Paul L. Caron

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Cornell Law Prof: I Never Thought The Anti-Free Speech Mob Would Come Me. Until They Did.

Vassar 3USA 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.

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"Although I do stick out at Cornell as one of only a small number of openly politically conservative faculty members."

That's enough these days to arouse the Purification Squads on campus. Any student government body that attempts to suppress academic freedom should be disbanded, and it's members expelled from the university, without a tuition refund. Just one man's opinion...

Posted by: MM | Nov 18, 2017 9:48:21 AM

I am so sorry you were treated this way. This is not the Vassar I knew. Thank you for exposing this in your blog.

Posted by: Monica Calzolari | Nov 18, 2017 9:48:48 AM

Professor Jacobson should be a hero to all who support free speech. He fights the good fight.

I wish the prohibit-hate-speech group what they deserve. The French Revolution eventually began sending those insufficiently revolutionary to the guillotine - Robsepierre being one of the last. For a delightful summary listen to Judy Collins sing Marat/Sade. Before you decide you like Marat, he instigated the September Massacre when 1200 - 1400 rightist prisoners were killed because of a rumor rightist troops might rescue them. Learning actual messy history is quite disillusioning.

Up the Revolution - we don't need no stinking Bill of Rights.

Posted by: aircav65 | Nov 18, 2017 10:59:13 AM


Posted by: Steve Diamond | Nov 18, 2017 4:46:39 PM

I love that this forum, unlike mainstream Academia and media, does not ignore and certainly does not disrespect those like Professor Jacobson. A quibble: I am not sure about the origin of the post's headline -- was it from Prof Jacobson? -- but I think the mob he fears is not the "Free-Speech Mob" but the "Hate-Speech Mob".

Posted by: MG | Nov 19, 2017 5:44:01 AM

This fellow Kanoria is the student body president at Vassar.

It wouldn't be an issue bar that they made it an issue, and it's a reasonable wager they had either faculty members or student affairs apparatchicks stoking them.

Posted by: Art Deco | Nov 19, 2017 10:30:28 AM

Educational institutions, even private ones, enjoy significant privileges and freedoms. If they are unable to be worthy of those privileges any longer, those privileges should be terminated. Being bastions of free speech and open discourse is one of those things that is supposed to make them worthy.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Nov 20, 2017 5:02:16 AM

I am a Cornell undergraduate graduate and an attorney. While I decry any danger Professor Jacobson was subjected to, the question keeps coming to my mind, "Aren't the protesters expressing their First Amendment rights, too?" Not when they try to prevent a speaker from freely expressing his views, but when they vocally express their disagreement. To the protesters, Professor Jacobson's talk may have been viewed as "hate speech" to be rejected. The constitution has always been a balancing act. "My freedom to swing my arms about ends at the tip of your nose."

Posted by: Frederick Luper | Nov 20, 2017 8:32:27 AM

Hard to imagine how some of these students will ever function in the real world. Emotional support teams and safety zones just because someone comes on campus that you disagree with?

Posted by: sullivan2day | Nov 20, 2017 9:18:00 AM

Considering this guy basically engaged in race baiting and hasn't suffered any professional consequences, I'd say Cornell is pretty open minded to even noxious and radical view points.

Posted by: Considering | Nov 20, 2017 9:22:42 PM