By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK
I have met liberal Democrats who insist that the inclusion of liberal Democrats Alan Colmes and Bob Beckel on the Fox News Network cannot be taken as proof that the network is, as advertised, “fair and balanced.” They insist that Beckel and Colmes are chosen to make liberals look bad, as examples of caricatures of liberals favored by American conservatives.
I have no way of knowing, of course, if there is any truth to that. I am sure that Beckel and Colmes would protest to the rooftops. But I had similar thoughts when I read the story about the administrator at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) who defended a faculty member at the school who attacked a 16-year-old pro-life demonstrator — and condemned the demonstrator for causing “outrage, pain, embarrassment, fear, hurt, and feelings of harassment” among the faculty and student body at the school.
Could this administrator, Michael D. Young, the vice chancellor for student affairs, be a right-wing plant seeking to make politically correct academics look ridiculous by offering an example of their hypocrisy? I am only kidding. But, come on: For our entire lifetimes, we have seen the academic left defend antiwar protesters who defaced campus buildings, days of rage carried out by civil rights activists who blocked access to classes, pro-drug demonstrators who sat cross-legged and smoking weed on campus walkways, and radical feminists who shouted and paraded around topless to shut down campus lectures they found objectionable. A little inconvenience is the price we must pay for freedom of speech, they told us.
Yet now Vice Chancellor Young feels obliged to defend a faculty member who attacks pro-life demonstrators because she finds their posters “hurtful.”
Am I exaggerating? No. The faculty member in question, Mireille Miller-Young, who, we are told, specializes in the study of “black cultural studies, pornography, and sex work,” was charged with “theft, battery, and vandalism” for stealing from and assaulting pro-life demonstrator Thrin Short. The incident was caught on tape. Short was part of a small group of demonstrators who were in “the free-speech zone” at UCSB on March 4. This is an area on campus set aside specifically for vigorous partisan debate.
The pro-life demonstrators were primarily from nearby Thomas Aquinas College. There was no secret about their goal. They were seeking to engage UCSB students in conversations about abortion by displaying posters with photos of aborted fetuses. Professor Miller-Young can be seen on tape grabbing one of the posters and attacking Short when she attempted to retrieve it. When I say “attacking,” I mean punching.
Miller-Young’s defense in the police report was that the posters “upset” her and her students, that pro-life demonstrators did not have a “right to be in the UCSB free speech zone,” and that her violence was “triggered” because she teaches about women’s “reproductive rights” and is pregnant herself.
Vice Chancellor Young’s response? He denounced the pro-life demonstrators because they were an “outside group.” (Did that matter when antiwar protesters and Black Panthers descended on campuses?) Because they were there “simply to create discord that furthers a certain personal agenda.” (Was that logic used to remove feminist protesters or animal rights activists who harassed women wearing fur coats?) He said the images on the posters were of the sort that “many in our community find distressing and offensive.” (I can’t remember anyone using that logic to prevent Native American protesters from displaying pictures of the bodies of dead Indians at the Wounded Knee massacre, or antiwar activists from carrying pictures of Iraqi children maimed in American bombing raids.)
I can hear some murmuring of protest out there. Haven’t I and correspondents to this column been arguing for years that Catholic colleges should not permit performances of The Vagina Monologues or offer courses on pornography that feature explicit sexual images? Isn’t it hypocritical of us to take offense at Vice Chancellor Young’s position on pro-life demonstrators while holding such views?
Nope. It is a phony argument. It is not Catholics with traditional views and political conservatives who have championed the cause of unrestricted freedom of speech. It is the secular liberals. Conservatives agree that universities have a right to defend an orthodoxy and to make judgments about what kind of courses and speakers are unacceptable on campus. Conservatives make no bones about their belief that a college has no obligation to sponsor the promotion of ideas it finds inimical to its mission. Conservatives would not permit plays and movies that they find obscene on campus. They would not sponsor speakers that promote a pro-abortion agenda. They would not permit campus organizations that promote an agenda that they are convinced is immoral, whether it be neo-Nazi groups, the Ku Klux Klan, the American Communist Party, or NAMBLA.
In other words, the conservative objection to Vice Chancellor Young is not that he drew the line against campus activities he found objectionable, but that he did so in the case of pro-life demonstrators when he would not do the same for a whole host of activist groups on the politically correct left. Conservatives are not being hypocritical when they criticize his attack on freedom of speech. In all likelihood, most of the conservatives who criticized Young would have applauded him if he had closed down a performance of The Vagina Monologues or removed one of Professor Miller-Young’s courses on pornography from the school’s course catalog. Conservatives are not the champions of academic freedom, as that term has come to be defined by modern liberal academics.
It is Vice Chancellor Young who should feel compelled to answer the charge of hypocrisy. It is he who would not limit freedom of speech for the political and cultural groups favored by modern American liberals, but is willing to censure pro-life groups because he finds their cause “distressing and offensive.” He would not say that about left-wing groups and causes.
Liberal defenders of freedom of speech are fond of making the case (perhaps falsely) attributed to Voltaire: “I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” They don’t mean it. We can see that from Vice Chancellor Young’s behavior. (And I would bet serious money that Voltaire didn’t mean it either. I can picture him patting Young on the back, if he were somehow transported to our period in history through some time machine.)
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