MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The varying degree of political divide on college campuses across the nation has sparked academic and legislative discussion to protect a right that is guaranteed by the U. S. Constitution.
The First Amendment, in short, prohibits the institution of laws that abridge free speech.
“Universities are places of ideas – good ideas, bad ideas, irritating ideas. But, we ought to allow those ideas to flourish on a university campus. And, any time that anyone wants to protest an idea, as long as it’s done peacefully and civilly, I’m fine. The minute people say we should not invite someone on to campus or we should start censuring speeches, we lose our ability to call ourselves a university,” West Virginia University President Gordon Gee said on MetroNews “Talkline”.
At the University of California, Berkeley, a visit by conservative Milo Yiannopoulos was promptly cancelled just before the British Breitbart News editor was expected to speak.
The visit by the staunch supporter of President Donald Trump was preceded by destruction on campus by protestors. Shattered windows, fire damage and more resulted in more than $100,000 worth of damages on campus.
The same speaker scheduled Wednesday at UC-Berkley spoke at WVU in December. Gee, in his interview with talk show host Hoppy Kercheval, said he doesn’t support Yiannopoulos’ rhetoric. But, he also doesn’t support limited free speech on campus.
“I thought Milo was over the top. He should not have been as flamboyant and exercise the kind of incivility he demonstrated. But, we allowed him to speak,” Gee explained. “But, I also gave myself the cherished opportunity to exercise my own First Amendment rights and say hey listen, that’s not the way we should be talking on a university campus.”
The speaker directly mentioned Daniel Brewster, a sociology professor, accusing him of bullying students by offering extra credit if they attended a LGBTQ event on campus instead of Yiannopoulos’ profanity laced conservative discussion.
In a letter distributed campus-wide, Gee wrote, “I will never support the tactics of any speaker who brings unsubstantiated and false attacks against a member of our Mountaineer family.”
Meanwhile, the Goldwater Institute, described as a special interest group in Arizona that advances freedom and protection of the Constitution, has drafted legislative proposals to “protect and conserve free speech” on campuses. The institute’s website claims the model legislation calls for an end to campus “safe spaces” and “free speech zones”.
According to Gee, being considerate of others shouldn’t require safe zones.
“The minute we say, hey listen you know we’re going to have spaces for you where you’re safe. From what? I mean the point is I don’t know what I’m being safe from. If I’m being safe from other people’s ideas, that’s not safety. That is something else.”
In January, a video of a student argument at WVU went viral. A headline on Fox’s website read “Video shows leftist activist attacking conservative college student”.
The post on social media showed reported members of the WVU Left Alliance and of the WVU chapter of Turning Point USA in a shouting match in a building on campus.
“People were saying the kid ought to be expelled. You ought to put him in stocks and parade him down the street,” Gee said of one of the students who appeared in the video. The students involved chose not to press charges. “People on all sides of this issue need to take a deep breath. We need to make certain we have a conversation about these issues.”