On April 26, New York University Professor Jonathan Haidt wrote an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education talking about the latest leftist craze of silencing voices of dissent on college campuses. Unlike his colleague Ulrich Baer who argued that the fascist students are the true advocates of free speech, Haidt slammed campus progressives by asking what people should think about students who shut down individuals like Heather Mac Donald, Charles Murray, and others.
What are we to make of this? There were no reports of violence or property damage. Yet this event is potentially more ominous than the Berkeley and Middlebury violence, for we are witnessing the emergence of a dangerous new norm for responding to speakers who challenge campus orthodoxy. Anyone offended by the speaker can put out a call on Facebook to bring together students and locals, including “antifa” (antifascist) and black-bloc activists who explicitly endorse the use of violence against racists and fascists. Because of flagrant “concept creep,” however, almost anyone who is politically right of center can be labeled a racist or a fascist, and the promiscuous use of such labels is now part of the standard operating procedure. The call to shut down Mac Donald’s talk asserted, without evidence, that her agenda is “racist, anti-Black, capitalist, imperialist, [and] fascist.” As with accusations of witchcraft in earlier centuries, once such labels are attached to someone, few will dare to challenge their accuracy, lest they be accused of the same crimes.
In other words, Haidt argues that students calling people racist, anti-Black, capitalist, fascist, bigot, etc. are no different from those who called people witches. This alludes to the Salem Witch Trials back in 1692, where the townspeople of Salem, Massachusetts would accuse individuals of being bewitched, resulting in nineteen individuals executed and over a hundred people thrown into prison for the crime of witchcraft. Haidt is correct because the moment an individual or a speaker is labeled as a bigot, it can result in violent mobs of students who seek to suppress the speaker’s voice.
Haidt continued his article by calling for college administrators to enforce policies that bar disruptions of speaking events similar to what occurred at Claremont McKenna and Middlebury College:
[W]hile professors are best placed to act as role models, it is only administrators who can set and enforce rules. At New York University, where I teach, the policy on protests is detailed and reasonable. It allows silent protests and brief outbursts within the lecture hall, but it states clearly that “chanting or making other sustained or repeated noise in a manner which substantially interferes with the speaker’s communication is not permitted.” Most colleges have such policies, but they are rarely enforced, even after the college president offers fine words about freedom of speech. From now on, administrators must ensure that any students who violate protest policies will be disciplined or expelled. There must be zero tolerance for mob rule, intimidation of speakers, and intimidation of political minorities among students as well as faculty members. Alumni can help by making it clear that they will give no further funds to colleges that permit students to shout down speakers with impunity.
It’s refreshing to see a voice of reason in academia today.