Brown University’s Campus Liberals vs. Free Speech

 By guest blogger PETER BEINART, The Daily Beast, Oct. 30, 2013.    

 “Brown cultivates a spirit of free inquiry,” writes its President, Christina Paxson, on her website.  “Brown prizes the intellectual exchange that is sparked by a diversity of views and experiences.”

Tell that to Ray Kelly.  Yesterday the New York City police chief was prevented from speaking on Paxson’s campus by students angered by the NYPD’s racial profiling.  Those students have good reason to be angry.  Unfortunately, they’re the latest in a long line of campus activists who believe their anger trumps other people’s free speech.

Kelly is only the most recent victim.  In 2002, protesters prevented Benjamin Netanyahu from speakingat Montreal’s Concordia University.  In 2009, activists at the University of North Carolina shut down a planned speech by anti-immigration congressman Tom Tancredo.

There’s something deeper going on here.  On the surface, campuses like Brown’s seem hegemonically liberal.  But in my experience, that apparent consensus conceals a crucial gulf between students and faculty who hold left of center opinions but accept basic norms of fair play and students who consider freedom of speech a scam employed by the powers that be to perpetuate their racism/sexism/classism/imperialism/homophobia.  Convinced that freedom of speech is an illusion denied them outside the university gates, they take revenge in the one arena where the balance of forces tilt their way.  And they thus inject into their own campuses the totalitarian spirit they believe characterizes society at large….

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Peter Beinart is the editor of and writes about domestic politics and foreign policy at The Daily Beast. He is also an associate professor of journalism and political science at CUNY and author of The Crisis of Zionism.