Silencing Disfavored Speech

UC Hastings law students expose the intolerance of the race-obsessed Left

As further evidence that the campus woke persist in trying to determine what may and may not be said on university campuses, activist students at UC Hastings College of Law shut down the appearance of conservative legal scholar Ilya Shapiro at a March 1st event organized by the Federalist Society.

Georgetown professor Shapiro, it will be remembered, experienced the collective wrath and opprobrium of his own school when he tweeted comments criticizing Joe Biden’s pledge to nominate a black woman as the new Supreme Court justice. In a since-deleted tweet, Shapiro remarked:

Objectively best pick for Biden is Sri Srinivasan, who is solid prog & v smart. Even has identity politics benefit of being first Asian (Indian) American. But alas doesn’t fit into the latest intersectionality hierarchy so we’ll get lesser black woman. Thank heaven for small favors?

The reference to a “lesser black woman” proved to be a most unfortunate choice of words. Shapiro’s tweet was interpreted by many on the Georgetown campus as indicative of the type of white supremacist ideology that assumes the inferiority of black people and questions both affirmative action and campaigns for equity and inclusion. Even after he apologized for his poor phrasing, Shapiro was denounced as racist by Georgetown students, faculty, and staff alike, including Dean and Executive Vice President William Treanor. Members of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) on campus quickly initiated a petition calling for Shapiro’s firing.

So, in March, when Shapiro arrived on UC Hasting’s campus to speak with liberal Hastings faculty member Rory Little at an event entitled “The Breyer Vacancy: The Rise of Contentious All or Nothing Battles for Supreme Court Nominations,” activist students associated with Hastings’ BLSA had already planned to express their dissatisfaction with Shapiro’s views. They proceeded to shut down the event by utilizing the “heckler’s veto” to silence Shapiro for his ideological transgressions.

[Related: “Forbidden Campus Speech”]

Throughout the entirety of the 53-minute event, student demonstrators blocked the podium whenever Shapiro tried to speak and screamed “Black lawyers matter” while pounding the desks to drown out his words. Many of the demonstrators carried placards displaying statements such as “I Am Not Lesser,” “Support Black Women,” and “Black Women Matter.” When Hastings’ Dean of Academics Morris Ratner pleaded with the students to let Shapiro speak and informed them that they were violating the school’s code of conduct, one unconvinced student screamed, “Remove him off the fucking campus, because that’s what we want.”

In the wake of this embarrassing event, top Hastings administrators issued a statement in which they made clear that “disrupting an event to prevent a speaker from being heard is a violation of our policies and norms, including the Code of Student Conduct and Discipline…which the College will—indeed, must—enforce,” a reasonable and justified warning. But that admonition was neutralized by the feckless language that followed, which suggested that certain groups on campus had to be equipped “with the knowledge and skills to engage respectfully, thoughtfully, and sensitively with each other and with a wide array of theories, identities, political viewpoints, and perspectives.” Such words would have no effect on the students at this particular event, who clearly wished to foreclose the dissemination of any views other than their own.

This rude and unacceptable behavior on the part of the Hastings brats is not surprising given the result of a 2017 national survey of 1,500 current undergraduate students at four-year colleges and universities conducted by John Villasenor of the Brookings Institute. When asked whether it would be acceptable for students to shout down and disrupt a speech by a “very controversial speaker…known for making offensive and hurtful statements,” 51 percent of those polled agreed that shutting down such speech with the “heckler’s veto” would be justified. Even more troubling was the response to a follow-up question which asked respondents if they believed in using violence to interfere with and shut down the controversial speaker’s appearance; astonishingly, 19 percent of students answered affirmatively that a violent response to the controversial speaker’s ideas and words would be appropriate and justified.

The Hastings demonstration offered a breathtaking display of pretentiousness and audacity. The demonstrators are woke, race-obsessed students who have taken it upon themselves to decide which ideas should be heard and which should be suppressed—all in the name of protecting the sensibilities of victim groups on campus. That is a dangerous notion, and one that contradicts at least the purported goal of universities, which is the unfettered exchange of views in the “marketplace of ideas.”

