The meanings of “free speech” and “fascism” are apparently unclear to some University of Oregon students who shut down a speech by UO President Michael Schill earlier this month.
The need to take a firm and public stand against such assaults by punishing the perpetrators is apparently unclear to the university leadership.
In supposed defense of free speech, the students used a megaphone to shout down the president and take over the stage, complaining about tuition increases, indigenous rights and minority student safety, according to a report in the student newspaper. One speaker said the protest was prompted by fascism and neo-Nazis who have made the campus unsafe for students. The reality that the protesters were making the campus unsafe for everyone else didn’t register.
University officials vacated the stage, leaving it to the students, and proceeded to post a pre-recorded video of the speech.
Writing an op-ed in Monday’s New York Times, Schill did a fine job of laying out the ironies, most importantly that in preventing others’ speech, the protesters were defeating the principle they claimed to be asserting. Also, that their protest against fascism was itself a form of fascism, which he described as a “smothering of dissent.”
And he described an alternative approach taken by other UO protesters in 2015, where they ended up in a constructive dialogue with Schill that led to significant action to address their concerns.
But Schill’s well-argued defense of rational discourse didn’t mention any steps by the university to take control, to protect the rest of the campus from these misguided students. And the university said Tuesday it can’t tell us anything about that.
The university’s Media Relations Manager Molly Blancett wrote in an email: “The incident is under review, but … the university is not able to share specifics on conduct decisions in this or any case, as it is protected under the Family Educational Records Privacy Act.”
The university needs to take a public stand against this kind of protest, making it clear that it will not tolerate students physically taking over an event and preventing anyone, be it a student, a visitor or the university’s president, from expressing themselves. The community needs to know what steps were taken to punish such unacceptable conduct.