Documentary blames Brown for hostility to speech on campus
A new mini-documentary from Rob Montz carefully traces the rise of the campus protest culture back to Brown University, where the free exchange of ideas has been suppressed as violent and hurtful.
“It’s completely natural for 19 year olds to be wildly overconfident in their politics,” Montz told Campus Reform, explaining his motivation for creating the film. “The problem is when a university—an institution specifically designed to stoke doubt and appreciation of complexity—starts bending to the narcissism, starts compromising the curriculum and campus climate to accommodate it.”
“I think real, vigorous debate is migrating to outside the academy.”
While many attribute the origin of the current campus climate to last fall’s student uprising at Mizzou, Montz shows that the trouble actually began to appear long before at Brown, where a 2013 lecture sent the school down a path of partisan divide.
Indeed, when Montz’s alma mater invited then-NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly to speak on campus, student protesters repeatedly interrupted his lecture, eventually leaving Kelly no choice but to leave—a victory for campus leftists that would set a precedent for the years ahead.
When Wendy McElroy, for instance, was invited to campus a couple years later to deliver a lecture that challenged the notion that America has a “rape culture,” students called it “mind violence” and pleaded with administrators to cancel the event.
McElroy, notably, is a rape survivor herself and called America’s obsession with claiming the title of “rape culture” “an insult to women who live in one.”
“The main thing they want is conformity—just fall into line,” she tells Montz in the film. “Some things cannot be said. Some ideas cannot be spoken.”
Shortly after McElroy’s appearance on campus, Montz reports that a group of faculty met in a closed-door meeting to vote on a resolution that merely reaffirmed a section of Brown’s own founding charter that protected the “free exchange of ideas” on campus. The resolution, however, did not pass.
So, Montz returned to his former school to see what went wrong, discovering that the system was corrupted from the inside with many well-respected professors and administrators who quickly capitulated to the demands of student protesters.
In fact, a woman by the name of Tricia Rose, whom Montz describes as one the school’s “star” professors, led the charge against the motion to uphold Brown’s commitment to free expression. In what Montz thinks was no coincidence, she was then invited to address the incoming freshmen class at an annual convocation, where, Montz aptly notes, she “showed them that a string of fashionable jargon is indeed an acceptable substitute for an argument.”
“We have used in the post-civil rights era the ideology of the illusion of colorblindness as the rhetorical vehicle for the maintenance and development of a system like the prison industrial complex,” she remarked, for example.
In another case, Montz explains that The Brown Daily Herald ran a student op-ed presenting some of the potential reasons why colonialism was actually economically beneficial for the Native Americans.
Rather than rebut the argument, however, students protested the fact that it was ever published in the first place and demanded a response from the school’s administration, which responded by condemning the article for the “harm it caused.”
Montz, though, explained that he approaches the overall situation with a certain amount of empathy and thinks that minorities in America are right to ask that institutions typically set aside for the privileged in society better accommodate the lower class.
“I don’t come at this as some crotchety conservative type that just wants to complain about narcissistic, entitled millennials,” he told Campus Reform. “I used to be one of those entitled, narcissistic millennials.”
The problem, as Montz shows in his documentary, is that even when his alma-mater specifically rolled out a multimillion-dollar plan to make the school more diverse, protesters thanked the administration by storming the provost’s office and refusing to leave.
And then, when Brown’s provost simply asked if they could all “just have a conversation,” the response was a resounding “no.”
“This is not a grand battle against institutionalized injustice,” Montz remarks in his film. “This is an addiction to indignation.”
The new mini-doc, titled “Is the University Killing Free Speech and Open Debate?” powerfully captures in just a few short minutes the radicalism of the left, using Brown as a microcosm of America’s college campuses and leaving the viewer with a sense of despair.
Indeed, the filmmaker himself told Campus Reform he is not hopeful for the future of the university.
“I’m pretty pessimistic,” he said. “I think real, vigorous debate is migrating to outside the academy.”
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AGockowski