USA Today op-ed: My Pro-free Speech Views Made Me the Target of a Smear Campaign at Vassar College, by William Jacobson (Cornell):
From UC Berkeley in the west to Middlebury College in the northeast, and at dozens of colleges and universities in between, we have seen speakers disrupted, shouted-down, shut-down and threatened. Almost all such speakers were right of center, and almost all of the perpetrators were progressive students.
At Cornell University, where I teach at the law school, former Senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum was heckled and Tea Party activist Michael Johns was forced to hold his appearance at a secret location due to threats of disruption.
I have watched these anti-free speech mobs from a distance, and from a news perspective. At my website, Legal Insurrection, I’ve written about many dozens of such incidents which started with attacks on Israeli and pro-Israeli speakers going back almost a decade and now have migrated into the mainstream. ...
I’m not a household name. And I’m not particularly controversial, although I do stick out at Cornell as one of only a small number of openly politically conservative faculty members.
So despite my campus speeches and conservative politics, I never really thought the anti-free speech mob would come for me. Until they did, at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. ...
My speech was to be titled “Hate Speech” is Still Free Speech, Even After Charlottesville. That title, which is an accurate statement of the law, focused on the dilemma of constitutional rights versus campus inclusiveness goals. Through clerical error, VCLU filed for funding of the speech under a different name, An Examination of Hate Speech and Free Speech.
Regardless of title, the planned discussion of “hate speech” as protected speech set in motion a smear campaign against me and attempts to stop my speech that left me feeling like I was going through an out-of-body experience. ...
Students put together a safety plan for the day of my speech that reads like parody, but was real. It included the now-common “safe spaces,” but also safety and emotional support teams. The Library was designated one such safe space and “will provide coloring books, zine kits, markers, construction paper etc.,” per a campus email. In case students had trouble finding a safe space, “Safe(r) spaces will be occupied by designated Vassar students with glowsticks.”
This all was surreal.
And then the Vassar student government moved in to kill the event, demanding in a letter from the Executive Board that Vassar’s president prevent me from appearing:
“We strongly urge you, on account of students undergoing serious and real pain, to take our words and ideas seriously, and work towards breaching the contract, ultimately preventing him from coming to campus on Wednesday... We urge you to think critically about these things. Rather than just engaging the abstract, we urge you to understand how these ideas have physical implications for the safety and well-being of real students on this campus..."
I was permitted to appear, under heavy security. ...
This Vassar experience left me shaken.
Because I committed to discussing free speech and the constitutional protection of even hateful speech, I was made the object of hate by student activists who whipped the campus into a frenzy.
Why would any right-of-center student, faculty member or guest speaker want to endure what I had to go through? For that matter, why would any liberal defender of free speech want to undergo such a smear campaign?
And isn’t that the point? While I was permitted to speak, the message was sent that support for the 1st Amendment and freedom of speech is not welcome. To get to speak on these sensitive yet critical topics means you have to run the gauntlet of anti-free speech progressives.
The mob didn’t stop me from speaking. But the damage was done.