Unfortunately, many on the left believe that their progressive views are virtuous and moral and that those of conservatives are regressive, cruel, and unjust. The moral rectitude of these students and faculty is not only ill-conceived but startling and offensive.

Their ideology assumes, falsely, that some ideas are intrinsically superior to others and that only those deserve to be expressed; that these few law students have the knowledge and insight—about all areas of inquiry—to be able to assess the value of a speaker’s intellectual contributions; and that students should be able to vet and even “cancel” speakers chosen to visit campus—especially speakers who may be controversial, unorthodox, incendiary, or representative of different political perspectives.

Where did the philosophical rationale come from that allows liberals and college administrators to make the leap from purporting to endorse freedom of expression for all on their campuses to instead reserving that right, in actual practice, only to favored groups?

[Related: “How Princeton Eviscerated Its Free Speech Rule and Covered It Up”]

For many on the Left who were students and young faculty members during the 1960s, it was the influence of the Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse and his notion of “repressive tolerance” that changed the way intellectuals understood who should, and should not, have the right to free speech—in short, whose views should prevail in the marketplace of ideas.

Marcuse realized that liberal progressivism could not achieve radical social and cultural change if its views had to compete on an equal plane with the conservative ideology of the Right. Why? Because in his view, the repressive force of the existing establishment could not be weakened unless its ability to control speech—and ideas—was diluted. That would only be accomplished, according to Marcuse, by favoring “partisan” speech to promote “progressive” or revolutionary change, which would, by necessity, be “intolerant towards the protagonists of the repressive status quo.” Someone like Shapiro, who articulates conservative views and questions the prevailing orthodoxy about race, equity, and inclusion, is thought to enjoy the privilege and power of whiteness. Therefore, Marcuse’s philosophy dictates not only that Shapiro’s speech should not be protected but also that it should be subject to suppression—specifically because it is harmful and racist, even “violent” in its insensitivity.

Administrators have been slow to respond to these outrageous outbursts and out-of-control protests by leftist students who have unilaterally decided that they have the moral right to suppress the speech of others whose views they marginalize, condemn, and abhor. But the frequency and intensity of these disruptions, and the virulence of the Left’s reaction to conservative speech, have finally pushed institutions to take a firm moral stand and address the problem head-on.

The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin, for example, drafted a policy titled “Commitment to Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression,” which enacts penalties for any individual who exercises the “hecklers veto,” disrupts the speech of others, or otherwise prevents others from enjoying freedom of speech on campus. Anticipating the mistaken belief that many students now have that certain speech—such as so-called “hate speech”—does not deserve protection, the policy asserts that “it is not the proper role of the university to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they, or others, find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive.”

Maintaining civility on campus is a worthy goal, but it is a secondary, not primary, consideration. “Although the university greatly values civility,” the Wisconsin policy states, “concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members within the university community.” If more than one formal complaint is filed against a student, he will be subject to a formal investigation and a disciplinary hearing to determine whether he violated the freedom of expression policy. A student who is found guilty of multiple infractions will be subject to suspension and eventually expulsion.

Shutting down speech is more than just unconstitutional; it violates one of the primary values of a university. When members of the academic community ignore those values and violate free speech regulations, there must be swift and significant consequences. The sanctions should be publicized well in advance of any event so that students understand that any attempts at censorship will not be tolerated. Perhaps the Hastings protestors should have been immediately escorted out of the event and arrested, as the 11 unruly protestors were at UC-Irvine when they attempted to shut down a 2010 speech by Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren. Students should not and cannot be allowed to take over a campus and hijack the robust exchange of ideas—even if they think they have the best intentions and are, at least in their minds, promoting a virtuous, progressive agenda.

“If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education,” observed the champion of free speech, Justice Louis D. Brandeis, “the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

Image: Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain


  • Richard L. Cravatts

    Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of "Dispatches From the Campus War Against Israel and Jews."

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6 thoughts on “Silencing Disfavored Speech

  1. The claim that Professor Shapiro was simply pushing for the “appointment of a *different* person on the basis of that person’s race” is a misreading, or a misrepresentation, of his unfortunate tweet. The juxtaposition of the adjective ‘lesser’ with ‘black woman’ was plainly asking for grief, and if Professor Shapiro meant ‘less qualified’, rather than, say, ‘inferior’, it should not have been beyond the wit of a distinguished legal scholar. In a word, it was idiotic. On an historical note, hyper-inflation and debt helped to speed the collapse of the Weimar Republic, and aided the rise of the Nazis.

