Brown University's Anti-Free-Speech Faction Gets Put in Its Place

Once again, students shouted down a speaker. And this time, administrators and faculty are standing up for liberal values. 
Will Hart/Flickr

The residential liberal arts college that I attended was mostly filled with people who believed that everyone would benefit from robust, intellectually honest debate. As someone who didn't share the prevailing ideological assumptions on campus, I benefitted tremendously from having my ideas constantly challenged, and from challenging the ideas of others. Done right, public discourse is a crucible that tests every proposition, strengthening the best and destroying the worst, and I remember watching in horror on a few occasions when student protesters–leftists on every occasion–shouted down speakers to prevent their ideas being heard. 

It hardly surprised me last week when I heard that a small faction of Brown University students shouted down New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. As regular readers know, I abhor his Stop and Frisk policy, as well as his inexcusable spying on Muslim Americans, enough to have documented and denounced it repeatedly. But it's the Brown student protesters who behaved inexcusably on this occasion. 

What's heartening, after so many years of watching this happen in academia, is a backlash I didn't expect from some Brown administrators and faculty who understand that using force to suppress ideas is antithetical to a university's project. 

So kudos to everyone at Brown who is standing up for liberal values: to the administrators who pushed for an investigation of the disrupted speech; to Brown President Christina H. Paxon for the excellent statement she released on the affair; and to Brown Professor Glenn Loury, whose exceptional conversations with John McWhorter I've recommended before on many occasions. May his righteous rant help consign this student pathology to the scrap heap.

I'll leave you with it:

(The conversation just gets better from there...)

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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