According to Heat Street, after administrators at Cal State LA canceled a speech by Daily Wire Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro scheduled for late February, they were deluged with phone calls and emails from students, parents and alumni angry that the University was limiting free speech.
Two months before the scheduled speech, which was titled “When Diversity Becomes A Problem,” members of the administration acknowledged that Shapiro’s well-known criticisms of the tactics of the Left could engender an explosive reaction from furious leftists. Ironically, Shapiro’s speech was championing the value of diversity of thought and free speech.
On December 7, more than two months before Shapiro's February 25 speech, Scott Bowman, dean of the College of Natural and Social Sciences, who had heard Shapiro’s speech the previous November 19 (watched by nearly a quarter of a million people) at the University of Missouri where he openly challenged leftists, including the Black Lives Matter movement, emailed the chief administrators at the college, including President William Covino, alerting them of a possible explosion. He wrote: "I think the students have the right to hear what he has to say. On the other hand, it could be explosive in the current environment. Nothing he says is hate speech in my view but his critiques of the Left’s obsession with micro-aggressions and various tactics of groups (e.g., Black Lives Matter) would be labeled racist by them, which is his point, by the way.” Bowman urged Cal State LA to “stipulate that he speak in a designated place where there are not unwitting passersby,” adding, “we don’t want to put him in a forum that will incite.”
Sure enough, some leftist students compared Shapiro’s upcoming event to an “undercover KKK meeting.” On February 20, five days before the speech, a student whose name is redacted in the email wrote to Covino, headlining his email, “I DO NOT FEEL SAFE!” The student continued, “The fact that so many right wing conservatives that own guns RSVPd to this event makes me feel extremely uncomfortable. We should be able to go to an event without worrying about our safety. And frankly this event sounds like an undercover KKK meeting. This event in general speaks volumes as to how little our lives matter…”
On February 22, Covino wrote an email to the Young America’s Foundation chapter, which was sponsoring the event, to cancel the event. He asserted, “After careful consideration, I have decided that it will be best for our campus community if we reschedule Ben Shapiro’s appearance for a later date, so that we can arrange for him to appear as part of a group of speakers with differing viewpoints on diversity. Such an event will better represent our university’s dedication to the free exchange of ideas and the value of considering multiple viewpoints.”
That same day, Shapiro fired back, “The campus fascists have taken over. I pay taxes in the state of California; I’m paying for these whiny children to be indoctrinated by radical leftists. For CSULA to pretend that they’re trying to provide balance isn’t just stupid, it’s insultingly stupid. I am the balance, and they’re too afraid to let me speak. These aren’t diversity warriors. They’re jackbooted thugs. If they want to call the men with guns to shut down free speech, they’ll demonstrate clearly just who they are. I’ll be there on Thursday. See you there, snowflakes.”
Chancellor Tim White warned Covino on February 23, writing, “Unclear if your approval is normal protocol for someone else’s invitation… This one is on a slippery slope in the absence of fuller understanding."
Once the news surfaced that Covino was trying to cancel Shapiro's speech, the blowback began. Between the evening of Feb. 23 and Feb. 25, Covino’s staff received scores of phone calls and emails condemning the university’s censorship. Examples included:
02/24/16 at 11:15 a.m. [Redacted] Censoring Ben Shapiro is unconstitutional.
02/24/16 at 11:19 [Redacted] Disgusted at the fact that conservatives cannot adhere to a public meeting without sheltering people.
02/24/16 at 12:36 p.m. [Redacted] ‘Honor the 1st Amendment,’” lists one run-down of the incoming calls.
One student, whose name is redacted, said they were “very disturbed” about “a student group being bullied by a violent mob on campus.” The student informed Covino:
I think your decision to postpone the event in the first place seemed to send a message that other groups are allowed to invite speakers and this group is not … It was not the organizers of this group who made the situation unsafe, it was the violent vitriolic mob who showed up to oppose their right to peaceably assemble who made the situation unsafe. … Well sir, I personally, as a bystander (who also disagrees with YAF and Ben Shapiro) feel intimidated by this mob and by faculty members. … I feel as though if I say the wrong thing by accident, even in agreement, I will become the victim of violence…
One email that was signed “an actual student with a brain,” wrote that the administration was “complicit in the intimidation and violence of your hate-filled and misguided student ‘protestors.’ What you fail to realize is that you played exactly into Ben Shapiro’s hands. Yes, the title of the speech was provocative; the point of which was for Ben to demonstrate how intolerant far leftists are to ideas that are politically inconvenient.”
One gentleman who had been named the “Outstanding Male Student” when he graduated from the university 50 years before said he would terminate donating to the University unless it reissued the invitation to Shapiro. He wrote, “The University should honor free speech and never offers [to add] a conservative speaker to speak when a liberal is asked to speak.” That sentiment was echoed by several others.
A parent whose daughter attended a Cal State sister campus, where she was blocked from hearing Shapiro’s speech, threatened to contact his attorney.
A Washington state mother whose child was graduating high school said the CSULA was off the list after rescinding the invitation to Shapiro. A Cal State employee who took the phone call said, “She indicated that she is calling on behalf of a number of mothers with high school seniors graduating this year. She said after seeing this, she and the mothers are all saying ‘hell no’ to considering Cal State for their kids. She also said word of mouth travels…”
As late as May, someone working in the human-resources field wrote Covino, asking for a full list of students “who are still emotionally and physically hurt by the speech given by Ben Shapiro, which they didn’t even attend,” adding that “my HR department, as well as industry Head Hunters and colleagues would like to add their names to a ‘watch list’ of potential incoming resumes to ignore.”