Protesting With Their Feet

Yesterday Vice President Mike Pence gave the commencement address at the Notre Dame  University graduation ceremony in South Bend, Indiana.  As Pence began speaking, dozens of graduating students walked out.

22746804-mmmainThe theme of the Vice President’s address was the importance of freedom of speech and tolerance for different points of view, on college campuses and elsewhere.  Many conservative commentators made fun of the students who walked out on Pence’s speech, deriding them as delicate “snowflakes” who simply couldn’t bear to hear opposing views and finding it paradoxical that the students would walk out on a speech that urged them to listen to other, opposing perspectives.

I’ve had a lot of problems with the trampling of free speech rights on college campuses these days, but in this instance I think the critics are wrong.  The Vice President was exercising his free speech rights by giving an address with the content of his choice, and the students were exercising their free speech rights by walking out on the speech as a protest of Trump Administration policies.  The students exited stage left not because they are “snowflakes” who felt they simply couldn’t withstand Pence’s commencement address — a sentiment, incidentally, that many people who have attended overlong, droning college commencement speeches would secretly share — but because walking out was a visible sign of profound disagreement with the views of the speaker.  It’s a form of the kind of silent protest that we’ve seen many times in American history.

In fact, I commend the Notre Dame protesters, because their protest was non-violent and respectful of Pence’s free speech rights.  They didn’t try to shut him up, in contrast to other recent incidents on campus in which agitators have used violence to prevent some people from speaking — such as the mob that shamefully disrupted a lecture by scholars with different viewpoints at Middlebury College and, in the process, gave a Middlebury professor whiplash and a concussion.  The Notre Dame students had every right to “vote with their feet” and send Pence a message that they disagree with what the Trump Administration is doing, and they found an appropriate way to send that message.

I wish more people would listen to opposing viewpoints and try to understand them, but I’m more concerned about people who think that just because they disagree with someone that person shouldn’t be permitted to speak at all — something that is antithetical to one of the most important rights guaranteed to all Americans.  Based on the protest yesterday, I’d say that a Notre Dame education has given those graduates a pretty good understanding of how the Bill of Rights is supposed to work.

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The Sad State Of Freedom Of The Press On Campus

Most college campuses have student-run newspapers.  At some schools, like Ohio State with the Lantern, the newspapers are “laboratory” publications, where students receive course credit and training as they perform different positions; at other schools, the newspaper is an extracurricular activity.  But in either case, the student newspapers are, in fact, newspapers, and are protected by the First Amendment.

Unfortunately, that protection seems to be eroding.

bradley_hallThe latest example has occurred at Mount St. Mary’s University, a small school in Maryland where the newspaper is called The Mountain Echo.  Two enterprising students reported that the  school was considering a new proposal to shore up its student retention numbers, and thereby improve its U.S. News and World Report rankings, by looking to get rid of struggling freshman students.  An even bigger scoop was that the University president, Simon Newman, was quoted as using a bizarre and disturbing metaphor to try to convince a professor about the merit of the program.  Newman was quoted as saying:  “This is hard for you because you think of the students as cuddly bunnies, but you can’t.  You just have to drown the bunnies,” and later stating: “Put a Glock to their heads.”

By all accounts, the story was good, solid reporting, with the quotes attributed to the University president confirmed by two professors who witnessed the conversation.  And the University president doesn’t seem to be denying that he said what he was quoted as saying — he apologized for his choice of words and explained that he was just trying to help struggling students at risk of failing avoid racking up a lot of student loan debt.

So how did Mount St. Mary’s respond to the blockbuster story in The Mountain Echo?  Amazingly, by firing the newspaper’s faculty adviser, Ed Egan.  The chairman of the school’s board suggested Egan had manipulated the student reporters into presenting the retention program negatively — a charge the student reporters themselves deny — and that he should have framed the story to focus more on the merits of the retention proposal than on the University president’s stupid comments about drowning bunnies.

