The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill finally got it right. Instead of letting radical protesters chase an invited conservative speaker out of his lecture hall–as they did with former U.S. Congressman Tom Tancredo on April 14– when the radicals tried the same stunt a little over a week later, on April 22, against another conservative former congressman, Virgil Goode, UNC-Chapel Hill had enough campus police in place to make prompt arrests of six protesters who tried to drown out Goode’s speech, forestalling further disruption.
The university had also moved the venue of Goode’s speech from the crowded lecture hall where Tancredo had appeared to a large auditorium in the student union that allowed some physical distance (along with a lectern) between Goode and his antagonists. According to Jay Schalin, who reported on Goode’s speech for the American Thinker, Goode, who served as Republican congressman from Virginia from 1997 to 2009, was able to finish his speech setting forth his opposition to illegal immigration and racial preferences and even win the respect of some non-protesting students in the audience who said they didn’t agree with most of Goode’s views but disapproved of the rudeness of the radicals who disrupted his talk.
Both Goode and Tancredo, a former Colorado congressman who briefly ran for the GOP presidential nomination in 2007 on an anti-illegal immigration platform, had been invited to the UNC-Chapel Hill campus by a new conservative student group, Youth for Western Civilization (YWC), which currently has chapters on seven college campuses. YWC opposes both racial preferences and multiculturalism, which means that it has been branded as racist and white-supremacist by several left-of-center organizations, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, which put the group on its “Hatewatch” list as an alleged ally of white nationalists. Regarding YWC’s stated commitment to America’s Western heritage, Frank Dobson Jr., director of a black cultural center at Vanderbilt, where a YWC chapter protested the university’s failure to include Western culture in its Multicultural Awareness Month celebration in March, told the Nashville Tennessean, “When I hear a statement like that, I have to wonder—is it a euphemism for white civilization?”
Radical leftists take the position that “hate speech”—that is, expressing views that the left disagrees with—doesn’t qualify as free speech and thus deserves no protection under the First Amendment. As Schalin pointed out in an article for Human Events about the radicals’ violent disruption of Tancredo’s speech the week before (including the breaking of a window a few inches away from Tancredo’s head), some of the protesters whined to the press, after the campus police finally took action and subdued them with pepper spray, that it was they who had their First Amendment rights violated. The idea seemed to be that chanting, shouting threats and obscenities, and bullying a speaker into silence deserve more constitutional protection than peaceably giving a lecture to those who have gathered to listen to it. Tancredo and Goode became targets of leftist ire because both oppose the congressional bill known as the DREAM Act, which would automatically grant citizenship to illegal immigrants if they join the military or enroll in college. Apparently it’s fine for Congress to debate the DREAM Act but not campus speakers.
The Tancredo and Goode incidents were part of a disturbing pattern on college campuses over the past few years in which conservative speakers and the student groups that sponsor them have become fair game for verbal and sometimes physical assaults by their ideological opponents. Furthermore, it sometimes seems as though the administrators of the campuses in question, in their eagerness to be seen as politically correct, seem to acquiesce in the harassment by doing too little too late to stop it
On March 11 conservative columnist Don Feder, a guest of the University of Massachusetts Republican Club, tried to give a speech opposing hate-crime legislation on the university’s Amherst campus. The question of whether societies need special laws forbidding violence against racial and sexual minorities when such acts are already forbidden by ordinary criminal laws also ought to be open to honest debate—yet Feder was unable to get out more than a few sentences before he was heckled and booed into canceling his speech (for Feder’s own take on the evening, click here.). According to a Boston Globe op-ed by Robert Shibley of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, (FIRE), the Republican Club had been forced to pay an extra-large fee for security at Feder’s talk, but the UMass-Amherst campus police did little to halt the disruption, although they did remove a student holding a ferret that could have been released into the room.
Feder, Tancredo, and Goode are small potatoes for campus agitators. “The main targets have been [best-selling conservative author] Ann Coulter, [campus political-correctness critic] David Horowitz, [anti-Islamicist academic] Daniel Pipes, and anyone connected with the Minutemen [the anti-illegal-entry activists who patrol the Mexican border],” Adam Kissel, FIRE’s director told me in a telephone interview. (By the way, FIRE has just as aggressively defended the right to speak on campus of such controversial left-of center figures as dismissed University of Colorado ethnic-studies professor Ward “Little Eichmanns” Churchill.) Coulter had a pair of custard pies thrown at her when she spoke at the University of Arizona in 2004. Horowitz was drowned out by hecklers when he tried to speak about academic freedom at Bowling Green State University in Ohio in 2005. Pipes was repeatedly interrupted by catcalls from members of a university-funded Islamic student group when he delivered an address about Palestinian terrorism at the University of California at Irvine in 2007. As for the Minutemen, a student mob at Columbia University knocked over chairs and tables amid chants and boos in order to terminate a speech in October 2006 by the group’s founder, Jim Gilchrist, and a board member, Marvin Stewart. One of the protesters told the New York Sun that Gilchrist and Stewart were “racist individuals” who had “no right to speak” at Columbia.
In nearly all of the above incidents, university officials did little to quell the disruptions, much less take precautions that might prevent their occurring in the first place. The typical scenario was for security officers to escort the speaker to offstage safety after the protestors became sufficiently unmanageable and for the university’s president to issue a few words condemning the protesters the next day. That was why UNC-Chapel Hill’s proactive tactics that allowed Goode to finish his speech on April 22 seemed to signal a welcome change of attitude toward potential disrupters. For example, the university not only beefed up the campus-police presence at Goode’s lecture but also sent an administrator, Winston Crisp, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs, to keep order.
Shortly after Goode started speaking, a woman shouted an obscenity at him. According to Schalin, Crisp took the stage to declare, “This is going to be the only time I say this. Whether you are cheering or jeering, we are gong to ask you to allow the speaker to make his comments. If you persist in behavior that disrupts this program, the DPS (Department of Public Safety) officers will be asked to remove you from the premises.”
That warning, together with the six arrests for disorderly conduct, seemed to do it. Goode got through his speech, and UNC-Chapel Hill made a point that other universities might take to heart: that it’s possible to stand up to self-righteous agitators who refuse to respect the rights of those whose views they don’t agree with.