Celebrating the Disinvited

George Will: Free speech never more ‘dangerously threatened than it is now’

April 17, 2015

University campuses are supposed to be a place for an open exchange of ideas, but liberals on many college campuses are no longer willing to hear both sides of the conversation.

Student groups across the country have decided that a free exchange of ideas is no longer a welcome quality on college campuses—unless they agree with all the ideas being exchanged. Brandeis University, to name one, chose last year to revoke an invitation to its campus to the human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali after students labeled her a "notorious Islamophobe."

Born out of decisions such as Brandeis’ was the first annual Disinvitation Dinner, an event held in New York City on Wednesday by the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program at Yale that celebrated those who have been silenced on liberal campuses.

Speaking at the event was George Will, the Washington Post columnist whose invitation to speak to California’s Scripps College was rescinded last year. Will said that the First Amendment has never been in more danger.

"Free speech has never been, in the history of our Republic, more comprehensively, aggressively, and dangerously threatened than it is now," said Will in the event’s keynote address.

Will said that the current assault on free speech is more dangerous than incidents in the past such as the Alien and Sedition Acts that were rooted in local conditions that were bound to disappear.

"Today’s attack is different, Its an attack on the theory of freedom of speech," said Will. "[There is a] belief that the First Amendment is a mistake and that the real right people have regarding speech is the right to avoid speech…It is an attack on the desirability of free speech."

Will also warned that there has never been more "intellectual ingenuity devoted towards rationalizing the disappearance of the First Amendment."

On many campuses, free speech can only occur in "free speech zones"—at Texas Tech that zone happens to be limited to just a 20 foot wide "free speech gazebo."

At the University of California, Irvine, students recently voted to no longer hang the American flag because it "conflicted with their mission to promote student safety."

This decision is part of what Will calls the "infantilization of American young people," and the belief by administrations that they are responsible for maintaining campuses where students are free from any "disturbances to their serenity."

At Brown University, for example, the response to a critic of the "rape culture" term speaking on its campus was not to disinvite the speaker but rather to "prepare for the terror," said Will. A "safe space"—equipped with cookies, pillows, blankets, coloring books, calming music, and videos of frolicking puppies—was established for students who needed to "recuperate."

Will called being disinvited by Scripps College a "win-win situation"—he did not have to go there and consequently was selected to speak at the Disinvitation Dinner.

Published under: First Amendment