’ve been brainwashed at the universities themselves.
  3. The communists are a much broader spectrum of society with a strong leaning towards immigration issues. [They] actively recruit from a wide pool of candidates, including liberal socialists, the LBGT community, the environmental activists and the anti-white racist groups (Black Lives Matter, La Raza, Islamic Fundamentalists)
  4. The anarchists are by far the most dangerous of these groups. They are organized like militias…. They have a number of former military personnel providing expertise.…To them, everyone is a NAZI or a fascist unless they are an anarchist.

The anarchists, like Antifa, believe in “direct action”: destruction of property, assault of perceived supporters of the President. These are de facto terrorist groups.

Many of these, like Refuse Fascism—which sounds like it might be well-intentioned—are in fact leftist-revolutionary groups. Refuse Fascism is actually the Revolutionary Communist Party.

It’s up to the universities to stop allowing these groups to nullify the speech rights of others. The spectacle of anarchists wreaking thousands of dollars of damage at Berkeley is a good example of “allowing.” Some of this is the mistaken belief that protesters have a right to extend “protest” to silencing of would-be speakers and assaulting them when they show up to speak. The First Amendment does not confer the right to prevent those they disagree with from speaking, and prevent others from hearing what they have to say.

The Supreme Court has affirmed the right to speak, even with hate speech, in decisions like R.A.V. vs City of St. Paul. University presidents should put aside their own beliefs and insist that the government enforce the law against groups violating the First Amendment, particularly violent ones.

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