  2. The thing is, Shapiro was right.
    No apology has ever been necessary.

    It’s hard enough to find/hire/promote the “very best” when that is exactly your goal. It’s impossible when your objective is, instead, to select the tallest…or Blackest, or the most Female, or the Fattest, or the one who lived in Iowa. (The list of totally irrelevant attributes is endless!)

    Even when all your attention and time and effort is focused on identifying those particular qualities which define the ‘very best’, it’s still a challenge to find them. But when that same time and attention FIRST is focused upon Cosmetics rather than Excellence, failure is almost always guaranteed.

    Maybe Biden’s pick will prove to be outstanding. Maybe. But if she does so prove, that will not be because The Man was looking for a Black Female or a Fat Iowan….or a Red Headed Stepchild ; it will be because — every now and then — even a blind & demented squirrel can find an acorn.

    As for the Left being intolerant of tolerance while raging against Speech which Ruffles Tender Feathers….what else is new? Is anyone still shocked that Identity Politics and the sanctification of ‘My Touchy Feelings’ has trumped entire the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and our bedrock American faith in the transcendent value of Free Speech?

    Is anyone still surprised that the very Institutions charged with the protection of these freedoms are now the ones most enthusiastically pursuing their destruction? Are we shocked, shocked (as Captain Renault might have put it) that the ivory towers which once proclaimed ‘Lux et Veritas’, now couldn’t care less?

    To the ‘Progressive’ (an oxymoron if ever there was one) nothing is more important than succoring those the New Marxist Catechism defines as ‘oppressed’ (by virtue of their membership in the ‘good class’ of color or gender or sexual preference) and oppressing those the catechism now labels as ‘Oppressors’ (by virtue of their own class membership in the ‘bad’ groups of color or gender or sexual preference).

    And so, endlessly, the New Red Guard shouts, shouts, shouts the righteous voice to silence.

    It’s disgusting. It’s shameful. It’s hateful. And, in the end, if left unchecked, these, our New Jacobins will escalate this Reign of Terror until nothing of what America was… is left.

  3. The Administration of the college allowed this to happen. What should have been done is to enforce free speech with police. Sounds contrary, but this is necessary at this time.

  4. Discribing Ilya Shapiro’s tweet as “conservative” is not unlike describing Donald Trump’s as having been “taciturn.” Shapiro wasn’t arguing against appointing a SCOTUS justice on the basis of race — instead he advocated the appointment of a *different* person on the basis of that person’s race.

    That’s not a conservative argument. Instead, it’s an argument that most conservatives would disagree with — although not in this fashion!

    That said, this licensed hooliganism has been tolerated for 30 years now, and the only reason the right doesn’t use similar tactics is that they know they will be severely punished — and the left knows it won’t be.

    The appropriate response here would be for the California Bar to prohibit those involved from taking the bar exam — and identifying them from the social media.

    I won’t hold my breath, but I’m also not sure how much longer the middle will continue to hold.

    And remember that inflation and foreign debt is part of what led to the Weimar Republic….

    1. Not at all.
      Shapiro tweeted, “Objectively best pick for Biden is Sri Srinivasan, who is solid prog & v smart.”

      That is not advocacy on the basis of race, that is advocacy on the basis of being “objectively best”. He goes on to say, of course, that not only would Srinivasan be the ‘objectively best’ pick but that he would also check an ‘identity politics’ box (just not the right one).

      To select anyone because he or she can be seen as being ‘the best’ is exactly what merit and the notion of Quality is all about. Who but a complete fool would choose otherwise.

      In fact, if Biden had done the same…if he had proclaimed that he was looking first for the ‘highest quality’ candidate (as measured against any and all objective standards)…. then whoever his selection might then have been, their color, their gender, their sexual proclivities….all of that would be completely irrelevant.

      But of course that is not what he did; rather he proclaimed the opposite: ‘What I value first and foremost is my candidate’s skin color and gender!’ George Wallace would have been proud!

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