Prof says punishing disruptive students is unfair to the left
A Wayne State University professor recently blasted the Michigan Legislature as a “safe-space for right-wing groupthink” after a pair of free-speech bills were introduced.
In an op-ed for The Detroit News, Dr. John Patrick Leary argues that the supposed “free speech crisis” has been “manufactured” by conservative legislators to punish liberal activists.
"Student activists, the clear targets of the bill, are on the left."
Indeed, Sen. Patrick Colbeck recently introduced two bills to protect free speech on campus, the first of which would guarantee students “the fullest degree of intellectual freedom and free expression,” while the second would hand down punishments to students who shut down the free speech of others.
Leary, in his article, takes particular issue with the latter bill, calling it “Orwellian in the extreme to propose a free-speech tribunal, presided over by college authorities, as a remedy for the suppression of free speech.”
He also declares that “Colbeck seems not to recognize that the First Amendment applies to speakers he doesn’t like—leftist protesters, in this case—as well as those he does,” saying “violations of this vaguely-worded” bill “would result in either suspensions or expulsions for student demonstrators speaking out on the issues that matter to them.”
Despite the violence exhibited by protesters at institutions such as the University of California, Berkeley and Middlebury College, Leary defended their rights, saying “Berkeley and Middlebury students had every right to loudly, disruptively, even rudely protest Yiannopoulos and Murray.”
Instead, Leary suggests that Colbeck’s measures are primarily motivated by “politics,” rather than a concern for the First Amendment.
“What, then, are their unstated reasons?” Leary asks, concluding that the answer is “politics” because “student activists, the clear targets of the bill, are on the left.”
He then suggests that if “Colbeck were serious about nurturing unpopular or controversial opinions in college, then he would be alarmed at the rise of neo-McCarthyist groups like Turning Point USA,” citing its “Professor Watchlist” as cause for concern.
“He would be disappointed that George Cicciarello-Maher, a Drexel University political scientist on this list, faces possible dismissal over a series of tweets that earned the ire of an right-wing outrage machine on social media,” Lear adds, referring to the professor Campus Reform exposed after he tweeted that all he wants “for Christmas is white genocide.”
Shelby Emmett, Director of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), noted that many of the public institutions in Michigan are “not green-light schools” on the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s (FIRE) free speech index, telling Campus Reform that she believes there is a free speech problem on campus.
Although Emmett sympathized with Colbeck’s “reactionary effort to pounce on students” who exhibit violent behavior, she believes that disciplinary sanctions should not be attached to the bill until issues of due process are addressed by colleges.
“There are already laws against assault; you can’t do these things,” she explained. “All these schools have policies on this, but are not enforcing it.”
In regards to the Berkeley riots and similar incidents, Emmett suggested that “the deeper question is why state officials are not enforcing the law,” though she doesn’t “think giving more power to administrators to expel students is the answer.”
Campus Reform reached out to Leary for comment on his article, but did not receive a response in time for publication.
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