Yesterday at the University of Florida, students protested Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse’s candidacy for the position of university president and disrupted an opportunity for others to ask him questions. Are these students so unaccustomed to viewpoint diversity on their campus that the mere prospect of a Republican becoming university president is beyond the pale to them? They didn’t even give Senator Sasse a chance to outline his vision for the university before they decided they were against him. They disrespected him, but, more importantly, they disrespected their fellow students who were there to ask questions. A university should be a haven where we can listen to and debate one another with reason and evidence. Of course, the right to freedom of speech includes the right to protest, but it does not include a right to exercise the heckler’s veto. There should be severe consequences for any students who were involved in disrupting the event in accordance with the university’s Student Conduct Code, which prohibits disruptive conduct. Shouting people down is anathema to the very nature of the university as an institution. Episodes like this demonstrate the urgency of rebuilding a climate of free expression and viewpoint diversity on America’s campuses. ACTA has been working on these issues for over 25 years, and we have the resources that concerned trustees, alumni, and others need to effect positive change, including our new ACTA Gold Standard for Freedom of Expression. University administrators have a duty to protect free expression and civil discourse for everyone. If they fail in that duty, then trustees and alumni must step in and ensure that they honor the public trust. Our universities can be better than this, our nation’s future depends upon it.
Dr. Michael Poliakoff, President of American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA)
Dr. Steve McGuire, Paul and Karen Levy Fellow in Campus Freedom (ACTA)