November 12, 2009
Academic Freedom for Thee, but Not for MeBy Don Feder
Of all the sins of the campus left, the worst is hypocrisy. Academic freedom is a spigot they turn on and off at their convenience.
This evening, Ray Luc Levasseur, a convicted terrorist who served 18 years of a 45-year sentence, will participate in a "Colloquium on Social Change" at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, sponsored by a "progressive" faculty group called "Social Thought and Political Economy."
Levasseur was the leader of the United Freedom Front, which worked for social change from 1976 to 1984 by bombing government buildings, robbing banks, murdering a New Jersey state trooper, and attempting to murder two Massachusetts state cops. Given the academic mindset, the only surprise here is that unlike William Ayers, Levasseur isn't a professor.
On October 6, the U. Mass. administration canceled Levasseur's participation due to an outcry from police unions and pressure from Governor Deval Patrick, who doesn't need additional baggage when he runs for reelection next year.
On Monday, the university reversed its earlier decision and paraded its virtue in the process.
"I am opposed to convicted terrorist Raymond Luc Levasseur speaking at the University of Massachusetts," President Jack Wilson boldly proclaimed. "The University of Massachusetts stands squarely against the outrageous actions he has committed in the past." (Some would say "outrageous actions" is a rather mild description of being an accomplice to murder, attempted murder, bombings, and armed robbery.)
Still, Wilson preened: "As a university, we defend the principles of free speech and academic freedom."
In a pig's eye.
My mistake was never leading a terrorist group that blew things up, killed a cop, and knocked over banks.
I was invited by the University Republicans to deliver a lecture on March 11 of this year on hate crimes laws as a form of censorship (punishing ideas as well as actions). The administration didn't prevent me from speaking. But it didn't even try to stop student groups like the International Socialist Organization from shutting down my lecture.
When I tried to speak that evening, I was met by 150 protesters. The young scholars heckled, stamped their feet, shouted slogans, waved signs and banners, and did everything short of assault to silence me.
After twenty minutes of being interrupted roughly once every fifteen seconds, I called it quits.
There were four uniformed, armed campus police (as well as plainclothes officers) in the lecture hall at all times who did absolutely nothing to maintain order, despite constant pleas from the president of the Republican group.
The administration was well aware of the potential for chaos. It even charged the Republicans an extra $444 for security for the event. But other than stopping a student from bringing a rat into the lecture hall, the campus cops didn't lift a finger to curtail the disruptions. No one was removed. No names were taken for disciplinary action. No one was even asked to shut up.
Other than by serving the savages milk and marijuana, it's hard to see how the guardians of campus order could have been more obliging. After the event, I asked several why they stood by while my First Amendment rights were trampled. They smiled ruefully or shook their heads. It was plain they were ordered not to engage demonstrators.
Allowing a speaker to be shouted down is every bit as effective a way to censor him as it is to withdraw an invitation to speak.
To this day, the university lies about what happened at my non-lecture.
In an April 13 letter to The Boston Globe, U. Mass flunkie Ed Blaguszewski spun the following yarn: "While Feder was heckled, the police handled the situation in the room without difficulty. ... Feder chose to discontinue his speech."
I chose to discontinue my speech because: 1. I had a change of heart; 2. I was tired and kept falling asleep in the tranquil surroundings; 3. I didn't like the color of the room; or 4. I couldn't be heard above the tumult and decided that trying to continue was futile. The administration still pushes its fiction, even though the event was videotaped and posted on YouTube.
That's the way the University of Massachusetts defends "the principles of free speech and of academic freedom" -- for conservatives.
On March 11, I joined a distinguished fraternity of conservative speakers who've been shouted down, booed and jeered off the stage, harassed, threatened, and (in at least one case) assaulted.
The victims of academic freedom include Ann Coulter (University of Connecticut, 2005), David Horowitz (Emory University, 2006), Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol (University of Texas, 2006), Star Parker (Penn State, 1999) -- who said she "feared for [her] life" -- and Jim Gilchrist of the Minuteman Project (Columbia, 2006). In this last case, members of the Chicano Caucus and my old friends in the International Socialist Organization rushed the stage and knocked over tables and chairs to keep Gilchrist from speaking.
On most college and university campuses, academic freedom is a one-way street. Besides allowing conservative speeches to be disrupted and conservative papers to be trashed, administrators have devised numerous ways to short-circuit intellectual freedom.
Campus speech codes are the most popular. These are fences erected to safeguard the left's cherished idols. Open inquiry does not extend to challenging affirmative action or any article of the feminist canon.
At Ohio State University's Mansfield campus, a librarian faced charges of sexual discrimination and harassment for recommending three conservative books to incoming freshmen. The entire faculty voted to engage in this intellectual book-burning. After a public outcry, the University quietly dropped the matter.
Recently, East Georgia College dismissed Professor Thomas Thibeault for criticizing the school's sexual harassment policy. To question revealed truth was itself deemed sexual harassment. Academic freedom does not excuse blasphemy.
After a campaign by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the college reinstated Thibeault, but they issued him a "reprimand" for "offensive speech" -- the verbalization of bad thoughts. Imagine Thomas Jefferson's reaction to the proposition that being offended trumps freedom of expression.
Students have faced disciplinary action for holding "affirmative action bake sales" (to highlight the absurdity of racial quotas), putting up posters lampooning "gay awareness week," asking "disruptive questions" at a campus lecture celebrating abortion, stepping on Hamas and Hezbollah flags at an anti-terrorism rally (for this desecration, students at San Francisco State University were told they were under investigation for "incivility," "intimidation," and creating a "hostile environment") and advocating Second Amendment rights.
Academic freedom? The typical college campus is the most repressive place in America -- an intellectual gulag with tenured guards and draconian punishment for questioning authority.
At least Stalin didn't claim to be for freedom of anything.