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Rosen: Holy Cross College makes a travesty of free speech

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Voltaire, the eighteenth century French philosopher to whom that principle is attributed, apparently wouldn’t be welcome at Holy Cross College these days.

In yet another suppression of free speech and diversity of thought in academia, Heather Mac Donald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, was shouted down by student protestors who disrupted a recent talk she was giving as a guest lecturer at Holy Cross.

The Manhattan Institute isn’t some kind of lunatic-fringe “hate group.” It’s a long-standing. respected and respectable think tank and public policy center in New York City with a free market, mainstream conservative agenda. Heather Mac Donald, a graduate of Yale, Cambridge University and the Stanford University Law School, is an author, essayist and political commentator. She’s not a radical or a firebrand. She’s a brilliant intellectual who presents her ideas in a reasoned, articulate manner. Open-minded Holy Cross students would have much to learn from her, even those who disagree.

Just fifteen minutes into Mac Donald’s presentation, a majority of the audience in a packed auditorium rose and began chanting. They shouted that she and her “sexism, racism and homophobia” weren’t welcome on campus. They then drowned out her response and slowly walked out the hall while loudly repeating their attack slogans. Their pre-planned disruption included filling as many seats as they could in the auditorium in order to keep other students from hearing Mac Donald.

Mac Donald has been targeted at other schools by disruptive student activists employing similar tactics. She noted that, “After the Holy Cross protest, the co-president of the Black Student Union, which organized the walkout with an assist from the student government, told the campus newspaper: ‘The fact that we pulled this off is actually amazing. I feel so empowered now, and this is just the beginning.'”

Presumably, the beginning of suppressing any and all diversity of thought and dissent from leftist orthodoxy at Holy Cross. And that’s something to celebrate?

Perhaps the most disturbing element of this affair was the response of Michele Murray, PhD., the Dean of Students at Holy Cross. Dean Murray falsely claimed that “The subtext of (Mac Donald’s) talk was that discrimination no longer exists, or at least that we should not be bothered by it.” Murray’s deceitful use of the term “subtext” enabled her to reprehensibly misrepresent Mac Donald’s message, which was that students at American colleges like Holy Cross should “seize their boundless opportunities for learning with joy and gratitude.” Mac Donald explains that American universities are, today, arguably the least discriminatory venues in our nation, where students regardless of race, ethnicity or gender orientation are accepted and shielded by sympathetic faculty and administrators who provide them with a safe and welcoming sanctuary. Ironically, it’s conservative students who are subject to repression if they offend hypersensitive progressive dogma.

While agreeing with Mac Donald, that “American undergraduates are among the most privileged individuals in history by virtue of their unfettered access to knowledge,” Murray then proceeded to justify the behavior of the student radicals who disrupted Mac Donald’s lecture with this preposterous rationalization:

“At Holy Cross, students learn to use that privilege to make the world a better place. That education requires them to wrestle with a wide range of ideas, which sometimes means engaging speakers with controversial messages, as with Ms. MacDonald. And sometimes, it means making use of their own free speech to combat objectionable ideas.”

This is sophistry on steroids. Apparently, in Murrayspeak, “engaging” is a euphemism for shouting down someone whose viewpoint you disagree with and denying others the right to hear that viewpoint. An honest definition of “engaging,” in this context on a college campus, would be a civil discussion or debate. Your right to free speech doesn’t override the right of others to speak freely. And another’s viewpoint isn’t objectively “objectionable” just because you don’t like it. Perhaps it’s your subjective viewpoint that’s unreasonably objectionable.

An officer of the college replying to a complaint from an alumnus compounded the felony by claiming the students who disrupted Mac Donald’s talk were responding to her premise that “students of color do not belong at elite institutions.” In fact, Mac Donald said or believes nothing remotely like that, unless the revisionist definition of “premise” now means fabricating out of thin air an unspoken hostile intent by someone you disagree with to justify your intolerant narrative.

Voltaire must be spinning in his grave.

Longtime KOA radio talk host and columnist for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News Mike Rosen now writes for CompleteColorado.com. 

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