Thursday, May 29, 2014

Cal Poly: Free speech under attack in academia

On May 13, I spoke at Cal Poly — California Polytechnic State University — in San Luis Obispo, California. (In the video above, the event starts at 8:19.) The event was preceded by the usual Muslim Students Association grievance-mongering and bogus claim of victimhood status, with an article in the campus newspaper complaining about my imminent appearance, making wild claims about what would happen if I spoke, and asking that the event be canceled. Student Nate Honeycutt and the Cal Poly College Republicans stood firm, however, even under heavy pressure from a Professor of Religious Studies (who did not have the courage to attend the event, after promising to do so) to cancel.
Now Honeycutt has written a superb letter to Cal Poly’s Mustang News, about the event and how the freedom of speech is under fire where it should be most honored: in our nation’s universities.
“Letter to the editor: Free speech under attack in academia,” by Nate Honeycutt, Mustang News, May 26, 2014:
On behalf of the Cal Poly College Republicans (CPCR), I’d like to put to rest accusations made over the last couple weeks against our club and our recent speaker.

As a preface it should go without saying, but just in case there are any misconceptions, we have the utmost respect for those in the Muslim Students Association (MSA). They were critical of our speaker, but in face-to-face conversations they were respectful, civil and acted in goodwill. Our groups are on friendly terms.
On May 13, CPCR hosted Robert Spencer to present and answer questions on the topic of Radical Islam. We had a packed lecture hall of students, faculty, staff, administrators and community members present to hear and interact with Spencer. His talk was informative, captivating and enlightening (watch online). But in the wake of his visit some students and faculty waged intellectual drone warfare, remotely lobbing unsubstantiated claims, assumptions and accusations at us, then the night of the event did not attend and/or did not engage with our speaker.
Our critics claimed Spencer spews hate speech, that he is on par with the KKK, that he/our club are neo-Nazis, that he would incite violence and that because of the alleged content of his talk many individuals would fear for their mental and physical well-being. These are a few among many verbatim claims. With these claims, some students and faculty sought to pressure first us, then campus leaders above us, to cancel our event. Our club was fighting a coward’s veto — another stereotypical attempt to censor and stifle a legitimate expression and exercise of free speech.
Being offended has become the ultimate trump card for censoring individuals and groups who those offended deem as “controversial” and/or “offensive,” whatever their subjective definition of “controversial” and “offensive” may be. For our group, it typically doesn’t matter what we do, it will almost always be considered by someone to be “controversial” and/or “offensive.” We’re used to this out of necessity and just roll with it, but this becomes particularly troubling when offended individuals start calling for the censorship of our club and/or speakers and/or the cancelation of our events.
In a free society, when one is “offended,” we cannot call for less speech (censorship), but in fact must call for more speech. If people do not like what our speaker has to say, then they can plan and fund their own event. In fact, if the topic of Radical Islam is as important as many critics told us it is, why was our group the first group (in my recollection of my almost four years at Cal Poly) to hold an event addressing the topic?
But what about specifics from our critics? Following are a few salient things we were told: We were told that only “academia engenders a fair and accurate discussion,” while any rational thinker can easily recognize that the only reason we have to bring in our own speakers is precisely because academia by and large does not engender fair or accurate discussions — just ask any conservative student on campus.
We were told our speaker would “leave behind unnecessary emotional and physical dangers for people,” a claim no one could ever back up because it is blatantly false and is yet another example of a scare tactic. And “emotional danger,” what is that supposed to mean? Aren’t we all adults, able to discuss real-world problems in a grown-up manner? We were also told that Spencer’s “logic and ‘facts’ were at times laughable,” but this claim, as with many others like it, lacks specifics because specifics cannot be cited. Anyone can make generalizations, but generalizations mean nothing and are just a façade — a bag of air.
It’s almost funny how with every speaker we bring to campus, no matter what the topic of the talk, inevitably the focus will swing back to the issue of free speech and the First Amendment. Forget the diversity training Week of Welcome students and probably many faculty and other Cal Poly staff have to go through. It looks like what this campus really needs is to bring the Foundation for Individuals Rights in Education (FIRE) in again to properly train and teach students about the First Amendment, and while we’re at it, we should probably require some faculty, staff and administrators come along, too. Far too many people just don’t get it.
Our club works diligently to engage the campus in discussions on relevant political topics and to make sure people understand conservative views and values. We believe these things are what are needed to get the United States back on track and to stay on track. We are by far the most active political voice on campus, and our track record will easily show how deeply involved and invested in the campus and local community we are.
We hope that for future events, students and faculty will come and hear from our speaker and meet our club before they jump to conclusions and make false assumptions and accusations. This is the standard others hold us to, so why not extend it to everyone? The future of free speech at this university looks quite frightening should the tactics used against us continue to be used and supported. Amidst great pressure and a significant (but unwarranted) backlash we stood up for our rights, but many other groups may not be willing to do the same. What is it going to take for students and faculty to wake up?

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