The students on the newspaper were appalled that Egan was fired.  Ryan Golden, the managing editor of the paper and one of the two students to break the story, was quoted as saying:  “He’s really a good mentor for a lot of students at this school. He absolutely encouraged us to pursue journalistic integrity, absolutely encouraged us to be ethical, to be fair, to be thorough, to be objective and to do the best work that we could.”  Mr. Egan sounds like Tom Wilson, who was the faculty adviser of the Ohio State Lantern when I worked there in the ’70s.  Mr. Wilson was an old school newspaperman who cared only about the story — and let the chips fall where they may.  He was a great teacher.

Things have changed a lot on college campuses since the ’70s, and in some ways not for the better.  Many colleges seem to have become hotbeds of political correctness, where freedom of speech and freedom of the press are under assault on a daily basis.  In any rational universe, students who broke a story about a college president’s weird and ill-advised comparison of struggling students to bunnies that need to be drowned would be congratulated for exposing that fact, and the president would face the music for saying something so ridiculously stupid.  Instead, in our world, the newspaper faculty adviser gets terminated, and a chilling, anti-free speech and anti-free press message gets sent.

On too many college campuses these days, we are just heading in the wrong direction.

How To Respond To Muslim Lectures, Edicts, and Bounties

The Muslim world has been giving the United States a lot of advice and information lately.  No doubt we’ll hear more thoughtful recommendations and guidance in the next few days, as Muslim leaders come to New York for a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly.  America needs to decide how to respond.

In Egypt — where only days ago raging mobs stormed the U.S. embassy and ripped down our flag — the new President, Mohamed Morsi, says in an interview with the New York Times that the United States needs to fundamentally change its approach to the Muslim world and show greater respect for Muslim values.  In the meantime, the head of the largest fundamentalist Islamic party in Egypt, which supported Morsi, is calling for U.N. to act to “criminalize contempt of Islam as a religion and its Prophet.”  And in Pakistan — a supposed ally — the government Railways Minister has offered a $100,000 payment to whomever kills the makers of the YouTube video The Innocence of Muslims and called upon al Qaeda and the Taliban to help in murdering the videomakers.  (Fortunately, the Pakistani government says it “absolutely disassociates” itself with the comments of its Railway Minister.  Thank goodness!)  And we haven’t even heard yet from the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who will be speaking to the U.N. General Assembly, too.

It’s heartening to hear from the enlightened leaders of a region that is widely recognized for reasoned discourse and thoughtful consideration of opposing viewpoints.  But I’d like to see whoever speaks for America at the U.N. General Assembly share some of our views with the assembled Islamic leaders — and do so in pointed terms.  We should say that we relish our First Amendment, and we’re not going to change it no matter how often Muslims go on murderous rampages at some perceived slight.  We should say that will fight any effort to criminalize speech and will veto any ill-advised U.N. resolution that attempts to do so.  We should emphasize that we think that the world needs more freedom, not less, and that we stand with the forces of liberty.  We should tell the Muslim leaders that their real problems are not with freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but with tribal-based, anti-female societies that crush individual initiative, medieval economies that leave huge swathes of the population unemployed and ready to riot at any moment, and corrupt leaders who are more interested in amassing their own fortunes than helping their people realize a better way of life.  Oh, and we should make clear that we won’t do business with government where ministers are offering bounties on the heads of filmmakers.

I’m tired of our simpering, whimpering approach to defending our fundamental freedoms.  It’s high time that we stood up for what we believe in and told the Islamic world that they can riot all they want:  we aren’t going to back away from our liberties.

A Piece of Crap ?

Dumb, stupid, ignorant, idiotic and simpleminded are a few of the words that immediately come to mind after viewing the Muhammad movie trailer below which is causing all of the turmoil in the Middle East. It’s sad to think that this trailer may have led to the senseless deaths of four Americans especially ambassador Chris Stevens who had such a passion for his job.

Free speech is a wonderful thing and one of many things that make our country great, but I often wonder if something like our freedom of speech needs to be explained more fully to people who live in countries where their government for years have censored books, films and the internet.

I hope Muslims know that we Americans have the right to view whatever we want and it’s up to each of us to make up our own mind as to whether or not we believe it. I guess I was expecting something a little more thought provoking, but this movie trailer wasn’t even worth the time it took to watch it !