This is the logical end point of the insanity we have recently witnessed across campuses nationwide. Middlebury College has announced an “interim” policy that enshrines the Heckler’s Veto, putting the power of who will speak at their institution in the hands of people who would threaten to disrupt events:
Interim Procedures for Scheduling Events and Invited Speakers
Until it is replaced or superseded, the following procedures will be in effect for all of Middlebury’s locations.
. . . .
4) In the event of a credible likelihood, based on prior incidents or current evidence, that an event is likely to be the target of threats or violence, the Threat Assessment and Management Team will conduct a risk assessment of the event, consulting with local law enforcement as needed, in order to advise the administration.
5) Representatives from Public Safety/Campus Security and Risk Management will review the risk assessment and determine resources or measures that might be necessary to ensure that the event can proceed without undue risk to the speaker and/or members of the community. This review will include a consideration of Middlebury Emergency Preparedness Plan and Emergency Operations protocols.
6) In those exceptional cases where this review indicates significant risk to the community, the president and senior administration will work with event sponsors to determine measures to maximize safety and mitigate risk. Only in cases of imminent and credible threat to the community that cannot be mitigated by revisions to the event plan would the president and senior administration consider canceling the event.
It all sounds so reasonable . . . until you think about what they’re saying. If they believe there will be violence, “based on prior incidents or current evidence” (i.e. threats of violence or previous incidents of violence), their response will not be to beef up security and promise arrests of anyone who tries to disrupt an event. It will be to “consider canceling the event.”
I understand the desire to maintain public safety. But let’s have some clarity here. When groups violently protest an an otherwise peaceful speech, public safety is threatened by the protestors, not the speaker. Yet not one word of the policy is devoted to warning people who threaten violence that there will be a crackdown on them. Instead, they announce ahead of time that they may punish the speaker and the people who want to hear the speaker’s message.
I don’t think I’m saying anything controversial or unfair when I point out that such a policy disfavors speech by conservatives, and favors speech by leftists. Every sentient observer of political life can see that these disruptions at college campuses are invariably carried out by leftists.
The worst thing about this is the incentive it creates to threaten and engage in violence. One thing the right finds frustrating about the left is the left’s seeming inability to understand the concept of incentives. What do you think leftists hear when you tell them that the more violence they threaten, and the more violence they engage in, the greater chance they have of getting a conservative speech cancelled? They hear this: if you threaten violence, and engage in violence, you will win.
I have always been in favor of more speech. (The First Amendment is one of the things in life that has never let me down!) When I went to school, there was a giant outcry when Meir Kahane came to speak. (Kahane was an ultra-orthodox rabbi who argued that Israel should follow Jewish law and be reserved for Jews. He was later assassinated by an Arab gunman.) Activists tried to get the speech cancelled, and stood outside and shouted at attendees on their way in. I wasn’t terribly interested in Kahane’s ideas, but I went — mainly to piss off the activists. I smiled at the shouting sign-wavers as I strolled by them, and felt that simply by attending and listening respectfully, I was doing something for the freedom of speech.
That is the attitude school administrators need to have. The greater the threat of violence, the greater the need to ensure that the show will go on. The solution is not to cancel a speech. The solution is to increase security, and to arrest anyone who tries to throw the event into chaos.
Why do schools not seem to understand this? I’ll leave that as a philosophical exercise for the reader.